We’ve all seen it in the press pool, and a few of you have been unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end: A press conference or interview starts out in a civilized and controlled fashion, and then goes downhill when a seasoned reporter smells blood and goes for the jugular. Pretty soon it resembles a National Geographic episode and you are just waiting for the gazelle to go down.
Reporters aren't usually this terrifying.
Media-savvy subjects know how to control an interview and steer it back on course without seeming adversarial. These eight tips should help you:
Answer difficult or awkward questions honestly, but don’t dwell on them. Shift the conversation back to your key message. “What’s important to remember,” “in the greater scheme of things,” “while I can’t answer that specifically now, what I can tell you is…”
Find the redeeming qualities of your story. “While we didn’t win the case, we made a strong case that courts should consider XY and Z. We believe it is only a matter of time before this argument prevails.”
Point out the obstacles you or your client faced, and how that played into a failure to succeed. This is not meant to cast blame, but to show the complexity of the situation.
Recommend a more informed source. It’s better than getting the answer wrong.
Get the bad news out of the way and move on. Facts are facts, and if you can’t deny them, don’t. Acknowledging that mistakes were made is the first step to helping your client recover his or her reputation.
Don’t say the reporter is wrong, or has a wrong-headed view of the matter. You will just throw fuel on their fire. Ease into a rephrasing of their question, which you then answer. Reporter: “During your tenure, profits per partner have fallen more than at any time in recent history. What went wrong?” Answer: “It’s true that our numbers have changed. The economy is a factor, but we also rolled out the most ambitious firm expansion and installed a very sophisticated “big-data” style-pricing regime. This created some lull in profits, but we forecast a quick return to our history of increasing profitability.”
Don’t embarrass the reporter. This may go without saying, but you would be surprised how often emotions flare and things get personal. Avoid phrases such as “you haven’t got your facts straight,” “asked and answered,” and the like. Things may already be dicey. Don’t make enemies.
Don’t completely ignore a question. Nothing will make a reporter dig in her or his heels as much as evasion. It’s the equivalent of chumming.
Controlling the interview takes practice, but mentally reviewing what may come up in the worst-case scenario will help you craft the right response. Prep for uncomfortable questions and keep your counterpoints rock solid in the event of a persistent reporter. Remember, they're looking for a story and you should aim for a positive one.