Handling Provocative or Uncomfortable Questions During a Media Interview

If you are being interviewed by a newspaper, magazine or television reporter, don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t have to prepare for the interview. In some cases, if the reporter makes an appointment to meet with you in person, you may have several days to prepare. But a reporter may call when you least expect it and need your comments immediately for a story that will appear in the following day’s newspaper, or on that night’s TV newscast.

Not knowing what kinds of questions reporters ask, or being unprepared for a killer question that comes out of left field, can leave you feeling frazzled and uncomfortable, and you might give a response that makes you come off sounding angry, defensive or confused.

Here are the types of questions you can expect reporters to ask, and tips on how to prepare for them.

Name, Rank and Serial Number

Early in the interview, reporters will want most of the basics from you, depending on what the story is about. One of the reasons they do this is that they can pitch you softball questions that you feel more comfortable answering, then ask tougher questions as the interview proceeds. Provide a media kit that offers your one-page professional profile, a history of your company, a simple Q&A sheet listing the most frequently asked questions, or a fact sheet about your organization. You can save the reporter a lot of time. Offer to drop off the media kit at the newspaper office if the reporter is local, or use an overnight delivery service. If you have this information posted at your web site, give the reporter your URL.

“Can I interview you over lunch?”

Be careful. If it’s a sensitive story that you feel might not present you in the best light, don’t agree to this because it means you will probably be stuck sitting with the reporter for at least an hour. Simply tell the reporter that a lunch or breakfast interview would be difficult for you to schedule, but that you can give them 20 minutes or a half hour in your office during business hours. If the interview is on your turf, there are all sorts of ways to get rid of the reporter early, such as faking an emergency meeting with your boss. If the story is innocent enough, there’s no harm in meeting with a reporter over lunch, however.

“What is your annual revenue? How does that compare to the last three years?”

Many business people get rattled when reporters ask these questions. If your company is publicly held, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t offer this information. If you are privately held, or if you are a small business, answer the questions if you can. It helps the reporter understand how your business is doing now compared to three years ago. If you cannot give these figures for competitive reasons, at least give a range, such as “Between $250,000 and $500,000.”

“How did you come up with the money for this (business, project, program)?”

Explain how in general terms. You don’t have to give all the details.

“What is the worst business mistake you ever made that you learned from?”

Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone has a worst business mistake. Anticipate this question and prepare your response. The media love to help their readers and viewers avoid other people’s mistakes. Rather than just naming the blunder, explain how others can avoid making it.

This article originally appears in Don Crowther's 101PublicRelations Web site.