The Three A’s of Media Interviews: Availability, Availability, Availability

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When I first started thinking about this post, I was going to list the key attributes of a good interview. After all, being interviewed is a key component of effective public relations. Why not do it well?

Then, it struck me that many folks never get to the stage of actually being interviewed. They miss out because they’re simply too slow in reacting.

So here are the three A’s of media interviews, much like the three L’s of real estate:

  1. availability
  2. availability
  3. availability

That’s the key. If you’re going to seek our reporters to discuss the good ideas you have, then you need to be available when they call. Whenever that is.

This seems obvious, but I can’t begin to recount the number of times when, as a reporter, I called sources — even those who had been pitched to me — only to have them call back well after my deadline had passed, sometimes the next day. This doesn’t even begin to work. It tells the reporter that the source, or his or her PR folks, simply don’t understand the reporter’s needs.

Journalists who have daily deadlines or shorter — include here newspaper, wire service, online, and daily broadcast reporters — need to conduct their interviews as quickly as possible. And as early in the day as they can.

For example, a reporter might call at 10 a.m. and say he or she is working on a story about Topic A and has a deadline of 4 p.m. (If they don’t give you the deadline, always ask.)

This doesn’t mean you have 6 hours to consult with your PR folks, decide you want to do the interview, confirm with the reporter, have your folks research the issue, have them write up talking points, review the talking points … and then do the interview. The reporter is going to want to have his or her interviews done quickly, leaving enough time to write or produce the story, run it by an editor and then have some additional time to self-edit the piece.

When I was on a tight deadline as an AP reporter, I’d start calling down my source list until I had completed enough interviews to satisfy myself I had the story nailed. Then, no more interviews. I was done. The rest of the time was for thinking and crafting the story.

If someone called back after I’d completed my interviews, I had to politely decline.

The moral of the post is this: If a reporter comes calling, react quickly. Make a decision, get your thinking in order — and do the interview. Do it as soon as you can.

A mediocre source available immediately is far, far better than a great source who’s not available. The story needs to go out. If you can help make that happen, then you’ll become a valuable source to the reporter both in that instance and in the future. And the reporter will know you “get it.”

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