In-person Media Interviews Are Back (If You’re Prepared)

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to recede, one of the mainstays of media relations is slowly beginning to reemerge: in-person media interviews with journalists.

Like most other forms of face-to-face communications in the past year, the “deskside” briefing has been on sabbatical, denying spokespeople and print, broadcast and online reporters from engaging in the more intimate, relationship-forging encounters that Zoom can replicate but not quite replace.

In-person Media Interviews Are Back (If You’re Prepared) - photo of a video camera filming a TV interview between two female participants

Last week, the three anchors of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” appeared on set together, at NASDAQ MarketSite, for the first time in months, and this week, they welcomed the first guest back in studio. Other morning shows — such as “Good Morning America” — have gone a step further by resuming in-person, in-studio interviews of guests for certain segments.

Plus, outlets that typically broadcast live from the floor of (or balcony overlooking) the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) are also back in the building, in accordance with NYSE’s easing of on-floor trading restrictions. That said, some limitations remain for the opening- and closing-bell bell-ringing ceremonies typically used to tout a new listing or corporate milestone.

For PR pros charged with wrangling the media for their clients, this is welcome news. But be sure to tread warily. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are pretty clear on when and where mask-less encounters can occur, some media outlets have more stringent guidelines. Indeed, most NBC producers are still working away from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, using remote locations for taped pieces and live shots.

Here are a few tips for dipping a toe back into the in-person media interview waters:

  • Don’t assume. Just because one network has lenient guidelines doesn’t mean all others are following suit. Before scheduling or staffing an in-person briefing, ask for the outlet’s rules and restrictions for these meetings, and keep your clients apprised. Nobody needs a surprise five minutes before airtime.
  • Gauge spokesperson comfort. We anticipate journalists will want to know either that a spokesperson is vaccinated or that they will wear a mask for close contact. Your spokesperson needs to be comfortable with one of those options, or revert back to a remote interview.
  • Embrace the outdoors. If the weather is clear and mild, you may want to suggest an outdoor interview, especially if the setting (like the entrance to a manufacturing plant or a new store opening) is relevant to the storyline. Most broadcast producers — who typically have worked in the studio — have been coordinating in-the-real-world media interviews for months now and may prefer it in many cases. (Yahoo! Finance just began okaying some field shoots last week, just in time for investor days and annual meetings.) Pitch accordingly!
  • Continue to embrace remote interviews. While many news outlets are moving to do more in-person, journalists have also seen the value of remote and hybrid reporting. Where in-person is not vital, some reporters will stick to what has worked in the past year and conduct media interviews by webcam. This remains a viable option for many stories.

Media interviews continue to be a vital component of any communications campaign or initiative, enabling brands to make direct connections with key influencers. Understanding the latest COVID-driven procedures and protocols is important to ensure success.

So, as you should do every time you’re working with the media, do your homework first.

Count on Ketchum’s media relations specialists to provide the insights and expertise to recharge your in-person media campaigns and provide the latest on the lessening of in-person interview restrictions. Reach out if you’d like to talk further.

Marissa Kandel is a VP, media group manager, in Ketchum’s Atlanta office. She has worked in both brand marketing and corporate communications, providing strategic media counsel and support to a range of clients. In her role, Marissa leads media relations programs for product launches, executive thought leadership opportunities and issues and crisis. An Atlanta native, Marissa graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in public relations from the University of Florida.