A media interview is a critical opportunity to convey key messages about your company to customers, key stakeholders and the public. To assure that the final printed, online or broadcast story is accurate and includes your messages, here are twelve guidelines for 2012: 

1. Focus on one or two key messages. Reinforce these prepared messages and verbally flag them for the reporter throughout your interview so that they are sure to understand what is important to you. Don’t wait for a leading question to convey these messages – from the very start of the interview use whatever question you are asked to bridge to your messages.

2. Keep it simple. Keep the real audience in mind (you may be talking to a reporter, but your real audience is the reader/viewer). Unless you are being interviewed by a highly technical journal, simplify your messages. Think about telling a story to someone who is not an expert – your mother, a friend, or neighbor. If complex issues or definitions can be simplified, the reporter is likely to get it right and the intended audiences will understand your message.

3. Practice makes perfect.  Practice to yourself, in front of a mirror, film yourself (your smart phone will do the trick) and then practice with a colleague or PR professional.  Even the most seasoned interviewees can’t wing-it, so ensure you practice before every interview.

4. Tell a story. Prepare compelling quotes or anecdotes in advance. Journalists make stories come alive through good quotes, meaningful anecdotes and images that readers can picture and relate to.

5. Speak for the company at all times. It is never appropriate to give personal opinions, criticize others or make off-color remarks.

6. Never speak off-the-record.  Regardless of the rapport that you have with a reporter -- or promises made by the reporter -- keep all of your comments on the record when in the presence of a reporter, producer or photographer.

7. Anticipate tough questions. Decide in advance how to handle them. Discuss difficult issues and questions with your communication consultant before the interview. The direct approach is usually better than being evasive. When you cannot comment or information is proprietary, just say so, but use the opportunity to bridge back to a key message.

8. When in doubt, call back. If you are unsure how to answer a question, or need to check facts, get back to the reporter later. Don’t fake it or feel that you should know the answer. Regardless of the reporter’s deadline, take your time, swallow your pride and provide only accurate information. Some questions may be appropriate for someone else – or another company – and not for you to answer.

9. Proprietary information.  You do not have to share or discuss personnel or business proprietary information. It is fine to say that you understand the reporter’s interest, but the information they are requesting is propriety or confidential. Once you have said that, immediately bridge to some other related information that you can discuss. This helps take the focus off the topic that is off limits.

10. Offer to help.  Refer the reporter to other important sources of information or to experts, particularly organizations with whom you partner. 

11. Final facts and fact checking. At the end of the interview give the reporter a business card and offer to check facts or quotes. Offer your mobile phone number. You should never ask to review a story, but it is OK for you to offer to check facts over the phone.

12. Enjoy. You’re the expert, get your messages across and use even the most sensitive questions to bridge to something positive and enjoy the opportunity to shine a light on the good things your organization is doing.