Surviving Your First, Your Worst Media Interview
Reporters Aren’t Your Friend, They Aren’t Your Enemy…They’re Reporters
Author: Andy Marken
Most journalists – online, on air, print -- don’t ask tricky, tough questions.
They simply ask a question and let the interviewee fill in the awkward silence.
Or as Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) said in All the President’s Men, “I never asked about Watergate. I simply asked what were Hunt's duties at the White House.
Bad coverage – or fear of it – reinforces why many executives avoid media interviews.
Open the door too wide, they appear to be grandstanding.
Being over reactive/defensive, can expose too much company private information. The results can damage the company’s, executive’s image/value.
It isn’t a journalist’s job – regardless of the medium -- isn’t to be your friend and help you advance your agendas.
Journalists have two responsibilities – to be professional and to fairly, accurately present the information to their audience.
All of the rest is your job.
Of course there are times it’s best to take Abe Lincoln’s advice, “'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”
There are times when an interview just isn't possible for any number of reasons.
Suggest an alternate date and/or time.
As long as the interview isn’t deadline critical this is why both parties like an email Q&A:
- answers can be researched, thought thru, accurate
- responses can be provided from anywhere in the world in a timely manner
- little chance of being misinterpreted, misquoted
Often you can speed the research, interview, writing cycle if you have and provide current background information on the company, key personnel, products and markets as well as appropriate photos/illustrations.
Most reporters are simply hard working individuals who want to educate, inform and enlighten their audience. You really have to work to get in the sights of the grocery store tabloids.
Most journalists want to finish the story so they can do the same thing you want to do at the end of the day -- go home to dinner and enjoy friends and family.
Unfortunately in today’s environment they not only file a story but they microblog, post to their blog and social sites, upload video stories so their content is visible…everywhere.
Some journalists like to be controversial and if you’re well prepared and have all your facts available you can handle the situation very well.
A few journalists like to ask the same question a number of different ways to make certain the facts don’t change.
Rather than repeat the answer, say it has already been answered and use the opportunity to bridge into information that reinforces your points, position.
Regardless of the interviewer’s approach; don’t fudge, spin, stretch the truth, wing it, shoot from the hip.
Horse apples are horse apples no matter who’s pitching them.
It’s difficult for problems to arise when your answers are clear, concise.
Imagine the type of story you want to appear and respond accordingly.
Even if it is your worst day ever, you can at least visualize that the story is neutral or sympathetic.
Keep your emotions under control and you can manage even the worst situation.
Commit your information and your key points to memory but don’t over rehearse.
Then before the interview begins take a number of deep breaths, relax.
There are categories of questions that arise in an interview:
- Questions you are willing to answer, want to answer
- Questions you are unwilling to answer and will not
- Questions you don't want to answer but will
- Questions you simply can't answer
Life would be ideal if all of the questions asked were the first kind.
The second group is the one that strikes fear in most managers because they don't know exactly how to handle the situation.
Perhaps you simply don't have the authority or background to comment. The information could be confidential or areas where corporate policy/direction haven’t been established.
When questions can’t be answered precisely explain why you can’t…at least at this time.
If possible, recommend an alternative point that can be discussed without disclosing the specific information and without leaving the question totally unanswered.
The third set of questions is the most difficult because your organization is usually in the spotlight or "hot seat."
These queries are increasing because information and inputs are available across the Internet.
To handle the “tough ones” most companies have executives take media training courses at least once a year.
The intensive one- and two-day sessions help you deliver the best possible message under even the worst possible conditions.
If a manager can handle heated situations, he or she can easily handle "normal" interviews.
The fourth series of questions can range from those you don't have sufficient information to answer to those that deal with strategic/tactical and company confidential information
There is never a reason for no comment!
If you don’t know the answer, admit it, get the information, get back to them
If you make a mistake, correct the facts and move on.
If there are legal, investor relations or corporate reasons you can’t answer a specific question explain why you can’t and return to the key points you want to present.
Off the Record
If the information is confidential, you can consider speaking off-the-record.
Most of the time, this off-the-record commitment will be kept.
But you’re on the limb at your own risk.
If you don't want to see something in print, online or on the 11 o’clock news…don't talk about it.
If you are a publicly held firm there are certain clear-cut guidelines you must follow regarding exclusivity.
However, if an enterprising reporter obtains the information by asking penetrating questions after the press conference, then it isn't up to the company official to run out and tell everyone else.
Honor the ingenuity, capabilities, and drive of the reporter who digs below the surface to get more facts.
Another point to remember…once you have granted the interview, you have given up your right to final approval.
Don’t even ask!
Benefiting from the Interview
There's more to an interview than ego-satisfaction.
It is an opportunity to raise the visibility and credibility of your organization and your products.
Just have a sound, newsworthy story to tell and be prepared to tell the story.
Don’t waste the editor’s, writer’s, reporter’s time.
Give him/her your complete attention so he/she gets everything needed to produce a strong, interesting, informative story.
Know the editor’s, writer’s, reporter’s name and the media outlet.
Sounds obvious but…
Being interviewed can be profitable for your organization and you.
It means someone thinks you have something important to say.
If you're properly prepared, being interviewed can be profitable for your company and you.
It can even be fun!
What’s the worst that can happen?