When a spokesperson recently turned down a request to appear on breakfast television he was ridiculed by the presenter for ‘bottling’ the interview.
Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan also accused Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon of not wanting to ‘face the tough questions’ after he pulled out of an interview about the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
The politician instead went ahead with an interview with BBC Breakfast, leaving a seething Mr Morgan to launch a verbal attack on the Minister and get involved in a spat with a rival presenter on Twitter.
I think we all know why Govt. ministers prefer to be interviewed by a football presenter... https://t.co/UIBQLAQZtn— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 27, 2017
Aside from the amusement in watching presenters squabble about their varying interview styles on social media, this example does raise a pertinent question about whether spokespeople should ever turn down media interviews.
If you have been on one of our media training courses you will know we stress the importance of accepting interview bids.
In a crisis media management situation they can enable organisations to shape the debate, while interviews on proactive subjects are a golden opportunity to showcase expertise and have views and opinions seen and heard by millions.
On the flip side, particularly during a crisis, turning down a media interview will cause organisations to appear defensive and secretive and can damage relationships with both the media and customers.
You also run the risk of being empty-chaired, a move journalists use to embarrass organisations who have not put a spokesperson forward and imply their actions are indefensible.
But, although it goes against the natural instincts of most PR managers, there are some situations where interview requests should be turned down.
Bad association: If someone in your sector is in the news for the wrong reasons you could be asked to give your views.
For example the boss of a rival airline could have been asked to give their views on the United Airlines crisis when video footage emerged of a bloodied passenger being dragged from one of its planes.
But would it really be a good idea for you to go on television or radio to talk about this? You could inadvertently be linked to the negative incident in the public's eyes.
Bad experience: If your organisation has had bad experiences with a particular reporter, such as spokespeople being repeatedly misquoted, it could be a good option to decline the request.
In the case of the Piers Morgan interview mentioned at the start of this blog, it has been suggested that recent tough interrogations he had carried out with other politicians, such as the one with Karen Bradley, could have been behind the decision to turn down the request.
Of course, we would argue the spokespeople in those interviews could have done more to have prevented them from being so damaging.
But if a reporter has a history of misquoting your spokespeople, or you feel they have repeatedly been treated unfairly, you should think long and hard about accepting another request.
When you don’t have a media trained spokesperson available: Saying the wrong thing during a media interview has the potential to cause huge reputational damage. And in the digital age, it is no longer the case that what people say in an interview will be tomorrow‘s fish and chips wrapper – bad interviews now live forever online.
It is crucial organisations have a number of experienced spokespeople with recent media training available to talk to journalists, but if you really can’t get one ahead of the reporter’s deadline, the request should be turned down.
Interviews cannot be winged and a spokesperson without media training would be horribly exposed.
Exclusive interviews: If you have already given an exclusive interview to one particular organisation you cannot set up one with a rival media outlet.
The key here though is to ensure the journalist does not completely lose interest in your organisation. Is there a different story you can offer them? Could you offer them an opportunity at a later date, perhaps a feature interview if it is a print journalist?
When the subject isn’t relevant: In the world of rolling 24 hour news channels sometimes journalists just need a spokesperson to talk about an issue, and the link can occasionally be a bit tenuous.
If the topic is not relevant to your organisation, there is nothing really to be gained from doing the interview.
And your spokesperson could find themselves in a position where they are discussing something they have no real expertise on or becoming embroiled in speculation, both of which could be very damaging.
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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