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Public Relations

Acing the Interview: How to Behave With the News Media

By Jon Quick

What’s the secret to being a great interview? Typically, of course, you have to deliver a real, relevant story “of high consumer interest” to get the news media to pay any attention to you at all. But what if the media does come to you? Let’s imagine you get a call from a reporter who wants your commentary on a major criminal trial that’s been in the news. You’ve been selected because you are a respected criminal attorney — and now you’re on.

Related: Five Stories to Get Your Name in the Press

Rules for Getting the Interview Right

Here are a few rules — written and unwritten — for a productive conversation with a representative of the news media. These interview do’s and don’ts pretty much apply no matter what your particular area of law may be.

  • Act naturally — especially for broadcast media. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. No facades.
  • Don’t ask to get paid. Your payment will be in the publicity you get that might lead to new business.
  • Be conversational and relax — yes, even if tens of thousands of people may be listening to or watching you!
  • Avoid legal mumbo-jumbo and speak plainly. Nobody wants to hear a bunch of legalese or self-serving rhetoric. And watch those “not everyone out there has been to law school” type of comments.
  • Don’t joke around too much. If the reporter’s expression doesn’t change, the interview won’t go well. Anecdotes are fine, though, if they support your position.
  • Do speak like a “know-it-all” on the topic. Read and learn everything you can about the case. You are a lawyer, so I don’t have to tell you to watch your boundaries. Come prepared. Just don’t be smug.
  • Remember it’s fair to ask the reporter what types of questions will be asked. But don’t be surprised if he or she throws you a curve ball during the interview.
  • Never, ever tell them anything “off the record” while you are being recorded or videotaped. If it gets out, you could be in trouble.
  • Don’t be too anxious to get attention. Turn down an interview request if you don’t feel comfortable talking on the subject. It could backfire.
  • Be careful of being too commercial. Don’t plug your law firm or tell why you are the greatest attorney in the land. You can expect to be identified with your own name and perhaps the name of your firm. Just don’t push your luck. Remember that merely appearing in the media will give you and your firm extra credibility.
  • Be sensitive to that fact that reporters don’t like their stories written for them. You might suggest some questions, but they likely won’t follow your script.
  • Again, don’t be arrogant if you want to be asked back.
  • If you are new at this, practice. Observe other lawyers on television who are regulars. Notice that the best ones get to the point and answer questions concisely. Beware of going on and on, especially on TV and radio where time is limited.
  • When a reporter does get you off track, feel free to get back to the main points of expressing your opinion on the topic. It’s okay to tell a reporter the question is off limits for whatever reason. Don’t be surprised, though, if an aggressive reporter asks it again in a different way, just like you would do in court if an objection to your line of questioning is sustained.
  • If a reporter has false information, gently correct it using terms like “with all due respect.”
  • Do not ask to review the story before it airs or is printed. Good reporters will say no. If you are uncomfortable with the reporter or the subject matter, don’t agree to do the interview in the first place. If the story contains information that is out of context or you are totally misquoted, you have a right to ask for a correction. You might even get one.
  • Before the interview ask about suggested dress. Some colors just don’t fly on TV. Men, watch those loud ties. Women, too much sparkly jewelry is not good. Remember those TV lights.
  • Finally, and this one is primarily for TV, you might be asked to wear some makeup. Especially if you have a bald head. You won’t like how the lights will shine on it without a little powder. Just be sure to wipe it off after the interview or people might wonder where you’ve been.

Once the interview ends, feel free to ask “How did I do?” If you enjoyed the experience, be sure to tell them you’d be pleased if they called you again. If you were good, you might become a regular. That’s the ultimate goal. And it’s not going to hurt your practice at all.

If they don’t invite you back, reread this article. Maybe it was that tie.

Related: I Hate Talking to Reporters! Ask the Experts from the Legal Marketing Association

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