The Play-by-Play: Tackling the Tough Media Interview

29 03 2012

Post by Jessica Killenberg Muzik, APR, VP – Account Services

In sports, it’s often said “the best defense is a good offense.”

This is true, too, when it comes to tackling media interviews, especially the tough ones.

So when an issue (such as a product recall, a strike, a plant closing or a layoff) arises for your organization and you’re faced with media interviews, here’s a play-by-play on how best to handle things:

  •  First, if there is some human impact (and there usually is), try to genuinely, honestly and briefly express your concern and empathy for those affected. Then, focus on what you are doing to offer those impacted some assistance or what you’re doing to prevent this situation from reoccurring.
  • Go into the interview knowing what three to four key messages you want to deliver and make sure they are pro-active, positive and pertinent.
  •  Keep your cool. Even if you feel you have the right to lose your temper or get defensive, don’t.  Be calm, be diplomatic and show your genuine concern and compassion. 
  • Prepare for the worst. Think about the most negative questions a reporter can ask, then practice answering those questions. 
  • Tackle any negative questions carefully – rather than ignore them or become flustered by them – using the following approach:

- First, acknowledge the question – without repeating any inflammatory or loaded words.

- Second, use a bridge to one of your key messages. For example:

  • “However …”
  • “The real issue is …”
  • “Another way to look at it is …”
  • “Let me put that in perspective …”
  • “Actually, our research shows …”
  • “What many of our customers find …”
  • “There’s something else to consider …”
  •  “It’s important to focus on …”

- Then state one of your key pro-active, positive messages.

If you’re prepared, you can make your next tough interview a win-win for all involved.

One final play: No matter how tempted you are, never say “no comment.” To a reporter, “no comment” can be considered an admission of guilt. You can almost always say something, which in these situations is better than saying nothing at all.

 What are the best substitutes for “no comment” that you’ve heard or used?

The Sneaky Seven: How to Avoid Media Interview Pitfalls

22 03 2012

Post by Jessica Killenberg Muzik, APR, VP – Account Services

“Help! I’ve fallen … and I can’t get up.”

Many executives have stumbled in media interviews because they fell prey to unexpected questions or techniques commonly used by some journalists to help extract information or juicy quotes from tight-lipped or cautious executives.

Of course, the best way to prepare for such interviews is to refer all unsolicited media inquiries to your PR representative, who can help you to understand the nature of the interview, identify likely questions and help you develop appropriate answers.

However, when that’s not an option, it’s important to be aware of some of the techniques that could trip you up, so that you can at least be prepared to deal with them … and avoid blurting out something you might regret later. Now, most journalists don’t use sneaky tactics, but the few that do can lead you into dangerous territory. 

Based on our experiences, here are some of the techniques that can trip you up … and our advice for each:

Allegation calling to get a response to rumors, innuendoes or hypothetical situations. Comment only on what’s real or what you know to be true.

Pregnant Pause using lengthy periods of silence, after you’ve answered a question, to make you uncomfortable enough to volunteer more information.  Don’t feel obligated to fill up the silence.

Zinger – gaining your confidence and comfort, the reporter closes an otherwise easy, cordial interview with one last question, usually the zinger that really prompted the interview in the first place. Don’t let your guard down.

Right to Know implying that the public or the reporter has a constitutional right to know even the most confidential information about your business. If the information is confidential, it’s OK to say so.  

Deadline Leverage using the pressure of a last-minute call before deadline to get you to reveal something you normally wouldn’t say. Don’t let the reporter transfer his/her stress to you. Be helpful and be calm.

Odd-Hour Call – calling in early morning, during lunch or after hours to catch you off-guard. Again, always be on guard. If you need a few moments to collect your thoughts or obtain an answer, say so and tell the reporter you’ll call them back in 10 minutes – and do it.

Reference Check – where an unscrupulous reporter poses as a personnel manager or a credit agent and calls former employers, colleagues and customers, disguising their call as a background check. Make sure you know exactly who you are talking to and where they are from.

As a business-to-business PR firm, we find the media we work with are generally straightforward and honest. But you never know when you might come across one of those ambush-type journalists. So, forewarned is forearmed.

If you’re still not confident about avoiding these pitfalls,  take some media training … and practice dealing with them. The career you save may be your own.

Execs: Don’t “Go it Alone” with the Media; 3 Ways PR Reps Can Help You Prepare

14 03 2012

(Post from Jessica Killenberg Muzik, VP – Account Services)

We’ve said it before: Reporters are always working! So in order to avoid media pitfalls and help prepare for media interactions, executives ought to consider their PR representation – whether it’s an internal PR person or a PR agency rep – a vital resource and not attempt to “go it alone.”

Here are three key ways your PR rep can help you before, during and after a media interview:

1) We can find out what media are looking for, what they know, who they’ve already talked to, what their deadline is, what their knowledge base is on your subject and when the story will appear in print / be aired. In many cases, when setting up media interviews, we prepare a briefing memo which explains all of this and more – like sample articles, related information and reporter / editor background.

2) We can often provide some of the questions the reporters may ask – and if they don’t provide them, what questions we anticipate they’ll ask. We can also identify problem question areas and ways to handle them, as well as help you develop three or four key messages that may tie into larger industry trends and issues that the reporter / editor is most likely to write about.

3) And, because reporters / editors are always on deadline, we can provide the all-important continuity of contact and handle any post-interview follow-up – whether it is additional questions, images, statistics, etc.

Ultimately our role through the process is to act as a resource and guide to help you maximize your success with the interview. While you as an executive are an expert in what you do, your PR rep is an expert in what he or she does … and that’s media relations.

So tap your PR rep’s expertise and allow them to evaluate and prioritize media requests … help you prepare … monitor the interview … steer the interview back on course if it goes off-track … and take care of any post-interview needs of the reporter / editor.

You’ll both be glad you did, when your story appears.


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