Getting Interviewed: The Good, Bad & How to Make it Work

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Years ago, a magazine did a feature story on my husband and I, including a special recipe that he loved. I was over the moon to see my recipe in the magazine … until I read the article. The writer had taken great liberties with my words, making me sound more like a husband-crazed housewife than the card-carrying feminist I am. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I considered buying as many copies as I could just so that no one would read it. (No, I didn’t do it.)

Being featured in media is a great way to develop the ever-important name recognition necessary to be successful in a public business like blogging. But you need to know how to interview well so you sound like yourself in print. So, how do you interview well?

Know Your Message

Before you say a word – via email or verbally – to the reporter, know what the main points you want to get across are. “Your goal in any interview is to convey the information you have chosen to the reporter and induce him/her to include it in his/her story,” says Maris Callahan, a freelance publicist and associate for Red Jeweled Media.

To do that, decide on three to four main points relevant to the interview and your work that you want to share, Callahan says. “Write down your key messages in the form of brief bullet points, along with a fact, statistic, example or anecdote that illustrates each one and makes it memorable,” says Callahan. If you are doing a phone interview, keep your list in front of you while talking. If it’s face to face, review it just prior to the interview.

Take Charge of the Interview

The interview is like a carefully choreographed dance. It’s important to answer the reporter’s questions directly. “Most of the time there's basic information [a reporter needs] from a person,” says Carrie Havranek, a food and travel writer who blogs at Lehigh Valley Farmers' Market Cookbook: Work in Progress. “So please do not use it as an opportunity to run at the mouth with a sales pitch, an agenda, or, in some cases, an ax to grind.” 

That said, if you can tailor your message to the question, there is opportunity there – as long as you don’t abuse it. “There is often an opportunity to go beyond the confines of the question in order to make a one or more of your key points,” says Callahan. To do this, she suggests using two techniques called bridging and flagging.

In bridging, you connect the question with one of your key points, Callahan says. “Address or refer to the issue raised in the question and then expand your answer to encompass both the question and your key point using specific information,” says Callahan.

In flagging, you draw attention to an important point by using flag words like “The most important thing is …” or “The bottom line is …,” says Callahan.

Getting interviewed

Credit Image: woman being interviewed via Shutterstock

Off the Record? Not Really

You’ve probably heard the words “off the record,” meaning that whatever is said isn’t going to be attributed to you. But this doesn’t mean that the information isn’t out there. Whenever you say that, it really draws the reporter’s attention … and even if it never finds its way into an article, it will color the one written about you.

Havranek says that giving off the record information can help put it in context. “I've had numerous sources tell me all kinds of things off the record about the difficulties they've had getting the clearances they want in order to provide person-to-person travel. It helped me understand the complexity of the situation,” says Havranek.

Your best bet though? Unless it’s truly important for context, keep it to yourself. “Say only what you would want quoted and keep confidential information confidential,” says Callahan.

“Whatever you tell a reporter is fair game unless you specify something is off the record--and please try to reserve those comments for things that are truly personal, difficult, complex, useful for background, or otherwise potentially inflammatory,” says Havranek.

When It Doesn’t Go as Planned

So what happened with that magazine article? In the end, I let it go. Although it didn’t read like me, it was still a nice feature that led new readers to my site and gave me a good press clip to refer to. Ask yourself: are my concerns with this article because it just doesn’t sound like me or because it’s actually incorrect?

Ultimately, it’s only important to follow up for corrections if something is factually incorrect – like when a local newspaper referred to my great-great aunt as my grandmother. They corrected the information relatively quickly. Otherwise, it’s still a good clip – and a learning experience for next time.

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Sarah W. Caron is a writer, editor and recipe developer. She pens the Chasing the Dream column about moms going after their dreams on SheKnows.com. She also blogs about food at Sarah's Cucina Bella and about the beach lifestyle at Sarah by the Sea.

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