Media interview tips for public safety and government agencies
By Law Enforcement Social
May 13, 2021

Participating in media interviews is vital in controlling the narrative of an incident, initiative, or event for public safety and government agencies. But, often, agencies lose grip of the narrative, not sharing communications in a way that adequately tells the story.

Get your pen and paper ready and write this down; it is NEVER okay during an interview to reply with “no comment” as it could sound as if you’re hiding something; it’s best to respond with, “I don’t have that answer at the moment, but let me follow up with you when I have more information.” Doing so will ensure that you strengthen your relationship with reporters, and it’ll give you a higher chance of them portraying your agency in a more positive light.

Be sure to share the most critical information, facts, or points initially, as the first portion of an interview is the point where all eyes and ears are engaged.

Media interviews can be tough to navigate through, and this is what we’re here for, to provide you with a little bit of guidance to assist you along the way. Here’s a list of six tips to help strengthen your preparation and execution of media interviews in the future!

Prepare for the interview
It’s so important to not just show up for the interview but to show up prepared and knowing what you’re going to say and how you plan on responding to potential questions.

One way you can prepare for your media interview is to ask for questions beforehand; the worst thing the publication or broadcasting corporation can say is no, so ask…most of the time they’ll happily give them to you. This will help you respond to difficult questions succinctly and ensure that you’re not caught off guard with unexpected questions; it’ll also eliminate any potential rambling.

Be sure to do your research on the topic beforehand. Read over press releases, any related literature and become comfortable with the topic. Being comfortable and confident with the information you are relaying will come across in the interview, whether in print, on the internet, or on television.

Finally, be sure to utilize the most appropriate person on the team to tell the story. For example, suppose the topic is an officer-involved shooting. In that case, it might be most appropriate to have the police chief be front and center in sharing the details, opposed to having the community relations officer tell the story. It’s so important that the right person tells the story to aid in the delivery of the interview.

Anticipate questions
No matter the type of interview you or a person in your department may be participating in, always anticipate questions beforehand. Sometimes interviews come with short notice, but always remember, it’s best to get some practice or rehearsal in rather than none.

Take a moment to think to yourself the type of questions you believe the reporter will hit you with. Think of all the possibilities of questions from the most basic to the most complex questions. Then, write down the questions and read them out loud. Give yourself a few moments to think of what the most efficient responses would be; then say them out loud and refine the responses as necessary.

It’s also important to always know the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions; be sure to go over those six points and formulate responses to each of them. This will also provide you with more comfort in retelling the story.

Maintain control of the interview
It’s crucial to maintain control of any and every interview you participate in. If you feel that you are off-topic or off-track at any point during the interview, circle back and bring the discussion back to the original topic.

Do not be afraid to restate any sentiments, facts, or data shared during the interview, especially if you weren’t satisfied with the way it came across when you were first asked the question. The most vital information must be shared at the beginning or rephrased during the interview to bring the interview back full circle. Remember, you control all interviews you participate in, as you’re the one with the information and story.

Be mindful of body language
Always be mindful of body language, whether participating in a television broadcast or interview with a publication. Your body language has the power to share information or cues that may distract an audience from your talking points.

Also, remember to control your facial expressions, gestures, and overall emotions, as these could take away from the content of the interview or confuse the audience as to what your true messaging is. Be mindful; body language is called body language for a reason, and the reason is that you can tell what a person is feeling or thinking.

Avoid jargon
Avoid jargon at all costs! It’s important to utilize language that the everyday person will understand. Using terminology that only law enforcement professionals or government agencies understand will solidify that you share the story with absolutely no one because they didn’t understand what you were communicating. So it’s essential to take the time before an interview to break down any jargon and find alternative ways of expressing the same sentiment without losing the point of your response.

Also, try your hardest to eliminate acronyms from your responses during an interview; the general public has no clue what “NAPO” or any other type of acronyms mean. Break down all information to ensure everyone understands.

Do not read off of a script
One way to completely botch an interview is to read off of a script. Reading off of a script will come across as if you are unprepared for the interview. It can also be an indication that you may not have been the best person to provide the interview.

Directly reading off of a script will make you sound robotic and make the topic less interesting. Think of the last time you heard someone reading off of a long script; you probably stopped listening or paying attention somewhere halfway through. Be natural during the interview. This can easily be achieved by not using a script, queue cards, or a teleprompter. You already know the information so don’t overcomplicate it, just share it.

Finally, we felt that this forthcoming point deserves an honorable mention when it comes to ensuring you provide the best interview possible to gain the coverage your agency deserves. Never share information “off the record” even if the interview is over or the cameras are no longer rolling because anything you say can come to light and be added to a story at any time, even after it’s published. Only share information that you are comfortable with being made public.

Our team hopes these media interview tips assist you in telling your story…now, get out there and tackle those interviews!