A lot depends on the reason you’re being asked. I might be writing a news feature on exports and needs a case study of a business that is bucking the trend and growing export sales, or looking to profile an entrepreneur who’s discovered an innovative source of business funding. It may be I’m after a few comments from a business expert on an emerging trend or breaking news story.
Given that the interview topic is one you are knowledgeable on and comfortable talking about, and that you can spare the time to do it, then why not? It will put your business in a positive light, you might actually enjoy it, and if you follow these steps you’ll be every journalist’s dream; the perfect interviewee.
Be prepared: Ahead of the scheduled interview, whether it’s by telephone or on site, ask about the type of questions to expect. That will give you time to gather any facts and figures you might need, plus any interesting gems of information that will enhance your responses and delight the writer and the readers.
Be forthcoming with responses. The ‘yes’ ‘no’ ‘I don’t know’ scenario is a journalist’s worst night mare, topped only by ‘uh huh’ ‘mmmm’ or complete silence. Seriously, I have had the blank notepad experience and it is no fun for anyone.
But not too forthcoming: The words ‘Let me give you some historical background to the company’ are of equally nightmarish proportions to a writer who has only 10 minutes and 200 words available, and needs a sound bite, not a sound banquet.
Stay on topic: A well prepared interview should generate questions that follow a logical sequence and require straightforward concise answers. Enlarging on your answers is fine, but if you hear yourself saying ‘Now what was it you asked me again?’ and your interviewer has been strangely silent for the last ten minutes, the chances are you’ve wandered off topic.
Think before you speak: If you want to say something that is relevant to the interview, but not for publication, make sure the journalist knows it is ‘off the record’. Otherwise, your outspoken views on your local planning officer, or witty anecdotes about how you deal with difficult customers could end up where you’d rather they didn’t, in print.
It’s a wrap: Interview done, you want to know what happens now? Sometimes we know exactly when the story will run, but more often than not it’s out of our hands and in those of the editor. For all manner of reasons, lack of space, gazumping by a newsier, time sensitive story, it may not appear for some time, and bombarding journalists with daily emails and phone calls asking for an update won’t speed it up.
Interviewing skills are part of a journalist’s tool kit. Without them they’re not going to unearth the nuggets of information that make for an enjoyable and enlightening read. But they are skills that can also be handy to have when you’re on the receiving end of the questions. And one thing a perfect business interviewee can count on is having journalists coming back for more.