Posted by Jonathan Crossfield on 23 September 2013
There is a very good reason why many CEOs, company spokespeople and marketers undergo media training. A press release may go through many drafts to ensure every word is perfect and on message, but there is no such luxury in an interview.
Think in sound bites
Most media interviews will be cut down to a fraction of what was said. No wonder politicians love three-word slogans and carefully scripted responses to get their point across as concisely as possible. Otherwise there is little chance of their message making it into a tightly packed news show.
Sound bites aren’t easy to improvise in the heat of interview questions. However, you can usually guess at most of the questions you may be asked because of the topic, so prepare and rehearse short, pithy answers that cut straight to the point.
Find a devil’s advocate
Even a simple business PR interview can attract questions you’d rather not answer. It’s easy to omit the less desirable points from a press release, but journalists are trained to sniff out an angle that may not be what you hoped for. They may not even be aware that an otherwise benign question is a negative topic for you.
If you’re vague or evasive when faced with a difficult question, it may look as if you don’t know your topic. Or worse, that you have something to hide. Neither is a good result.
Always prepare answers to the questions you hope will never be asked, not just your ideal Q&A scenario. Ask someone in your office to be the devil’s advocate – deliberately offering the contrary view and looking for holes in your story – and make sure you have an acceptable response to each question they come up with.
You’re always on the record
An open mike has captured many an ill-advised comment that has later gone on to become a news story in itself. Relaxed banter before or after an interview can still come back to bite you later, so be extremely professional in all dealings with the media in any setting.
Never assume anything is ‘off the record’ and always assume a microphone is live. Just because one journalist assures you that your conversation is private, it doesn’t guarantee that the editor or anyone else with access to those notes or recordings will feel the same – particularly if there is a story in it.
And once published, no amount of protesting can unpublish it.