PR Secrets: How to feel more comfortable talking to journalists

I cut my PR teeth in the IT industry. It was booming - not just in activity and constant change - but it was also incredibly loud with companies vying for journalist’s attention, sometimes received gratefully, sometimes not.

It was (and I presume still is) de facto that PRs would send out a news release, then call up the most important journalists on their contact list to ask if they received the news release. So journalists would get a double whammy – a full inbox with potentially uninteresting or irrelevant news and then a phone call asking if they’d received the potentially uninteresting news. For a journalist, this would happen constantly through any working day.

My point?  Working with journalists is best when it’s collaborative, when there’s a win win. You’re helping them build a story and they’re helping you tell your story.

So if you have an interview opportunity with an HR journalist, perhaps for the first time, bear these tips in mind to help you prepare, feel more comfortable and get a good editorial result:

  • Research the journalist – what sort of things do they write about? Is there anything you don’t like that they’ve written before? What is their style and subject expertise?

  • Understand the specifics of the article they’re writing about now. What is it they’re trying to convey to their audience?

  • Research the publication – is the tone educational and supportive for its audience, or is there a chance that your messages could be turned negative so that you need to exercise caution?

  • Ask for questions up front – this will help you understand motivation of the journalist, what they’re trying to achieve in the article, let alone the actual questions you’ll be answering.

  • Understand if there are there any internal sensitivities that must not be discussed. If there are, do not mention them, not even declaring ‘off the record’.

  • If it feels better – ask if you can answer questions by email. Many journalists are happy with this (or sometimes prefer it). Given enough time, this also means you can run your answers by anyone internally to get them approved.

  • Prepare. Nic Paton, a well-known journalist in our market, gives a snapshot of his preferences when he interviews someone in HR. He likes it when someone has “thought about what they’re going to say and talk clearly (both at a practical level – and ideally not too quickly for those of us scribbling in shorthand! – but also in terms of what they’re looking to express). Journalists know a little about a lot and will often be working across multiple stories to tight deadlines and so they may not need chapter and verse detail and so a few interesting observations can often go a long way”.

  • Three is a good number. Note down three things you’d like to get across in your interview that contextually fit with the journalist’s article, yet support your programme, company and employees. This is the win win.

  • Let your corporate communications or PR team know you’re doing the interview to further support your employer brand; working with them can also help create future opportunities.

 PR in HR knows the HR media, working with it for nearly 25 years. If you’d like any advice or help with media relations, give us a call. You can reach us on 01932 701686 or visit our website:


Kay Phelps