As any good PR agency will advise, media interviews are not: an interrogation, a game of ping-pong, or a commercial. A good media interview is actually a conversation, as well a chance to educate and an opportunity to tell a story. A great media interview is a usually a choreographed affair with the interviewee at ease, yet aware of potential pitfalls.
And there are pitfalls. Here are some examples of what not to say to a reporter.
“Could you just cut that part out?” This infamous comment by Bill Cosby during an AP interview only served to multiply Cosby’s problems. Requesting that a journalist “unhear” a response isn’t going to happen, and the request itself implies that that the interviewee has something to hide.
“No comment.” Duh. We’re still surprised when this happens, and happen it does. The immediate perception is one of guilt or obfuscation, and in the era of transparency and 24/7 media, it never bodes well. Two journalists working for the Center for Public Integrity have created a new blog devoted to these types of responses, “Couldn’t Be Reached,” which is a testimony to the persistence of stonewalling.
“This is ‘off the record’ or ‘not for attribution.'” Clearly there are occasions when a spokesperson may want to divulge information that suits a purpose, but is viable only as background, but it’s often risky. Unless a spokesperson is seasoned and savvy, we recommend avoiding the tricky navigation required to pull this off. The best interviews take place when the interviewee is most comfortable and unencumbered.
“We don’t give out that information.” Proprietary information or earnings numbers may be off-limits, but every corporate steward can divulge some data with advance preparation. No numbers question should come as a shock, and any media spokesperson should be armed with facts or other information that supports the story, even if it’s not the data requested. Without giving away precise growth stats year over year, use a percentage or trend information to answer the question without shutting down and frustrating the reporter.
“Did you hear the one about?…” Never get comfortable enough with a reporter to risk an even slightly off-color joke. Enough said.
“I have no idea.” Even the best preparation can’t guarantee softball questions, but there are better ways to handle the situation. We like, “interesting question, I’ll check and get back to you, but what I can tell you is….” This type of “bridging” response insults no one and provides the opportunity to formulate the best possible answer.
Want to know more? Download our tipsheet “The 6 Toughest Interview Questions & How To Handle Them”