5 ways to control a media interview

How many times have you watched a spokesperson you have put forward for an interview fail to get across the key message?

I would imagine all comms professionals can think of at least one example.

I have been there and it is a painful experience and a waste of time. After all, where is the value for your organisation in an interview which does nothing to improve your reputation or promote your work?

The spokesperson may blame difficult or negative questions or suggest the journalist had an agenda, but ultimately they failed to take control of the interview.

On our media training courses we teach participants a number of ways to take and maintain control and test them with radio and TV interviews with current working journalists.

Here are our top five tips for your spokesperson:

Prepare

Do not under any circumstances try to wing a media interview. Even an accomplished and experienced interviewee needs to prepare fully before going in front of the TV cameras or radio microphone. You need to think carefully about the key message you want to get across and how you can support and explain that message with strong examples and case studies. Remember to humanise these examples – the audiences wants to hear stories about people not processes.

Think about what negative or difficult questions you are likely to be asked and how you will answer them.

Also make sure you know what else is on the media agenda at the time. A reporter may ask you to comment on something which is happening to a similar organisation or elsewhere in the sector.

All of this should be covered in the briefing from your comms team, so make sure you read it.

Be forceful

We are not advising you to get into an argument with the journalist – that will not help you fight your corner.

What we are saying is that you should take the initiative and aim to get your key message across in your first answer. Don’t wait for the right question to come along because it probably won’t arrive.

Bridging (see below) is the key here.

Bridging

Bridging is a cornerstone of media training and crucial technique to enable you to deliver and restate your key message and get the interview on to the topic you want to discuss.

Essentially you use the technique to acknowledge the question and then use a bridging term, such as ‘but what is really important is’, to move the conversation on to your key message.

Once you have learnt the skill you will notice it in almost every media interview and, like everything, some people are much better at using it than others.

The key to using it is to develop a phrase or form of words which will allow you to get from the question back to your message. Other examples of bridging terms include ‘the key issue is’, ‘what’s absolutely critical to remember’, and ‘what people should be more concerned about is’.

Don’t be afraid to introduce a personal element, for example, ‘if you are a small business looking for investment what really matters to you is that…’.

Signposting

This is a more subtle approach. It is a technique which makes it obvious to the reporter you have something interesting to say if they ask you the right question. For example, if you finished an answer with ‘but that’s not the most important thing’ or ‘that’s not even the key thing’ the chances are the reporter will ask ‘so what is the most important thing?’. It’s human nature to want to know what the most important thing is.

As well as giving you control and leading the journalist to your key message, it also tells the audience to concentrate as you are about to tell an interesting story.

This technique works well during a longer radio interview when you’re in the studio. It helps add ebb and flow to the piece which the producer, journalist and audience will appreciate.

Apologise when you have done something wrong

Interviews go horribly wrong when you don’t apologise for a mistake, use excuses, or worse still try to cover it up. The key is to admit your mistake and apologise sincerely. Show what action you have taken to rectify the situation and ensure it does not happen again. And reassure your customers by putting the incident into context – ‘it is an isolated incident’, ‘we have a previously good record’ etc.

A journalist will know when you are not being honest and will continue to push with increasingly difficult questions.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. Click here to find out more about our highly practical Media Skills courses.

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