How to introduce some human interest into a media interview

Human interest. It’s the biggest cliché in journalism. Look at any newspaper, magazine or website and almost every picture will be of a human being. Go on to read the first paragraph and again the focus will be on a person or a group of people – famous people, infamous people, heroes, villains, politicians, sportspeople and celebrities or ordinary folk who have experienced something unusual. Human beings are at the heart of every major media story. After all, it’s human beings that read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio and watch television.

So how can you as an interviewee include this all-important human element that you know journalists are always looking for?

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It’s all about people

Here are five ways to introduce some human interest into a media interview.

First, introduce some case studies. This is the simplest and easiest method of bringing that essential human element into a media interview. If you look at the media coverage of any issue, be it housing, health, personal finance, shopping or education it will almost always include a case study. We journalists need to speak to someone who has done something, bought something, experienced something or suffered from something. So, work with your Comms team or PR consultants to identify and develop case studies. Ideally, these will be genuine customers or service users that you can either refer the journalist to or even have interviewed yourselves and written up as a 200-word article. Don’t forget to include a good professional photograph too. Even if you don’t have a real case study a hypothetical one can work nearly as well. A phrase such as, “Say you’re a first-time buyer…” or “Imagine you’re a 50 something looking for a new career…” or “Take a young mother with three children…” You could also refer to someone from your own client base, by using a phrase such as “One customer said to us the other day…”

Second, mention your own personal experience. This is very powerful. We recently worked with an e-commerce developer. During the media training course, one of the participants talked about her own experience of online shopping – her likes and dislikes and what she’d bought recently. This personal, human touch brought a dry and technical subject to life and made it easy to relate to even for the specialist media. As well as an expert she was also a human being and a consumer – one of the people that her clients in online retail were so focussed on. You might also want to talk about why you do the job you do or about your first day at your current company. Tell us why you love your job or what people say at parties when you tell them what you do. All this natural, genuine human interest will complement your expertise and professional standing rather than detracting from it.

Third, ask the journalist about their experience of the issue that you’re talking about. Just as your own personal story helps to illustrate a point and bring it to life, the journalist’s experience can also work. So ask them about the last time they bought insurance or visited their GP or how they would prefer to buy clothes. Whatever the subject it’s almost certain that the journalist has some kind of experience of it. Whether it’s a good thing or an annoyance, a pleasure or an irritation, funny or sad, mentioning this during a media interview helps to bring them on board. It makes it easier for them to relate to the issue you’re discussing to engage with what you’re saying.

Fourth, think about tribes. Whether it’s Yuppies, Hoxton Hipsters, Helicopter Parents or Millennials, the media loves a tribe. Identifying a particular group of people allows us to make observations and look for patterns. So, if you’re putting together a communications programme, trying to raise awareness or publicity or doing a media interview that you want to be memorable and influential for the right reasons then identify a tribe and name them. This could be a type of customer, a certain variety of shopper or a group of people that you’re keen to target and talk to. Offer a pen portrait of these types and refer to a celebrity or two who could join their ranks and the journalist will love you for it.

Fifth, introduce some anecdotes or case studies about things that we’re all familiar with. Part of the key to success with a media interview is to develop a connection or empathy with the journalist and, ultimately, their audience. Phrases such as “You know what it’s like when…” or “No one wants to spend hours online searching for a pair of shoes…” can build this empathy. You’re an expert – which is why we’ve come to interview you – but you’re also a human being. In addition to this you might pick an example of case study from the media.   A comment such as “We saw last week the case of the banker who…” or “Remember the GP who…” or “JK Rowling has been talking recently about…” can help to illustrate a point as well as making it more topical.

Incorporating the human element into a media interview is good for the journalist but it’s also good for you, as it will allow you to maintain more control of the exchange. And, of course, if you give the journalist what he or she wants while other contributors to the piece don’t you’ll get more column inches or airtime – and that counts as a win with any media interview.

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Posted by Simon Brooke on at

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