And what happens when the phone goes down?

If you have ever been interviewed by a journalist and wondered what happens next, read on…

As an ex-journalist with hundreds of hours of telephone interviews under my belt, along with the thousands of published stories that came after those interviews, I feel I’m in a privileged position. I understand the process, from nose to tail, of how a story comes into being.

As a technical marketing agency with an experienced team of technical PR practitioners we work closely with journalists to support that process. Sometimes it’s triggered by a press release, but it could just as easily start with a comment made during a conversation at a press event, exhibition or similar. Today, it is possible that a journalist will tune into a webinar and hear something that sounds like it could become an interesting story. The point here is that journalists draw on all the resources available to find story leads, and that includes posts on social media platforms.

At Publitek, we provide media training to our clients to make sure they understand this. It is particularly relevant for spokespeople on the client-side who are likely to engage with the press in a formal setting, such as at an exhibition press briefing, a press conference or webinar. But it is also relevant for everyone on the client-side to appreciate how the media works and their part in representing their company to the press.

When I’m delivering media training, I often relate an experience I had when I was still a journalist. I was covering a technology announcement being made by one particularly large Blue-Chip company at an international event. I asked one of the engineers if they could tell me something about the demonstration they were setting up for the press, and the response was ‘I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you because I haven’t been media trained yet’. That was clearly all the training the engineer had received, probably moments before the press turned up.

Media training prepares spokespeople to engage with the press, not so they can avoid answering tricky questions but mostly so that the experience is productive for both parties. Working with the press is a two-way street; to paraphrase a large airline company, we never forget the journalist has a choice about what they report and what they do not.

This is an important point to make. Just because you have an interview with a journalist, you cannot assume that everything you told them will be printed word for word. It is more likely that the journalist will take the essence of the conversation to reform the story in their own words. However, do not assume that the article will be the opinion of the journalist. Unless it is presented as an opinion piece, the journalist will take an objective stance and report the facts, supported by quotes where appropriate from the persons interviewed.

If your statements support the wider facts gathered by the journalist then you’ve done a good job. If they contradict the facts, then the journalist could argue they have done a better job. If the journalist has misinterpreted the facts as they present them to you, and you have put them back on the right path, then you have done an excellent job. But don’t expect to get the credit.

This is what really happens when the phone goes down. The journalist will review their notes and compare what you have told them to what they think they already know. If time allows, the journalist may try to get an interview with someone else they think is in a good position to comment on the angle they are taking. This may very well be a competitor. Once they have spoken to as many subject matter experts as possible, they will begin to write the story, balancing facts with opinions, responses and quotes.

You may or may not see your name in print. There is a good chance that you will see your company’s name in print and some of your views. They may be attributed to you, either directly or indirectly. In short, the stories you read would not exist without contributions made by spokespeople like you, but they may not always appear as your words.

This may not come as any great revelation for many, but for some I think it will. As PR practitioners, we try to manage expectations on both sides of the conversation. It can be easy for those expectations to rise following a successful interview, but it is important to appreciate that real value isn’t easily measured, in terms of name drops or page impressions.