Hostile interviews make for great television and radio but could your spokesperson emerge from one unscathed?
Most people will be able to recall the infamous Jeremy Paxman interview with Michael Howard where the then Conservative leader was asked the same question 12 times in 90 toe-curling seconds.
But it’s not just politicians who find themselves subjected to these types of interviews.
The chances are that if your organisation find itself in a crisis media management situation, at some point the spokesperson will face a journalist who has a more aggressive line of questioning and greater persistence.
Whether it is on the doorstep, on the phone, or a one-on-one studio interview, this can be a challenging scenario for even the more experienced spokespeople.
But they can emerge with both their own and their company’s reputation intact.
Here are seven tips for surviving a hostile interview.
*Preparation is vital for any media interview and that prep work should involve making sure you know what to expect from the journalist you are going to be interviewed by and the outlet they work for. Some journalists have reputations for being much more hard hitting than others while some outlets are known to look for certain angles in stories.
*Take CARE. This is an acronym we often use in our media training courses and it stands for Compassion, Action, Reassurance and Examples. Answers in a hostile interview need to include these elements. The audience wants to see that that you appreciate the importance of what has gone wrong and the impact it has had. They want to know what steps you have made to resolve the situation and they want reassurance that it will not happen again. And these points need to be supported by strong examples – it’s not good enough just to say that you’ve changed – you have to demonstrate how you’ve changed.
*Don’t just answer the question. Of course, you can’t ignore the questions put to you, but simply answering each one without trying to take any control of the conversation will lead spokespeople on to some very uncomfortable ground. On our media training courses we teach techniques, such as bridging, which enable spokespeople to take control of interviews.
*Avoid short answers. Not only does responding to questions in an interview with short answers sound defensive, but it also invites the reporter to ask more questions and cover more ground, which only increases the pressure. But the warning here is that long, rambling answers could lead to your message being misconstrued or misunderstood.
*Don’t get drawn into speculation. During a crisis media management situation journalists want to know what went wrong, why it happened and who is to blame and if the interviewee does not know the answer they will invite them to speculate. It is vital spokespeople avoid this trap and stick to the facts that they know at the time.
*Don’t repeat the journalist’s negative words, phrases and accusations in your responses to their questions. For example you might be asked: “This is very disappointing isn’t it? Aren’t you disappointed?” You answer: “I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing…” But you just have. The journalist's negative language can now be attributed to you. Whether it’s broadcast or press, they have a neat sound bite with you using their negative phrase.
*Don’t get rattled or show your anger and frustration at the questions you are being asked. The audience is more likely to be sympathetic if you remain calm and composed. Getting into an argument with the journalist will not help you fight your corner.
I’d love to hear you experiences of hostile interviews and how you coped with them. Use the comments box below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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