As journalists and media training experts here at Nine Media, we are often asked to go on news programmes to comment on a topic we have written about. The first time I did this I couldn’t believe how little hand-holding there was considering it was national television. I was shovelled into make-up and before I knew it I was on air with no idea which of the five cameras were filming. The presenter was juggling so many tasks she didn’t even look up when I sat next to her.
Here are some things you won’t be briefed on before you or your client goes on air.
Live TV is not scripted and the presenter is likely to ad lib the questions, so don’t ask for them in advance. Sometimes a producer will call ahead of your appearance for a ‘research chat’. This is so that the producer can build a picture of what topics you have the most interesting things to say about. He or she will make notes for the presenter, but the presenter will word their own questions according to what they judge to be relevant. If you’re doing a TV debate with another guest, it’s impossible for the producer to tell you who will go to first.
On rolling news channels like Sky news, this will always be flexible. With scheduled news bulletins like News at Ten or Channel Four News, you can ask how much time has been allocated to your interview. Even then it’s still subject to being bumped by more important news. But you shouldn’t worry about the duration because we can guarantee that five minutes will feel like one (so get your best points in quick!).
What you’re going to talk about
Don’t be surprised if the only thing anyone asks you before going on air is if you want a cup of tea. The ‘vetting’ was done when you were booked. The producers who look after the show when it’s on air are usually a different team to the planners who booked you. All the former care about is that you are in the building on time. To prove this point, watch this infamous BBC News interview, where a man awaiting a job interview was mistaken for a technology spokesperson. Clearly there was no pre-air chit-chat on this day!
Not to wear green
Some news studios have a so-called green screen. This means the presenters’ chair is set in front of a bright green wall so that an artificial background can be superimposed. If that is the case, any thing vaguely within the hues of green will be completely invisible and the viewer will see straight through you, to the artificial background behind. If you were to wear a green dress for instance, you’d appear on the box as a floating head and pair of arms and legs! Not a good look.
After your TV interview, don’t expect an official with a clipboard to gush how eloquent you were. More than likely, you’ll be de-microphoned and directed to your waiting cab by an expressionless face. Our clients tell us that coming off air is incredibly deflating. You are pumped with adrenalin and dying to know if you spoke sense. But at this stage all the producers care about is that everything runs to time. There is no role in a broadcast newsroom for guest appraisal. But hopefully you have a hot PR team and media trainers for that.
At Nine Media we’ve media trained CEOs, charities and academics. Make sure your team is prepared for any interview and contact us for details of our bespoke interview coaching.
PRs, for the inside track on how to get your clients on air, join our new Broadcast Briefing two hour workshop.