When a Reporter Calls

First things first
The first thing you have to do is decide whether you will grant the interview. To help you decide, answer the following questions:

  • What does the reporter want to talk about?
  • Are you the appropriate person to answer questions on this topic?
  • What medium does the reporter work for?
  • What is the format of the interview? Nightly news? Feature story? Will the interview be taped? Will you be on camera live?
  • Where will the interview be conducted? How long will it take?
  • What is the reporter's deadline?

Reporters themselves should be able to answer many of these questions for you. In addition, Strategic Communications can get the answers, as well as help you prepare for the interview. If you can't grant the interview – and there are times when you can't or would prefer not to for various reasons, call Strategic Communications then, too. We may be able to suggest other sources of information. Strategic Communications also can provide you with information about unfamiliar reporters, magazines, television shows or radio programs.

Be particularly aware of reporters' deadlines
They have a job to do and editors to please. The deadline may be weeks – or minutes away. Respect for those deadlines will go a long way in ensuring positive media relations in the future.

Outline your main points
Once you've decided to grant an interview, you should prepare three to five points to get your message across as briefly as possible – preferably in 20 seconds or less. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • What is your involvement in the issue?
  • Why is it important?
  • What is the historical perspective?

Here's a formula you might use in answering questions:
Using this question as an example, "Is UCI a safe environment?"

  • First Sentence
    Make a statement that answers the reporter's question as briefly as possible.
    "Yes" or "no" often is sufficient.
    Yes, it is.
  • Second Sentence
    Support your answer.
    Statistics show that UCI is the safest campus in the UC system.
  • Third Sentence
    Transition into your message.
    We ensure that this record is maintained through such programs as our new emergency telephone network.
  • Fourth Sentence
    State your message.
    Campus safety commands a high priority.

Gather background information
Background materials are helpful to a reporter, particularly if a topic is complex. Strategic Communications often will have a press release on a given subject or can assist you in gathering other information, such as brochures, statistics or historical background.

"It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor than a critic."
- Winston Churchill

Anticipate tough questions and prepare your answers
List the 10 most difficult questions you might be asked regarding the interview topic and the ten most difficult questions regarding UCI in general. Think about how you will transition from answering these questions into a key point you want to make.

Strategic Communications can help you anticipate and prepare for tough questions. Colleagues and friends often can provide good sounding boards as well. Remember that when we ask you those tough questions, we're on your side.

Rehearse
Go over the questions until you are confident you can handle each and every one. Public information representatives will assist you in rehearsals, or you might even record answers with a tape recorder. Don't plan to read your answers during the interview, however.

Relax
Most interviews are your opportunity to tell the public something interesting about UCI or your work. Be personable and confident.