Never say no comment!

Media interview.  Just two innocuous words – but in the business world they can strike fear into even the most hardened of manager’s hearts. An amusing concept when it’s the director you hate in the firing line, until it’s your turn when, all of a sudden, managing corporate reputation in a broadcast setting isn’t necessarily as easy as it seems.

Nevertheless, taking part in a media interview doesn’t have to be a stressful experience even if it is on camera.  Depending on the topic, many seasoned hands say they actually find it enjoyable (or at the very least a quick way to lose weight due to the pumping adrenaline!) The key is in the preparation and this article looks at the main points you should cover when going head to head with a journalist.

Appraising yourself of the basic background information to the interview is always a good start.  Finding out what the deadline is gives you the chance to get your house in order and do plenty of research, or if it comes to it, tells you how long you’ve got to find someone who’ll bravely step into your shoes (just because it’s their specialism or they can add ‘more value’, of course).

Whether the interview will be live or recorded is something you need to know early on.  With a pre-record you have the chance to correct errors, erase embarrassing moments of blankness and stop that strange rocking motion you never knew you were guilty of until you saw yourself on camera.  Live, it’s not so simple.  If you don’t have access to professional media training, take part in a few practice runs with a colleague in advance of the big day.

If the interview won’t be broadcast immediately (the journalist might not be sure when transmission is planned for), ensure that you don’t say anything that might date the piece.  Referring to the half term holidays when the feature won’t go out until November is a sure fire way to get your contribution binned - and wastes those sleepless nights you’ve spent through worry about getting it wrong.

Preparing for any questions or other spokespeople you might not be expecting is the critical next step.  Don’t be shy about asking the journalist what the story angle or ‘hook’ is and who else will be involved – after all, the last thing you want is to find yourself in a slanging match with a competitor over who has the best environmental credentials, when you thought you were purely there to chat about the government’s green agenda.  It’s worth remembering that the media contact will often share the question they intend to start the interview with, which can signpost the direction the chat will go in but don’t rely on it, as even then the conversation is never set in stone.

Never say no comment – either when right in the middle of a media interview or when responding to a request for one.  If you do, it will make you look unprepared, unprofessional and (in the worst case scenario), guilty of whatever the issue might be.  If the discussion does relate to a sensitive topic, journalist and broadcaster Bill McFarlan recommends invoking the ‘3R’ rule – using regret, reason and remedy to get your message across.  Doing this offers those listening an apology, explanation and solution and manages expectation in a genuine and appropriate way.

Experienced interviewees know that the greatest success comes from taking control, which involves acknowledging the questions asked but taking the conversation in the direction you wish to go.  Best practice is to repeat no more than three key messages and substantiate them with different examples.  Never make claims that you can’t back up because you’re guaranteed to get caught out.

So when planning for your interview, take care to think it through and ask the right questions at the start.  Make sure you tailor your style to suit whoever will be watching or listening, speak clearly, positively and don’t dominate the proceedings.  As with everything, practice makes perfect – best of luck!