A journalist gets in touch with you asking for an interview. What should you do next?
Engaging with the media is one of the most effective ways of reaching the public to promote your work and expertise. Although the use of social media for news content is on the rise, broadcast TV is still the most popular way that people get their news and video snippets are promoted by news outlets across social media platforms.
Getting your voice out there to explain your work will raise awareness of your research with the public, policymakers and other decision makers, while helping to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Here, some of our Fellows team up with our press office to share their top tips for engaging with the media.
- Get to know your institution’s press office. Use them to find out details before agreeing to an interview. They can help you decide if a request is appropriate for your knowledge area, prioritise enquires and plan and rehearse your key messages. They will know what journalists are looking for and what’s in the news agenda that you might get quizzed on.
- Don’t be hasty in turning it down. Nerves are natural, but with a bit of preparation you will be able to do a media interview.
“The way to counter ‘bad information’ is to drown it out with ‘good information’. If the scientific voice isn’t out there, the voices of the mavericks and people deliberately misleading others will drown out ‘good science’.” – Fiona Fox OBE FMedSci, Chief Executive, Science Media Centre
- Take time to speak to the journalist setting up the interview. Before a TV or radio interview, you’ll have a call with the person in charge of setting up the piece. Use this to raise issues you think are important to their audience. This will help the journalist to shape the interview. You can also highlight areas you don’t feel comfortable speaking about by saying, ‘That area isn’t my expertise but what I can talk about is…’.
- Prepare your key message. Ask yourself, what is the one thing you’d like the audience to take away from your interview? Your key message should be around three simple sentences. Begin with your headline thought, add evidence, anecdotes, or examples to illustrate this, and end decisively, reiterating your key message. Practise saying it out loud, to a friend or family member, and avoid reading from a script, using acronyms or jargon. In summary, think about why people should CARE and use language that is Clear, Accessible, Relevant, E
“Your interviewer is not there to trip you up. They’re there to get interesting statements out of you, and to help you tell a story. Prepare engaging examples which will make the viewer or listener think.” – Professor Peter Openshaw FMedSci, Professor of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College London
“Know what you’re going to say and get that message across in the first sentence of your answer – just in case they cut the interview from three minutes to one minute.” – Professor Dame Frances Ashcroft DBE FMedSci, Royal Society Research Professor, University of Oxford
“Write down any key facts or statistics that you want to get across, because when you’re nervous, you’ll suddenly forget - was it 78% or 34%, which way up was it? Only the key points, not full sentences!” – Baroness Ilora Finlay FMedSci, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Cardiff University
- Practise bridging – moving away from a tricky question to your key message. Use the ABC method: Address the question, Bridge to where you want to be, Communicate your key message. Use phrases such as, ‘What people should know is…’, ‘What I can tell you is…’, ‘Most importantly…’.
- Be prepared to deal with challenging questions. Avoid being defensive or aggressive. Don’t repeat negative language used by a reporter, even to deny it. Stick to your key message and use those bridging phrases.
- Familiarise yourself with the different types of interviews. Is it a call over the phone that will go into print? If it’s a broadcast interview, is it live or pre-recorded? Are you going into the studios or are you calling in over Zoom? For radio interviews, remove jewellery or anything noisy, and keep any notes to one side of a page. For TV, plan your clothes in advance and make sure you feel comfortable. Always put your phone on silent or airplane mode, and smile – you can hear a smile across the radio.
“Live, although possibly scarier, is actually better than recorded because what you want to say, you say, and they can’t cut it out.” – Professor Dame Frances Ashcroft DBE FMedSci, Royal Society Research Professor, University of Oxford
“Always ask just before you go on air, “how long have you allocated for the item?”, because they change it all the time, up until you’re just about to go on.” – Baroness Ilora Finlay FMedSci, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Cardiff University
“They might send a taxi for you, use it to practise your key messages on the driver.” – Professor Tom Solomon CBE FMedSci, Vice President (International), Academy of Medical Sciences and Director, The Pandemic Institute
- Get feedback after your interview. Call your press office, a supportive colleague, friend or relative. Feel free to ask the journalist if you communicated in a way that worked for their audience.
- Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. It is easy to be over critical of your own interviews but give yourself a break and think of the things that went well before you think of the things you would do better in future.
"Friends, colleagues and neighbours got in touch to tell me great things about my interviews. The Vice Chancellor at the university where I work was one of the first to email and congratulate me. I only had one mildly hurtful email – but that’s what the delete button is for.” – Professor Susan Wray FMedSci, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, University of Liverpool, after experiencing a media splash.
- Look at other top tips guides and have them to hand. There are some useful guides out there to help you do media work, including the Wellcome Trust’s guide to working with the mediaand the Science Media Centre’s top tips guide, as well as this article from Elsevier.
The Academy of Medical Sciences has a press office who can support Academy Fellows or grant awardees with media work.
For more information about our work supporting medical scientists to do media work please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support the work of the Academy, see our dedicated support us page.