So, You Just Received an Interview Request…

Five ways to prepare for your conversation with the media

CUES’ Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

InterviewOn a typical day, credit union executives likely wear many hats. They are undoubtedly accustomed to holding various roles within the institution, overseeing different departments and groups of employees. But, are they prepared to step into a different position – one they might not be as familiar with and one that isn’t necessarily required every single day? Are they ready to, even with little notice, serve as the institution’s spokesperson?

Credit unions should have a solid plan in place specifically for interview requests. These might come from trade publications serving the credit union and financial services industries, local media, or even mainstream business or news outlets. Credit unions should designate a primary spokesperson and possibly a few secondary spokespersons who are equipped to address certain topics or areas of the business.

The most important aspect of any interview is the preparation beforehand. There are several steps to take into account before and during a discussion with an editor or reporter.

Do Your Homework

Before an interview, take the time to research the publication – become familiar with its readership, as that will drive the reporter’s questions. Take advantage of resources like LinkedIn to assess the interviewer’s professional experience, and review recent articles they have written to evaluate whether they tend to take a positive or negative stance on certain matters. Traditionally, reporters with trade publications are looking for a positive story; they more often than not are viewing you as a source to share valuable insight that will ultimately benefit their readers and industry as a whole.

Choose a Time and Place That Limits Distractions

Whether the interview is taking place over the phone or in person, choose a time and a location that is best for your schedule and allows you to avoid distractions. Ensure cell phones and other devices are on silent and put away, since we all know they can be difficult to ignore.

Remain Positive

Regardless of the question asked, it is important to remain positive. Reporters might ask for comments on a competitor –never use this as an opportunity to bash another institution. In the end, that will reflect poorly on yours in print. Instead, keep a positive posture and then quickly turn the conversation back to your credit union. Also, remember that the term “off the record” does not actually exist. Anything you say during an interview or even informally at an event (think, tradeshow floor or cocktail reception) is fair for a reporter to use in an article.

Saying “I Don’t Know” Is Perfectly Fine

There may come a time you simply do not have an answer to a reporter’s question. Obviously, never lie, and do not feel pressured to answer a question beyond your level of comfort – just be up front. Let the reporter know you do not have that information, but that you can follow up with more details or are happy to recommend an alternative source. Honesty shows a reporter you are reliable and care about providing the best and the most accurate information.

Always Answer the ‘Gift’ Question

Most reporters wrap up an interview by saying something to the effect of, “Well, is there anything you want to add or something that I might not have asked that you wanted to touch on?” Never leave this question unanswered. If there is not an additional topic you wish to address, use this opportunity to reiterate a message already stated or to emphasize the credit union’s position on a particular subject.

Preparing for media interviews should be just one aspect of a credit union’s overall media relations strategy. For example, consider how regular outreach to key reporters and editors and receiving positive media coverage can impact membership growth. There are a variety of ways in addition to interviews to engage in public relations: promote new offerings or community service efforts through press releases or demonstrate your executive team’s expertise by contributing bylined articles to publications or creating a blog.

So, the next time you are asked by the media for an interview, contemplate the larger picture: Beyond media training, how else can the credit union benefit from media interaction, and how will this resonate with current as well as prospective members? As a credit union leader and spokesperson, view the interview as one strategy among many for shining the brightest possible light on your credit union.

Sheryl Gudelsky is a senior account agent at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or its blog.