By Gerard Braud
My wife often reminds me that it’s “not about me.” But she forgets that I come from a 15 year career as a journalist, where everything was about me.
Everyday it was my story; my interviews; my scoop.
Reporters have big egos. Accept it. You can’t change it so don’t even waste your time and energy.
To be successful in an interview, you have to know and understand the wants, needs and desires of a reporter. They include:
• I want a hot story.
• I want to be the lead story, which is the first story in the newscast or the first story on the front page.
• I want to build a positive reputation.
• I want to advance my career.
• I want to impress my boss.
• I want a raise.
• I want my TV station to have the best ratings.
• I want my newspaper to have a high readership.
• I want to be recognized as a good reporter by my peers.
• I want to win awards.
Do you see a trend here? I want, I want, I want…
Give reporters what they want, but give it to them on your terms. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.
Help them tell a great story and they will treat you right.
The best single tip I have for you in this category is to talk in great quotes. A quote is one of the single most important things a reporter needs for a story. Sure, facts are important. But when it comes time for the reporter to write the story, your quote makes or breaks the story.
Most spokespeople concentrate too much on trying to convey facts.
The anatomy of a TV news story is this: the reporter writes 1 or 2 sentences to set up the premise or “lead” for the story. The next 2 sentences are a quote, followed by a 2 sentence transition that sets up a second quote. Then the reporter wraps up the story with a summary. A newspaper story is similar, but 3 to 4 times longer.
When you speak in quotes you are actually writing part of the reporter’s story. I’ll bet you didn’t realize that.
Here is one other weird thing that reporters do that no other professionional does. A reporter gives away a portion of their job each day to a complete amateur. Yep – A lawyer doesn’t let an amateur try their case or write a contract; an accountant doesn’t let an amateur do the math or balance the books; an engineer doesn’t let an amateur run the chemical plant; a doctor doesn’t let an amateur do surgery. But a reporter turns over a portion of their script – the quote – to you – an amateur. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. are not professionally trained writers. Yet they are writing a portion of the reporter’s story when they start talking in an interview. Some part of that interview will be quoted and that means you are writing a portion of the final script.
Great quotes are seldom spontaneous for the spokesperson. That is why they are best written by a professional writer and public relations expert. It is the spokesperson’s responsibility to ask for help crafting quotes and then also their responsibility to go through media training and practice so the quotes are internalized, honest and sound unrehearsed.
In our next lesson we’ll examine those age old responses from spokespeople who say, “the media took me out of context and they left my best stuff on the cutting room floor.”