5 things not to say to a travel journalist

tips for press interview

Disclaimer: As an ex-journalist, I may be slightly biased…

Journalists aren’t influencers or publicists. They are paid to ask difficult questions and to fact-check. In recent years the profession has gone through many changes, resulting in more pressure on fewer journalists to produce more stories. Publications have folded, while others have flourished online.

Despite blogs and social media providing free content, people continue to turn to the press for verified information. A story written in a trusted publication continues to carry much more weight than a thinly veiled advertisement or article based on questionable information.

All that said, public relations is crucial for companies in the travel industry.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects the profession. Sometimes, executives and marketers view reporters only as generators of “free advertising.”

As PR professionals, our job is to guide our clients in finding the best angles to pitch their stories to the press and to help the media understand the news element and value of our clients’ announcements.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when conducting a press interview.

1. “Did you receive my press release?”

Chances are that, yes, your press release is buried among a hundred others in the reporter’s inbox. Journalists are working under pressure with stressful deadlines. Asking questions like this will only put you in a bad light. If your release has value for the publication it will be sorted and you will be contacted. If you’ve developed a proper PR strategy, you’ll already know the best ways (email, social media, phone, text messaging, etc.) to reach reporters working on the topics that affect your organization. If you don’t, get to know the reporter and his or her preferences. Above all, learn to pitch your news so that it stands out.

2. “When can you publish my press release?”

Remember that most journalists won’t take your word on face value. They won’t publish a story with a single source. Your press release might be published as a short brief on its own. If your story calls for a proper article, reporters will conduct interviews and contact other sources. Journalists rarely have a say on when a story might be released. It is for the editor to decide based on other news. What might seem urgent for you will probably be much less critical for the news editor.

3. Don’t say “No comment.”

If you do, be ready for the journalist to start digging. If you believe you might one day be in an awkward position, prepare for it in advance. Other people will be happy to provide comments so do your job and control the discussion.

4. “Are you speaking to my competitors?”

As we’ve seen above, good journalists aren’t publishing single-source stories. Chances are the reporter you are speaking with has or will reach-out to competitors so don’t bother mentioning it. However, you can build trust by offering sources to beef-up the story. Clients using your products are always appreciated, as are independent consultants or renowned experts. The journalist will welcome saving time on research and will probably return the favor.

5. “Let me check your story before you publish it.”

Each publication has its internal policy about this issue. As a rule of thumb, news media are free to publish what they want. They don’t have to let you review their story or even your quotes.
Expect not to approve the story before it goes to press; this is why you must be extremely careful during the interview. Make sure to speak clearly. Never use jargon and double check that the reporter understood you. Not everyone is an expert in your field. It might be the first story the reporter writes about your industry. Reformulate complex issues and offer to send additional information by email. Use this opportunity to rephrase essential facts. Pay attention to the reporter’s note taking. Pause when needed to let the journalist catch-up.

I could go on forever about the do’s and don’ts of PR. The best way to conduct an interview is to come prepared and to be honest and empathic. The best interviews are discussions between trusting professionals.

Learn about the journalist and the publication. What is the reporter usually writing about? Who are his or her readers? Keep this in mind to craft your message and find the right angle for the interview. Remember that journalists work on deadline be ready to give impromptu interviews when called. If you aren’t prepared to answer their questions, they will find someone else.

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