10 tips for handling a media interview
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Here are 10 tips for handling a media interview.
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
Many people don’t prepare for an interview because they think ‘I’m the marketing director of company X, I know everything there is to know about company X, and therefore I don’t need to prepare.’
This is crazy logic. Knowing all about your company is not preparation for a media interview. You need to think about what you do, and do not, want to talk about.
What, though, if you are approached on the street before you have had time to prepare, as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was by a Sky reporter who wanted to discuss anti-semitism in the party? Don’t follow his example and flounce off – it makes you look angry and shifty. Just politely say you can’t talk at the moment, but will discuss issues later - then go away and prepare.
2. Develop messages with proof points
Often you will hear people say ‘we are a successful company’ or ‘we are doing really well’. These are meaningless statements without proof points to back them up. You don’t need to spew out dozens of statistics, but you do need to be able to back up any claims.
3. Acknowledge, Bridge, Control
If you are asked questions about subjects that you do not wish to discuss, it’s not enough to simply say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t talk about that’. Interviews are all about control and by saying that, you just hand back control to the reporter.
You need to take control by acknowledging the question and then bridging to a key message that you have prepared. This is the key to handling interviews successfully. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you do need to be an expert in something and that’s why it's so important to be able to bridge to interesting and relevant key messages. But you can’t just ignore the question and make a statement, like a robot reading out a press release.
4. Never say ‘no comment’
There are times when you do not want to discuss an issue but you never refuse to comment or say ‘no comment’ because this automatically makes you look as though you’ve got something to hide. Instead, you might say ‘I can’t discuss that issue, but what I can tell you…’
5. If you don’t want to be quoted on something, just don’t say it
A friend of mine recently rang me to bemoan the fact that a journalist had quoted him saying something critical about an organisation. ‘We were having coffee, why on earth didn’t he check with me before using that comment?’ he asked me.
Mmm. That’s not how it works. If a journalist turns up to interview you and you say something controversial, he or she is likely to use it. My friend and I ended up having a laugh about it, but he learnt a lesson – if you don’t want to be quoted on something, just don’t say it.
6. Remember track record and context
If you are ever being questioned about a problem, for example a blip in customer service, it’s always a good idea to get this into context and talk about your track record for excellent service. You have to be careful to make sure you take the incident seriously, without letting viewers, readers or listeners think it is a widespread problem. Of course you must tell the truth. If terrible service is widespread through your company, then you do have a big problem and you need to come out and assure people you have addressed this.
7. Avoid corporate jargon
Speak in plain English if you want to engage people. Corporate jargon just alienates people and makes them think you are something too rude to put in print. I know executives who think it is clever to throw in words and anachronisms that no-one understands. It isn’t.
8. Talk about your customers
Stories about your engagement with customers will help to make you look human and in touch with the real world. A simple thing such as a retailer talking about how he or she speaks to customers in a shop to find out what they want, makes him or her look like a decent person who cares. Of course, these stories need to be true – never make anything up.
9. Don’t discuss competitors
The temptation to talk about competitors is often all-consuming. You may be itching to tell us why you are better than company Y. But I would advise against this. The danger in talking about competitors is that you either do their PR or slag them off – neither of which plays out well. And anyone watching, listening or reading casually may think you are from the company you are attacking, just because they hear you talking about them. Rise above it and focus the discussion on your company.
10. Keep cool
However much you feel irritated by a journalist, you should always keep cool and handle every question calmly and professionally.
If you are being filmed, which is increasingly likely these days, think about who is watching you – everyone from colleagues to clients. Lose your temper and you’ll lose the respect of those around you. No-one will even remember what the journalist asked you.
There are many other important points to handling the media but hopefully these will put you in good stead the next time you face a journalist!