How to prepare for interviews on TV and radio
If your charity is offered a broadcast interview, it’s a fantastic opportunity to raise your profile and to spread the word about what you do. However, there are a few key questions you need to ask, to make sure you get the most out of the opportunity. Before diving in and giving the journalist your chief executive’s mobile number, here’s a checklist of things to consider.
Who’s the journalist and what’s the media outlet?
It’s so easy to research online nowadays, there is no excuse not to know what programme the journalist works for, the programme’s style and their usual journalistic approach.
Watch or listen to the programme and make sure you know what kind of stories they’ve done before. If you’re writing a briefing for the interviewee, include links for them to watch or listen themselves.
One friend of mine was interviewed by the BBC Breakfast business presenter, who has a very jokey style.
Because he hadn’t watched it before, this completely threw him and didn’t get his message across.
Who’s the most appropriate interviewee?
Your chief executive may be the right person, but not always. Imagine you’re a medical charity and the interview is about new research; a scientist with the right depth of knowledge might be better. And that is not the only consideration.
Who is the right person for that particular outlet?
Some interviewees are brilliant at the “soundbites” needed for many TV interviews, while others thrive on the more long-form format of Radio 4. Some may have a casual, relaxed style, which is fine for Radio 5, but may not work for the Today programme.
Why do they want the interview?
It might seem obvious to ask what the interview is about. Though it is unlikely you’ll get a list of questions, you should always ask for the scope of the interview, as that helps you prepare. Unsurprisingly, journalists do sometimes have a hidden agenda. Set the terms in advance about what your interviewee is happy or able to talk about.
Consider what role they are being cast in: the expert view on a story (fantastic), proactive (fantastic – it’s
promoting you), responding to allegations (less comfortable, but probably essential to get your message
across) or providing balance (you need to think about whether you want to be set up against another organisation).
What is the format and where is it taking place?
Different formats have different requirements – and require different levels of preparation. The last thing you
want is for your interviewee to prepare for one type of interview and find they’re doing another.
This could be in a studio or on location. Move mountains to get your interviewee on live. It might seem scarier, but it’s the only way you can be confident everything you say will be broadcast. Your message will go out in full, without a journalist or producer editing out the best bits.
This could either be an “as live” where the programme records a full interview before the broadcast and may edit out some answers. Or it could be a soundbite, where your interview is included in a news report. With only 15-20 seconds per soundbite, it’s vital to get your message across succinctly and effectively.
This is the TV interview where you’re in one studio and the presenter is in another, with your interviewee looking down the camera lens. This is a particularly tricky format as there’s no human interaction and it’s easy to look uncomfortable or shifty. The radio equivalent is on a phone or ISDN. Again, the lack of human interaction can make it difficult to come across naturally.
The best advice you can give your interviewee is to avoid looking at the monitor, if there is one, and to try to look into the lens or just above. It helps if the person can imagine they’re talking to one person. It may be worth practicing doing interviews on Skype for people to get used to looking straight into a lens.
For both radio and TV, the interviewee will probably be whisked into the studio during a break, and be expected to come across naturally, often with no opportunity to speak to the presenter beforehand to form a rapport. In this case, make sure you’ve primed the producers beforehand with what your spokesperson is likely to say, including any interesting case studies or examples, so they can give the presenter a briefing to follow.
- On location
This is likely to be a soundbite or a down-the-line, and therefore potentially edited. Whatever the format, find out how long the interview is going to be. The level of preparation needed for a two-minute interview is going to be vastly different to a 20-minute grilling you might get on Newsnight.
Who else is being interviewed?
This can provide a vital insight into the thrust of an interview. The report or item might include interviews with people opposing your views, case studies or government spokespeople.
These might be pitched head to head with you in a debate, or may be interviewed before or after, in which case you might be refuting the points they make – or vice versa.
Imagine you’re a charity promoting climate change research. You might be interviewed alongside a prominent climate change denier such as Nigel Lawson. As a former politician, he’ll be so practiced at interviews, it will be a big job for your interviewee to hold their own.
The first step to briefing your interviewee is to give them a written briefing, with plenty of time to read, absorb and do additional research if necessary. Of course, in the real world, this may not be possible.
If you do have time to write a briefing, it should:
- Be short. We’ve seen many briefings which are 10+ pages long. Who has time to read this? And who’ll remember that much information?
- Use bullet points and headings to make it easy to absorb
- Include a brief bio of the journalist and the media outlet
- The most likely questions – and the answers you’d like to hear
- A few handy examples to illustrate your key messages and help bring answers to life
If you don’t have time for a written briefing, at least talk your spokesperson through as much of this as possible, especially questions which are likely to come up and how to respond.
What else to consider?
Many spokespeople are more reluctant to be interviewed on air than in print. However, because broadcasters in the UK have more obligation to be balanced, and because “if you don’t say it, they can’t use it”, they are in fact far less risky than newspapers: you are far less likely to be misquoted.
TV and radio interviews are a fantastic opportunity to get your message out to thousands, if not millions, of people. Just make sure you have asked all the right questions, so your spokespeople have the chance to shine.