Should You Be Doing This Media Interview?

Should I Do This Media Interview?
Should I Do This Media Interview?

That’s an important question to ask yourself before you schedule a media interview with a reporter.

You’ve no doubt noticed that many politicians who appear on Sunday morning talk shows almost immediately go on the defensive. They have a point of view on the topic that is at odds with the reporter’s questions from the get-go.

On the Defensive

Too often a talk show guest will evade answering the questions and continually return to his point of view. This is the broken record syndrome taken to its extreme.

So, you might wonder: why has this guest agreed to be on the show? What good is it doing him to be constantly on the defensive?

You need to think through your reasons for doing a media interview when you have an opportunity to be a guest on a TV show or to meet with a reporter. You have your own agenda – but so does the reporter. Are your agendas in sync? Or would you be better served by not doing the interview?

The Art of Bridging

Bridging is another term for changing the subject when you want to move on to your own message points. Typical bridging phrases are “Let me tell you about…” or “There is another way of looking at the issue…”

Bridging is an effective technique as long as the reporter feels validated. He wants to know you’re listening to him and providing the information he needs for a good story.

These days, reporters are more sophisticated than ever and are clued in to bridging. They know when you’re fudging, especially when you ignore their questions and mindlessly return to the same answers over and over again.

Answer the Question

Naturally, you need to go into an interview with your talking points down pat but it has to be a more balanced interview.

The Art of Bridging
Bridge Without Fudging

You’ve got to answer the reporter’s questions. Don’t stonewall. Otherwise, she will think you’re being evasive and hiding something. That’s when she’ll go after you with tough questions.

Say, “I’ll be happy to answer your question,” and then bridge to your message points. But if you need to keep bridging to your key messages, you’re talking to the wrong reporter. Or else the reporter is writing a story you don’t want to be part of.

Be Respectful of Others

Contrary to popular wisdom, reporters rarely conduct what’s called a “hostile” interview. This occurs when the reporter attacks the guest on a personal level, such as challenging your experience or academic credentials.

However, a reporter has a legitimate right to ask you very tough questions. “Isn’t it true that your company has been hiding profits in overseas accounts?” is a tough question, not a hostile one.

No matter the question, you don’t want to get into a shouting match. Be respectful of the reporter’s point of view and the other guests, if you are on a TV talk show panel.

You need to learn how to acknowledge another person’s point of view while disagreeing. That’s what makes for an interesting discussion. The conversation would be very boring if everyone was in agreement on all points.

Use what we call “linking” phrases to bridge to your point of view. You could say, “I can see where you’re coming from, but this is what I think,” or, “I must respectfully disagree because…”

Nonetheless, repeating your key messages over and over again can be taken too far and you’ll be viewed as a one-trick pony that seems to have only one idea.

Become a Reliable Source

Let’s return to the original question: Should I be doing this media interview? You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you look slick and uncooperative.

To avoid this, become familiar with the reporter’s beat and what she’s written or talked about in the past. You need to do the research or get help from a professional PR person who can provide you with this information.

It may turn out you are simply the wrong person for the interview. You will make a friend for life if you tell the reporter that the information he’s looking for is not your subject matter expertise and then refer him to the right person.

Say, “I know someone who is more of an expert on this topic. He might be willing to talk on the record. Would you like me to make the introduction?” Then remind the reporter what you can talk about for future stories.

Be sure to follow up and do what you promised. You will become a reliable source for the reporter. He will be grateful you steered him to the right spokesperson.

He’s also likely to come back to you when he needs to talk to an expert in your field. Then you won’t need to be constantly bridging to your key messages because they will be just what the reporter wants to hear.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.