* Prepare. If you are the right person to answer the journalist’s questions, think of the one or two main points or responses that you want to get across before entering the interview. Have relevant facts at your fingertips. Resist the temptation – or pressure – to reply at once. Ask “Is there anything else you need to know?” Make a note of the questions. Once you fully understand the story, ask yourself: “Do I know the issues well enough to make an informed comment right away?” If you want to check your facts, have a word with someone or just think about the issues; do not feel you have to answer immediately. You should, particularly for the broadcast media, think about summarizing the issue into a few simple key points.
* Call back quickly. Media are generally under tight deadlines, and the earlier you respond, the more likely it will be that you will be included in the story. Make sure you call the journalist back before the deadline, even if it’s just to explain an unforeseen obstacle. A missed deadline is a missed story. Alternatively, the story could still be used but may report that you were unavailable for comment, implying indifference or defensiveness.
* Handling a tough situation. If you know you are being asked about a very controversial issue, ask your own questions. Say: “I know you can’t reveal your sources but can you give me an idea how you knew this was happening?” Try to find out who else the journalist has spoken to – you may get an idea of the angle of the story. If a journalist quotes something particularly inflammatory, don’t react. Make a note of it for your own response.
* Be ready to explain the issue carefully and patiently. While reporters, particularly specialist reporters, may have a good knowledge of the background, do not assume this. Respect the fact that they know a good story and are interested in what you do. If you can, offer to send the information to them, ideally by fax.
* Listen. Make sure you know what question you are answering. Sometimes the question itself can suggest appropriate ways to focus or phrase an answer.
* Get to the point. Capture the essence of what you want to say in the first one or two sentences of your response, and add details later.
* Keep it simple. Most journalists are looking for clear, simple quotes that can be understood by a wide audience.