Clients and Phone Interviews – What’s Your Role?

Stained Sticky Notepaper Pad with Broken Pencil and Telephone HandsetCongratulations! You’ve scored a phone interview for your client with a big name reporter. Now comes the big question – do you join in?

I have worked for people that have stood on both sides of the issue as to whether or not you should be on the phone while a client does the interview. If the decision has been made that you will be listening in, do you tell the reporter you are on the other line? Do you chime in? Or, do you just pretend you aren’t there and take a back seat? And, what do the reporters think?

There are so many opinions that surround this topic; I thought I would poll the PRBC crew and a couple of reporters to get their thoughts.

Resoundingly the responses from the PRBC were “Yes, be on the call!” However, every situation is different.

Client by Client

As PRCog so eloquently stated “it’s really client by client – some like the reassurance that someone’s there, some don’t need the spoon feeding.”  If you have a new client, being on the call might prove to be advantageous. You can get a sense of how they respond to questions, learn more about their expertise and the company itself, and get the overall feeling of how the client is with the press.

For your more media-savvy clients, you may not feel the need to be on the call. However, you could offer to be there in a more administrative capacity and that you are solely there to see how the interview flowed and do whatever follow up may be necessary.

Additionally, you might want to take into account the actual story topic.  A reporter I polled said that “I don’t mind at all when publicists are on the phone call, assuming the story is not an investigative piece.”

Follow Up

Another reason some prefer to get on the line is purely for the sake of follow up. An anonymous reporter I asked about this topic said, “What I really like about having the publicist on the line is that it sometimes saves me time, because he/she knows exactly what follow-up information is needed and neither the source nor I have to spend time explaining what is still needed after the interview.” That’s right folks. If you are on the line, then you know what you need to get that reporter after the interview – bio, headshot, etc.

Mute it or Chime In

In many cases, PR-pros get on the phone, but put their end on mute. Other times, there are those that actually chime in during the interview from time to time. One reporter stated that “one thing I really hate is when the publicist chimes in and starts asking questions. I know this is a well-intended effort to help, and I appreciate that, but it takes up time and often takes the interview in a direction different than the one I want to take. Also, in some cases the publicist thinks he/she knows what I want to know, but they don’t.”

Yet, our own Keith Trivitt says that “I have noticed that a lot of the reporters I work with actually like it, as they’ll cite something I told them prior to the interview, and then I can jump in quickly and reiterate that point so my client will elaborate on it.”

Absence & Accuracy

You know the story – reporter interviews client, reporter writes story, client says “hey, wait, I didn’t say that.” Or, how about the “your client never picked up the phone for the interview” incident? Both of these potential disasters are the primary reason why PRBC’s CT Michaels says that he gets on all the calls.

So, readers what are your thoughts? Do you get on the line with a client and reporter? Do you steer clear? If you are on the line, do you participate?

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  • meg

    Marie – this is a really informative post! More often than not, I tell my clients I'll be on the call with them for administrative purposes and to ensure accuracy. I liked how you presented reasons why publicists don't ALWAYS need to be on a call. Thanks!

  • meg

    Marie – this is a really informative post! More often than not, I tell my clients I'll be on the call with them for administrative purposes and to ensure accuracy. I liked how you presented reasons why publicists don't ALWAYS need to be on a call. Thanks!

  • Always, always, always get on the line for interviews. You gave great reasons in your post. Also, I like to be aware of any potential red flags or misinformation that is shared so that I can help the reporter get the correct information before the story runs.

  • I agree, each client differs. But I certainly see the value in attending phone briefings. It's helpful to hear the conversation…many times something a client has said in an interview has led to a deeper conversation off-line and turned into a blog post, article idea, etc.

  • Vblack

    As a journalist, I find the notion of the PR guy being part of the interview appalling – and of him or her being part of it SECRETLY even more so.

  • jeffshelman

    As a former journalist turned PR pro, I will give the lame answer of “it depends.”

    Does the person being interviewed need the support? Is it a topic that is at all controversial? Do you know the reporter? Do you trust the person being interviewed? Do you trust the reporter? Is it a reporter who has interviewed the person before?

    I think it's far too simplistic to just say yes or no without asking additional questions.

  • Steve Koenigsberg

    The operative word is “facilitate”. Being on the phone interview call is beneficial for all the reasons stated. Many times I get better story points for other media pitches. But it's clear to anyone in a group setting, whether it's a meeting or a client interview, when someone is controlling the proceedings rather than facilitating the flow. Sometimes “less is more.”

  • I've never sat in on a client's interview with a reporter. I think it sends the wrong message to the client and reporter — that you don't trust either of them. Of course, I prep clients thoroughly before interviews and advise how to handle tough questions or situations where they genuinely do not know the answer to something. That's my role.

  • Being on the phone with a client during an interview helps more than hurts. And always let the reporter know in advance you'll be on the call. No surprises. Having an experienced PR pro on the call to facilitate a conversation can help the reporter in a number of ways, especially by keeping the client's comments on point and addressing the reporter's key issues.

  • keithtrivitt

    You make a really good point about letting the reporter – and I'd add, your client – know you will be on the phone during the interview. Always best to go into a client interview with everyone – you, your client and the the interviewer – on the same page, knowing exactly who will be on the call. As soon as I set up the interview with the reporter, I will let him or her know that I will be on the call with my client. Typically, I call the reporter first (if it's a phoner) and then conference in my client, make the introductions, kind of set the scene (“Tom (the reporter) thanks for taking the time to chat with Mike (my client) today about XYZ. I think you'll really enjoy his perspective on …”), and then I just shut up and let them do their thing. I may interject quickly to reiterate something, offer a quick point that my client passed over or just ask at the end for any clarifications from the reporter and what their next steps may be (write-up, file it away, etc.).

  • keithtrivitt

    I can't tell you how many times I've facilitated a client interview and have gotten 5 or 10 terrific pitch points, or even better, some really great insight for the next byline I may be writing on behalf of that client. What I really find valuable to sitting in on the interview, and mostly, just listening, is that you actual do just that … listen. For once in a PR pro's life, you're not doing the talking and you're not hearing yourself spout out ideas and counsel. You're actually listening to how the key messages are coming across from your client, and just as important, how those messages are being received on the other end by the reporter/blogger. This can give you tremendous insight into what's working, what isn't, etc. in the messaging and brand-building process.