Top Tips on How to Talk to the Media


Small and medium sized businesses are doing great work up and down the country – but all too often, nobody knows about them. They can be missing huge opportunities to gain coverage and raise their profile, in their area or industry niche.

Now, let’s be frank – if you are running a small firm in a crowded market, and there is little special in what you do, The Times or Daily Mail are unlikely to come running any time soon. But think hard about what is unique about you, your product or your people, that could make an ‘angle’ for the local paper or trade journal. The good news is that they have plenty of space to fill every week, so are always on the lookout for good ideas or interesting stories. Think less about what you want them to write, and more about what their readers might be interested in.

Are you taking on people during a recession when others are cutting back? First in your area with some specialist service or product? Maybe you have won a big new order that will mean you have to increase capacity? Or, maybe you are the story. Editors love success stories, or ‘life changes’ such as ‘From City Trader to Sheep Farmer’, or ‘I left the job I hated to follow my dream and set up on my own.’ Perhaps you have strong views on the big issues and trends in your industry, that will have resonance with their readers.

Think visually – many a pedestrian story has been covered in prestigious publications because there is a good picture to go with it. And, no that usually doesn’t mean just a picture of you standing with ‘the product’.

The next problem is that many business owners are frightened of approaching journalists or editors, because they don’t know what to say, or are afraid of being misquoted – or, even worse, that the reporter will be looking for some sort of scandal and write a negative story. They then decide it’s too high risk as they can’t control the way the article will come out, and pass by the opportunity altogether.

A good PR will help put you in touch with the right publications, or if you think you have something of particular interest, there is nothing to stop you contacting them directly. Be clear about what you have to offer, why it is relevant and get to the point quickly – they are always extremely busy. Focus on what you think is new, significant or interesting for their readership. Then, there is something in it for both sides – you have interesting material for them, and they can raise your profile in the process.

Avoid jargon when speaking to journalists, even if they are from a specialist publication. Think about the way you talk in your work life – is your conversation peppered with abbreviations, technical terms and other gobbledegook? For the outside world, this is just not on. Imagine instead that you are chatting in the pub to someone who is perfectly intelligent, but who simply doesn’t know anything about the subject. How would you explain it to them without being patronising – that always puts people off completely. Remember, some journalists are extremely well-informed but others will know little about your topic, or may be a newcomer to the publication. Over-use of jargon is one of the main reasons why people get misquoted. The reporter hasn’t quite understood the point, but has perhaps been too embarrassed to admit it, or hasn’t bothered to check.

The same principle of plain speaking where possible applies even more strongly if you get the chance to go on radio or TV. People often make the mistake of addressing their remarks to the interviewer (who may be well- informed) rather than the audience. Think how you would explain it to your auntie (who may be listening)! Remember to sound interesting and lively – smile and inject some energy into what you are saying. If you sound bored with the whole thing, you certainly won’t get the audience excited.

The key with any interview is to be well- prepared. If you are contacted by a journalist asking for your views, don’t be afraid to call back rather than talking straight away off the top of your head – but find out when their deadline is and don’t leave it too late. Find out what you can about the article they are writing, and what their angle is likely to be. Explain you are tied up at the moment but are happy to help, and fix a time to call back.

Use the time to think through what you should be putting across, particularly in response to any tricky issues that are likely to be raised. You should always have your own agenda, rather than just reacting to the journalist’s questions, but make sure your key points really are relevant. Prepare some lively and relevant comments, backed up by some compelling facts, figures and examples if you can. If you rely on just ‘winging it’ you will almost certainly fail. It is no use coming up with that ‘killer quote’ in the bath later that evening!

Often people are nervous when they speak to a reporter; with the ‘print’ media they fear being misquoted, with the broadcast media they fear getting tongue-tied or not being able to answer the question. So they are cautious in their answers – particularly if they are worried about going out on a limb and offending an important customer. This makes them boring! Recognise that there may be sensitive issues where you have to be careful – but compensate for these by being really interesting on other aspects, where you can be more open. Think about some lively phrases or clever analogies – but test them out on some colleagues first. Sometimes the lesson from the comparison you are trying to draw is clear to you, but may be confusing to a lot of other people. Make absolutely sure they are not open to misinterpretation.

If you are asked about a sensitive or awkward issue, never say ‘no comment’. Explain why you cannot give the information they are asking for, and if possible, move on to a related point that is not sensitive such as ‘I can’t give you those figures for fairly obvious reasons of commercial sensitivity – but the point I would make is …’

If you take a little time and trouble to get the media on-side, it can mean a real kick-start for your business – and an opportunity that is too good to miss.

Words By Tom Maddocks is one of the UK’s leading media training experts, regularly quoted in national newspapers and magazines. He has extensive reporting and presenting experience at the BBC and commercial TV and radio stations. He has developed a package of online video media training modules aimed specifically at smaller businesses. To find out how to get ‘Complete Media Confidence’ and to receive Tom’s FREE Essential Media Training Toolkit visit