I wrote this about 15 years ago and came across it while cleaning out some files. It’s a quick guide for those who have been through media training but who, right before a big interview, could benefit from having the basics repeated.
REMEMBER THE KEY DYNAMIC that takes place in any interview with the press: You know far more about your business and its relevant issues than any reporter you will encounter. If a reporter is being aggressive, he may be under deadline pressure or (more likely) is just covering up his lack of preparation and knowledge. You can use either to your advantage — helping him meet a deadline in a timely manner and/or educating the reporter during the interview in such a way that he’s ready to accept your key messages.
LEARN TO REPHRASE QUESTIONS. Most of the time, reporters fire off questions that are abrupt and, to one degree or another, confrontational. Identify the issue the question raises, rephrase it more to your liking and then (and only then) answer it. Example question from a reporter: “Why don’t two-person carpools ride free?” The underlying issues behind this question are: What makes this road different and who loses/wins? An appropriate response: “Why are so many things about this road different? We’ve put together several innovative approaches to keep traffic moving and offer a fast, safe, reliable commute. The best thing about our approach is that everybody who uses the 91 is going to benefit from less congestion.”
NEVER TAKE A CALL from a reporter without preparation. Always find out who the reporter is, who they’re writing for, what the story is about and what the deadline is. Then, even if the reporter’s deadline is in 10 minutes, tell them to give you a couple minutes (to take care of a call on another line or whatever) and call them back. Take those few minutes to review the key messages you want to get across and how you’re going to convey them. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
BORROW SOME WISDOM from the politicians’ big book of media relations: Talk about results. If you can’t talk about results, talk about policy. If you can’t talk about policy, talk facts. And if you can’t talk about facts, talk about process. You can always talk about process.
TO PLAY UP THE STORY, humanize it with anecdotes about real people and examples of how an issue or project directly impacts day-to-day life. To downplay a story, lean on statistics, numbers and theory. Complicate it. Remember: Things that lack drama and are hard to comprehend are less likely to turn into a story.
ALWAYS MAKE A DISTINCTION between what you think you know and what you know you know. Only talk about what you know you know.
DON’T LOSE YOUR COOL. You’ll be tempted, believe me. But unless you’re at least as well known as the reporter and better liked, it won’t pay off. If the reporter is doing something to annoy you (rapid-fire questioning, for example), calmly deal with that specific behavior. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t answered your last question yet. Let me continue…”
DARK SUIT. Good posture. Classic tie. And someone you trust to tell you if your breath is bad or your shoulders have dandruff.
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