Waiting, in most instances, is excruciating – for kids during the night before Christmas, for patients in a doctor’s office, for anything and everything at the DMV.
Publicists and their clients sometimes get a similar sense of dread after a reporter completes a news interview. The client’s been media trained, the reporter is all smiles, the Q&A goes well, and yet the next day’s headline crushes your client’s image and reputation. Complaining about “gotcha” journalism and unfair questions is a useless exercise, because once the story is published or run, you can’t take it back.
A reporter’s job is to be tough and demanding, and let’s face it – a bunch of softball questions only leads to weak, fluffy content suitable for predictable feel-good stories. That’s why most reporters rightfully work hard and push the boundaries, because they are good journalists and are inspired to deliver thoughtful content.
Still, as an interview subject, how can you handle the occasional unscrupulous reporter so your responses aren’t twisted responses out of context? By understanding a simple principle – the intent of the interview is to build a story, and a story is assembled part by part. As the interviewee, apply the following “quality control” steps, and you’ll be in pretty good shape.
• Script out how your ideal story will read. Think about how a news anchor introduces a story with a lead-in: “Coming up next, in the words of [interview subject], it was an ‘amazing experience, blah blah blah….’” That’s why it’s important to give a strong answer at the outset that helps guide the rest of the narrative. Such an answer frames the story on your own terms, and that momentum will carry through all the way to publication or broadcast.
• Make sure you rebut critics. You already know what your critics are saying. Accusations about your business, political or personal activities are out in the open. When that’s the case, a news story about you will likely include comment from critics, so don’t forget to address — and rebut — their points preemptively. Otherwise you leave a big gap of story content that can be used against you.
• Be positive. Resist the urge to bad-mouth anyone. Not only is it bad manners, but anything negative you say can easily eclipse all the positive points you make, and serves for ready-made headline material.
• Stay on message. Don’t get off-track — if the interview is about your company’s new product, don’t discuss your carpool schedule, church picnic or the latest celebrity gossip. Just as your time is precious, so is the reporter’s, so don’t waste it! Plus, by staying on point, you reduce the risk of foot-in-mouth syndrome.
Now go get that headline!