The Top Four Techniques for Effective Media Interviews
...and How to Avoid Ever Saying "No Comment"
By Julie Lux, Jeff Winton Associates Consultant
Why do corporate executives and others in the public eye dislike media interviews? According to an article titled “How to Meet the Press” in the Harvard Business Review, “One of the continuing problems facing a top executive or spokesman of any organization in times of stress or major change is how to tell his company’s story to a press, radio, or television reporter. The dilemma is that the official is fearful of putting his foot in his mouth by saying the wrong things.”
Whether a crisis situation or a standard informational interview, one of the comments I hear from media trainees -- from CEOs to junior sales representatives – is, “The interviewer holds all the cards. They are in control.”
True, the interviewer does have the final say on what ends up in the article or edited interview. However, there are many ways that you can help ensure your message comes through. This blog will focus on what I have found to be the top four techniques to keep control of the interview and ensure your messages are front and center.
Know your key messages – or approved response statement.
Don’t repeat a negative or controversial statement/question from the journalist.
Don’t answer hypothetical questions or speculate about the future or respond to questions about your competitors or their products.
Never say “no comment” – and remember when speaking with the media nothing is ever “off the record.”
These techniques are great to read when sitting in the comfort of your office, but how do you implement them when the reporter plus a camera, microphone or all three are staring you in the face?
The answer lies in bridging, the most effective tool that will help you control the interview. Bridging is the technique where you steer the discussion away from the subject you want to avoid and back to your key messages.
Find the phrase or phrases that are most comfortable for you, such as “what is really important for your audience to know is...” or “the key information for people to remember is...” and use it to steer the interview back to what you want to communicate.
This is also where the “rule” to never repeat a negative comes in. It’s natural to want to dispel a negative with a statement such as, “Our company did not act irresponsibly.” While well intentioned, this can have the opposite effect by making you sound defensive and be a red flag for the journalist to follow this line of questioning.
Instead, highlight the positive by providing examples of how the company is supporting customers – and the more specific the better. Such as, “Our company has established a hotline to answer questions from customers. We welcome the public to call us at [phone number] or email us at [email address] with questions.”
But, what about the dreaded “no comment”? Again, bridging to the rescue. By having your key messages top of mind and your bridging phrase on the tip of your tongue, you can be assured of providing the media with a response without fear of putting your foot in your mouth by saying the wrong thing.
1. https://hbr.org/1975/07/how-to-meet-the-press. Accessed September 13, 2022.
Julie Lux brings to JWA more than 30 years of communications experience in healthcare, animal health and agriculture PR as well as a depth of proficiency in video production and media training. She also serves as VP of Communications for Rural Minds, a 501(c)(3) focused on ending the stigma, silence and suffering caused by mental illness and substance use disorder in rural America. Previously, Julie hosted “AM Live,” a morning talk show in her native Kansas City, Missouri.