Prepping Clients for Interviews – Taking Cues from The End of the Tour

Posted by on September 8th, 2015

As a former reporter who crossed over into media relations five years ago, I thought that I knew everything there was to know about the journalist-source relationship when I walked into the theater to see The End of the Tour, a movie that chronicles a multi-day interview between author David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (much in the same vein as Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous). As I walked out, though, I remembered just how complex this relationship can be at times, and how much public relations professionals could learn from observing a similar kind of interview today.

Although not every interview that PR people facilitate is going to be an in-depth profile or feature on a client for a major publication, many journalistic tactics during interviews remain largely the same across the board. With that in mind, here are a couple of ways to make sure that your client is adequately prepped for a media interview – whether it be for a top-tier, internationally read newspaper like The New York Times or a smaller trade outlet with a readership that’s essential to helping your client build its inventory:

  1. Interviews are conversations. The best reporters make interviews feel less like rigid Q&As and more like meaningful discussions about whatever it is that the source is passionate about. Practice these types of conversations with your client before the actual interview takes place, and make sure that the source is not only comfortable in this setting but also self-aware in what he or she wants to convey. Let clients know that interviews are often recorded so that this becomes a normal expectation.
  2. Prep for the hard questions. Depending on the nature of the interview, journalists can and will ask clients tough questions. Work with the source to think through how best to answer these types of questions in a thoughtful, straightforward and honest way so that he or she will be ready if the topic comes up during the course of the conversation.
  3. Details are everything. During one of the final scenes of The End of the Tour, Lipsky walks through Wallace’s house detailing everything that he sees into his tape recorder, from posters on the wall to curtains on the windows. Reporters need details to insert the “color” into their stories. To help with this, ask clients if there are personal anecdotes that they can share with the reporter that demonstrate the power and inspiration behind the point that they are trying to get across in the interview. The more details that reporters gather to support the facts of the story, the better the interview will be in the end.
  4. Stories are about people and their experiences. Stories are NOT about products, services or solutions. Lipsky did not seek out Wallace, because he wanted to write a story that solely focused on Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest; he wanted to understand the motivations and aspirations behind the writer himself and what it was like to live his life, with all of the thoughts and emotions that came with it. Remind your client not to be overly promotional or sales-y during interviews. Reporters often look at the micro and macro picture when it comes to how your client’s actions are impacting others and sometimes even society at large. 

It’s true that reporters, sources and PR professionals all have different interests and agendas when it comes to interviews. But, if they’re doing their jobs right, everyone should want the same end goal – to tell a good, memorable story that makes readers think and question the status quo.