At some point in your career you will likely be contacted by the media. They may ask you to give a professional opinion on a topic they are covering or they may have an interest in the place that you work, the population you serve or even in you and your career. Whatever the reason, there are some considerations that should come into play before saying yes. What follows serves not as a comprehensive nor exhaustive look, but as more of a primer on preparing for what is often considered your “15 minutes of fame.”
Over my career, I have been honored to have been able to help promote our profession in several mediums ranging from television, radio, newspapers, magazines, text books and the internet. In some cases I was little more than filler, providing a few lines of professional opinion for a much broader topic. At others I was the main focus. No matter your role, it is important, even when the only reason the reporter is talking to you is because their focus cannot speak for themselves (like when they were covering a therapeutic animal in my office but alas, Helen, the dog could not talk so they asked me. If I remember correctly, it was my arm that made the front page, wrapped around Helen).
Some folks will decline any type of interviews for their entire careers, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Who wouldn’t want to keep a low profile, do their job and go home? There is much to be said for that. For those who find themselves faced with the decision and are inclined to say yes, consider the following:
What’s your message?
Though the reporter will have their agenda and will serve as a guide for the interview, it is important to know what you want to say, how you want to be portrayed and the overall tone you would like the interview to have. This does not mean that you should stick dogmatically to your original agenda: a certain amount of give is often needed as the interview may take a surprise turn, but have a general idea of what you want your overall message to be.
What are your goals?
After saying yes, what is it that you hope will be accomplished in the interview? Is it realistic? Do they align with the goals of the reporter? Have you discussed them with the reporter? Doing what you can to make sure that there are shared goals can save one from awkward moments when the cameras are rolling. It’s very important to remember that no matter what you say, unless you are on live tv, the editor will decide what makes the final cut. This again underscores the need to mesh your goals and expectations with the reality of what the reporter is looking for. For the most part, put trust in the news-team to do a good job. If you do not trust that they will do so, decline the interview and move on.
Most “bad” interviews that I’ve seen are often rooted in a lack of mental preparation or focus. Though there will be varying numbers of viewers depending on whether or not you are doing public, local, state, national or international programming, try to focus on the interviewer and not worry about the viewership. Obsessing about the ratings, number of views and related issues tend to mostly lead to undue stress and possible anxiety attacks. Many times when folks freeze on air it has so much to do with them being psyched out by the thoughts of all the people watching them. Try to clear that from your mind and focus only on those before you. Try to think of the camera as an old friend.
When preparing for the interview, remember your goals, desired message and the approximate time they have given you for the interview. Handle the interview with the same calmness that you would have when conducting a session with a new client.
Preparing the office
If your interview will be done in the studio, there is nothing that needs to be done in terms of office prep; but when the crew comes to you and your office, that changes things considerably. When doing an office-based interview it is advisable to clear the amount of time that the interviewer has estimated. On a recent interview, the producer estimated that the interview and B Roll (extra filming for filler or to do voice over work with) would take no more than 30 minutes. Once they got on scene and asked a few questions, they pleasantly discovered a much bigger story. Two hours later I needed to hold a session and they had not yet filmed their originally planned footage. Thankfully, what they needed to film was out of the office and in part of the 50 acres that surrounds it.
When a film crew is present it is best not to have clients around so as to avoid any potential privacy violations. Also be sure not to have any charts or other medical records in view.
Some folks will want to stage their offices prior to the interview, others will just make sure it has had a good cleaning, there really is no wrong answer.
How to dress
Depending on the type of interview, you would likely either dress much like you would for a typical work day, or perhaps dress more “corporate.” Dress according to how you want to be portrayed. It is not uncommon to see one dressed in a “smart” suit or similar fashion but many exceptions exist.
Don’t be afraid to say no to a reporter, producer or other member of the crew should they ask you to do something that you feel uncomfortable with. This includes saying no to the whole interview if the timing, location, topic or whatever feels wrong.
Protecting client privacy
Your clients deserve respect and the law and code of ethics demands that their privacy be protected at all costs. Be sure to read, understand and follow the laws and codes of ethics related to client\patient privacy. Avoid giving details of any actual client that could potentially lead to their identification. Do not have any identified clients with you as part of an interview and keep all notes, charts or other documents out of the area where the film crew may have access. This applies even when you have a high-profile client or clients that the news community would be very interested in. Do not risk your career for a chance at a few minutes of fame.
Getting over yourself
Ok, your segment has been filmed and edited and is about to go on the air, the teasers (promotional commercials) are in rotation on the network and folks are starting to notice and contact you. It is fine to acknowledge the upcoming interview and to share the promos and information but remember to keep things in perspective.
As the segment(s) air there will likely be an increase in calls, emails and social media response. There may be many messages of praise and some level of fanfare. There could also be a fair share of skeptics or naysayers as well. It is best not to tie your self-esteem to your public standing. There may be some hype surrounding the event but it will die down in short order. Remember who you are, what you do and stay grounded. You are no better than you were prior to the interview and soon enough, folks will have moved on to the next big thing. Acting superior now will likely just help kill any positive vibe the press gave you in the first place.
A short while ago I was contacted by the Today Show to offer an expert opinion on a story they were covering for their site. They found me after an internet search for professionals associated with the topic. After a brief exploration of the story, message, goals and related issues we agreed on a day and time to conduct the interview via telephonic means. The interview took place and a day or two later it went live internationally. NBC Universal cross-promoted the story and soon I found that several people who had seen the story but had not read it yet had forwarded it to me as they thought I may have found it of interest. I also shared it on social media and mentioned that I was in it. I then went to work doing my normal client load and farm chores.
A matter of days later NBC Connecticut contacted me about doing a story about the program that I founded and run in Connecticut. They had read the story and my part of it and thought it could be of interest to Connecticut viewers. We explored the items as described above and I set aside four chunks of time that they felt they would need for filming. I cleaned my office and made sure no clients would be scheduled at the office for any of our other clinicians as well during that time.
As our program was the focus, I decided to dress much like I normally do for work as I wanted to appear genuine. My wife did buy me a new Carhartt Tshirt because she felt some of my daily shirts would not look great on television, but otherwise I wore what I often do, right down to my New Balance sneakers and cowboy hat.
As the B Roll was being filmed and small talk between the news anchor and myself took place, there seemed to be a change in both scope and direction of the piece. Though I was prepared to discuss the programming and only a bit about myself, once the cameras were rolling for the formal interview I found that much of the interview focused directly on me and the program itself was second. As the news anchor remained in due bounds, we continued and I followed her lead as she had my full trust and respect.
Two hours into the process, they had not filmed the animal sanctuary that I thought was going to be the main focus of the spot. Having to get back to work, they filmed the animal spot without me (they were well aware of the fact that privacy was paramount and did not attempt to film any client that may have come to the property).
In the end, the minute or two segment that I had planned for turned into a day or so of teasers followed by in studio conversations by the entire news team and two segments in the morning. The evening news team had their own conversations and a single but expanded version of the interview was played. I had no idea what would be in it until I watched it on TV. My wife, also a clinician and member of our clinical team, was interviewed as well and my son Warren IV was shown and discussed. We could not have written a better PR piece if we had tried.
The morning it aired I decided to watch it, something I rarely do as I view interviews as part of the job, something to do, move on and forget about. I was glad that I did. I was super impressed by the quality of the piece and how they treated our program. I then got out of bed, cleaned the drain in the tub, got ready for work as normal, meaning a full round of sessions intermixed with farm chores.
We shared the links on social media and gave them to our website tech to have them embedded as soon as we could. Otherwise, it was business as usual, with the exception of the increased requests for services that often come with media attention.
Days later a different network requested an interview but we declined. It was felt that the timing was wrong, the set up was too rushed and there was concern that the producer did not fully understand or respect the need for privacy for our clients. Though we respect the team, we could not in good conscience do the interview under their terms.
The experiences were good, the added attention for our program was better than an expensive ad campaign, but in the end, we remain the same people and the same program as before. No better, no worse. It is after all just part of the job…
So there you have it, sometimes you become the story. Do your best and move forward. I’m rooting for you!
Links to the original article and one of the interviews:
Other clips may be available at www.docwarren.org by the time this is published.
Be sage, do good
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected] His program has also been featured on NBC https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/A-Happy-Place-Wolcott-Therapeutic-Farm-Redefining-Mental-Health-Care-563389381.html
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA