Tips for Media Interviews

Communicating information successfully to the media requires a well-prepared strategy and an understanding of what the media expects from you. If you are called or approached by a reporter, promptly refer them to PHC Communications & Public Affairs at 604-806-8022, Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you need assistance after hours, please call the media pager at 604-202-2012.

Once Communications & Public Affairs has vetted an interview request, we will provide you with details about the interview subject, reporter and what is expected of you. Although every effort will be made to find a time convenient for you, please remember that most reporters work under very tight deadlines.

The information below provides a framework so that when Communications & Public Affairs ask you to talk to a journalist, you can take control and respond in a relaxed and confident manner.

Patient confidentiality is number one
Maintaining patient confidentiality is a strict policy at Providence Health Care. Please do not mention specifics of cases, people, their families, etc.

Be prepared
Think about your key messages (limit them to three) and research stats on your topic. Make some notes for yourself to help you stay on track and practice saying them before being interviewed. Each message should be no longer than 20 or 30 seconds.

Be flexible
Although the focus of the interview is health promotion and prevention, the journalist may ask you about other things. Remember to stay focused on the area you know and are there to speak about.

Simple language is best
Remember what you say will be heard by people of different ages and levels of understanding. Keep your words simple. Avoid clinical terms and acronyms, but if you have to use them, please explain what they mean.

Respect deadlines
Respond as promptly as possible to media requests or to PHC Communications & Public Affairs and try to respect their deadlines.

No comment is not an option
It implies that you have something to hide. Answer the question to the best of your ability or buy time to come up with a suitable answer. If you feel you cannot answer a question because it concerns a confidential matter, tell the reporter that. If you are reluctant to respond because the question pertains to a controversial matter, buy time to get advice from organizational administrators and/or Communications & Public Affairs.

Get back on course
If you don’t like the direction the interviewer is taking, shift course with phrases such as “That is not my area of expertise, but what I can tell you is,” and go back to your topic, or “That is an interesting question but the real issue is,” and return to your topic. Your message is where your expertise lies. Your response to any question should tie back into your key messages.

Don’t fudge
Discuss only the facts and refuse to speculate. During persistent questioning by a reporter you can get caught up in speculation and your credibility could be questioned.

Nothing is off the record
Although you are trying to build a good relationship with the journalist, remember, it is their job to “get the scoop.” If the information you give them “off the record” is important to a story they are pursuing, or gives them exclusive information, you may just find your comment on air or in print the next day. Never forget that the interview isn’t over until the reporter leaves. TV correspondents commonly shoot “B-roll,” sometimes called “cutaway footage” or “cutaways.” They are used to fill in the interview so it isn’t just a “talking head.” B-roll also makes the final produced story more visually interesting.

WARNING: Camera crews usually leave the sound on while taping the B-roll. While they do that, the reporter might ask you again how you really feel about an issue. Make sure you repeat only what you said earlier, as anything you say is being recorded. If you are giving a telephone interview assume the reporter is taping the conversation, that way you won’t have any regrets later. Say nothing within earshot of a reporter, or within range of a microphone, that you don’t want your mother — and the rest of the public — to hear you say.

Don’t let other people’s words inside your mouth
Rephrase rather than repeat a journalist’s question. That way it is your words that get quoted, not the journalist’s.

Silence can be a good thing
Sometimes journalists will remain silent knowing silence can make some people nervous and start talking to fill in the gaps. Don’t worry about remaining silent until the journalist is ready to ask the next question.

It’s about balance
Remember, you have your objectives and the journalist has their objective. Your common objective is getting the facts to the public in a clear and honest way.

Do not be afraid to say you do not know
If you are not sure about something, tell the journalist that and promise to get back with an answer right away, or refer him/her to another colleague who might be more qualified to answer that specific question or back to Communications & Public Affairs.

Maintain good eye contact with reporters
Speak clearly and distinctly in a normal conversational tone. In TV interviews, ignore the camera.

Multiple questions
If a reporter asks several questions in a row, pick the one you want to answer. Or, ask the reporter to repeat the question you want to answer.

Remember, you represent your organization
Don’t give personal opinions that might compromise your group. Never go “off the record,” and never make partisan statements — even if prodded — or your quote could end up as a headline in tomorrow’s paper. Make it clear at the outset whether you’re speaking for yourself or on behalf of the organization.

Non-verbal advice
You have a serious message to deliver. Don’t wear clothes that are too flashy. Stripes, checks and white are not good on TV. Don’t wear dangling jewelry. Assume microphones are on at all times. Get animated: communication is 55 per cent visual, 38 per cent vocal and 7 per cent word selection. Move your head, your hands and your body in a natural way. Get some air; don’t slouch — sit straight and comfortably. Also, lean forward 15 degrees toward the reporter — it makes you look confident and engaged, and opens up your diaphragm and increases your air supply.

Remember … you’re the expert
Stay within your area of expertise and responsibility. The minute you leave your territory, you could get mugged. Don’t hesitate to challenge the interviewer in a friendly manner if he/she has made an irresponsible insinuation.

Anticipate questions
Asking yourself what is new and significant about your research will help you formulate clear, concise answers. Immediately stress the impact your message will have on the public whenever possible and summarize that message in one or two sentences. You can follow up by providing the basic information that fills out any good news story.

Think of the “Five-Ws”:

  • Who is involved?
  • What is the issue?
  • When is it taking place?
  • Where is it taking place?
  • Why is it an issue?