During almost any in-depth discussion about the challenges facing agriculture, the conversation eventually turns to a lack of public understanding about farming and its contribution to the economy, the environment and our quality of life.

Although producers once preferred to be left alone to grow their crops, most understand that it’s a different day, and they need to be telling the ag story. In the right circumstances, a media interview can be considered an opportunity to get your message across.


Preparation equals success

It’s important to approach a media interview in a thoughtful, prepared way. Just as you would never plant a crop without careful planning, likewise it takes preparation to ensure a successful interview. There’s much more to it than taking a phone call and having a conversation. In this column and next month, I’ll offer some tried-and-true advice for making the most of a media interview.

These tips apply in most scenarios; however, there are more considerations if you’re talking with media during a crisis. I’ve covered those in previous columns in this space.

First, here’s what you should know before an interview even takes place.

• Understand today’s media landscape. Today’s 24-hour news cycles and real-time news coverage have forever changed how reporters gather news and how we consume it. News outlets operate with dramatically smaller staffs than a decade ago. Veteran reporters have left the business in droves because of layoffs and buyouts. 

Staff turnover is frequent, which often means young, inexperienced reporters are covering topics about which they know little -- if anything. With the exception of trade publications and major news outlets, very few reporters cover agriculture as a regular beat, so they lack an in-depth understanding of this unique business and the issues that affect it. 

• Gather some information of your own. If you get a call from a reporter, do some homework before you even decide whether to move forward. A pending deadline on someone else’s part doesn’t mean that you have to oblige immediately. You deserve and should expect some time to prepare. If you have a public relations professional on staff or work with a PR agency, be sure to enlist their help.

Gather the basics: the reporter’s name, news outlet, contact information and deadline. Ask what the story is about, what the reporter needs to know, and who else he or she may have spoken to.

Research what else the reporter has written. What topics does he or she cover? Are the stories factual? Is the tone neutral or provocative? Use this information, along with weighing the pros and cons of being a part of the story, to make your decision about an interview.

• Anticipate questions. Assuming you decide to go ahead, make a thorough list of what you expect to be asked. What basic questions do you anticipate? What questions would you rather not answer? What is the one question you dread?

As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s critically important to list these and then develop your answers. Review them, refine them. On the flip side, what is the one question you would love to answer if only someone would ask you? Make sure that during the course of the interview you ask it and answer it.


Taking the next step

The next step is developing your key messages. It’s important to provide solid, factual information during an interview; it’s equally important to be strategic and make sure you’re communicating the messages that are important to you and your company. You have that opportunity during an interview. That will be the focus next month, along with some practical tips. 

Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. She can be reached at 321-214-5206 or lisalochridge@ffva.com.