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You could be forgiven for thinking the answer to this question is relatively straightforward.
Instinctively the majority of spokespeople, given the choice, would always opt for a pre-recorded interview over a live one.
And the main reason is that it offers a comforting safety net if things go wrong – they can simply ask to have another go at answering the question.
But does that mean spokespeople should always opt for pre-recorded interviews?
Before we answer that, let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of each format.
THE PRE-RECORDED INTERVIEW
The big advantage of pre-recorded interviews, whether they are on radio or television, is that they give spokespeople the opportunity to correct mistakes.
They can stop the interview if they stumble over their words or suffer a little brain fade. I’ve done it myself in a previous role on many occasions and sometimes I have had more than two attempts at producing an answer I was happy with.
That buffer can be particularly reassuring for new or nervous spokespeople, but even those with plenty of experience prefer this format for that reason.
But it’s not all benefits.
One of the big disadvantages of pre-recorded interviews is that they are usually always considerably longer than live interviews.
And this is not simply due to spokespeople looking to have another attempt at answering questions.
With journalists less restricted by immediate time constraints, there are likely to be more questions to face and they may well cover a wider range of subject areas.
A note of caution here as well. Spokespeople could face questions they feel they’ve already answered and it is important they don’t get frustrated. Any sign of annoyance, or perhaps even walking away from the interview, will be used as the clip that leads the story.
Of course, with good media training, you can still control a pre-recorded interview. But you and your spokesperson will have little influence over how the interview is ultimately used.
I have been faced by a number of disappointed spokespeople in previous roles who have wanted to know why that 15 minute interview they gave made just 30 seconds on the evening news.
And the answer is that pre-recorded interviews surrender editorial control to the journalist. They will decide which bits of the interview and how much of it will be used.
And there is no guarantee that the footage they choose will include the message you had hoped to get across.
There’s nothing more frustrating than preparing for an interview, clearing time in your diary to answer the journalist’s questions and then finding out that it doesn’t go out that day, or the next day or even the next week.
In some cases the interview may fall off the news agenda altogether.
One of the main issues with pre-recorded interviews is that they are vulnerable to being bumped in favour of bigger stories or late-breaking news.
We find on our media training courses that being asked to do a live interview typically improves the performance of many spokespeople.
The adrenaline kicks in and they raise their game knowing that they only have one attempt to get their message across to the audience.
Consequently they can come across as having more energy and enthusiasm for the subject they are discussing.
Live interviews may be shorter than pre-recorded ones, but they typically result in more air time.
So, not only can spokespeople expect to face fewer questions – most likely just four or five - from the journalist, but they will also have more opportunity to get their message across.
When you go live you have complete control over what the audience sees and hears.
The journalist no longer gets to select which bits of the interview goes out.
This means spokespeople have far more opportunity to get their message across to the audience.
One of the great things about doing a live interview is that in many ways you are also doing a pre-record at the same time.
By that I mean that a live interview will always be recorded and the news channel is likely to use parts of it in its bulletins during the rest of the day.
This is particularly true of the 24 hour news channels which have a lot of airtime to fill, but radio programmes often do this too. For example, a head teacher recently gave such a powerful interview on Radio 4's Today programme on education funding that parts of it were used again an hour later.
There is one big issue with live interviews which tends to make spokespeople gulp – there is no insurance.
You cannot avoid mistakes going out on air and you cannot have another attempt at responses you are not happy with.
But here’s the key thing to remember – no-one expects perfection in media interviews. It is extremely rare for mistakes to be damaging to an organisation or career-limiting for the spokesperson.
Most mistakes and stumbles will be completely ignored by the audience.
Overall, there are far more benefits to live interviews than pre-recorded ones. That doesn’t mean that organisations should turn down pre-recorded interview requests.
But given the choice between the two, spokespeople need to overcome their fears and opt for the format which gives them more control and greater opportunity to get their message across.
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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