20 Sep Be Media Savvy: 5 Tips to Avoid Press Interview Pitfalls
We’ve all heard variations of the quote that “all publicity is good publicity”, but the truth is that’s not always the case. A negative media story can have serious repercussions – employees and volunteers may be alienated, partners may question or doubt your capabilities, and donors may even cut funding ties. Like any public messaging, your organization’s public relations efforts and activities should be thoughtful and strategic both in order to maximize your impact as well as to minimize your risk.
We recently published a post on the 4Ps of branding which offers a framework for constructing your organization’s brand story which will, in turn, inform your key messages. You can and should lean into those key messages as you prepare for conversations with the media.
Some preparation and homework will go a long way in preventing you from finding yourself on the wrong side of a tricky or unanticipated question from a journalist or reporter. Prepare your key messages ahead of time and make sure that your organization’s spokesperson is fluent and comfortable with them. Stick to just a handful of key messages (two or three; not ten) that you can use to help shape the conversation to achieve the outcome you are looking for.
This preparation will help you avoid a few common potential interview traps:
Here’s an example: The reporter says “This is a very disappointing outcome, isn’t it?” Don’t say “I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing…” because you’ve now created a sound bite with negative language that can be reused. Instead re-frame and bridge back to a relevant key message. For instance, you might say “I believe we’ve made excellent progress against our goals and here’s why…”. Remember not to repeat negative language or let the journalist put words in your mouth.
Speculative or hypothetical questions
This is the classic “what would happen if…?” question and while interesting to the media, it could be risky for you. Don’t guess or talk about what you don’t know. You can instead reply with “I can’t answer hypothetical questions, but what I can tell you is….” (and bridge back to one of your key messages). Or you can try “I don’t know about your hypothetical situation, but your question seems to concern our donation policies…” and again, bridge back to your intended message. Of course, it’s not unreasonable for the media to expect you to be able to comment on major industry developments that impact your organization, but be careful not to speculate.
Avoid replying with “no comment” – you will likely trigger the radar of the reporter who may think that you are trying to hide something and readers/viewers will likely draw a similar conclusion. You do not, of course, have to answer every question a reporter asks, but if you don’t, then just explain why you can’t address that question. You can say something like “I can’t speak to specifics, but here’s what I can tell you…” (again, bridging back to key messages). It’s also ok to say that you don’t have that information on hand, but that you’ll find out and get back to the reporter.
Accepting a false premise
Here’s the question: “The last three years, your overhead was $100 gazillion – don’t you think that displays a history of inefficiency?” What do you do with THAT? Take a deep breath, remember your key messages and calmly reply with “While your numbers/statistics are correct, your conclusion is not.” Or simply say “I don’t agree with the premise of your question. The real issue is…” Don’t be afraid to address a reporter’s misinformation or erroneous conclusions.
Off the record
A good rule of thumb is to assume that NOTHING is off the record. Assume cameras are always rolling and mics are always hot. Be the consummate professional that you are.
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Remember to keep it simple, avoid jargon and buzzwords and stick to your key messages. Develop a practice Q&A ahead of a scheduled interview and familiarize yourself with the reporter, the media outlet and its audience ahead of time. Remember, only you have 100% control over what you say!
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