In the past three decades, I have had a hand in coordinating more than 1,000 media interviews. Working with the media is exhilarating and humbling – sometimes it’s both at once. Cooperating with the media and working with reporters to help get a story told is one of the most important things any company can do. Still, there continues to exist many myths regarding how to foster this relationship and what you can and can’t expect when the cameras are rolling.
Despite the changes in media outlets – the decline of newspapers and the rise of online being most prevalent – the fundamentals are still the same. When I played baseball we used wooden bats, and today they use aluminum; but you still have to hit the ball. So, too, the media outlets may have changed; but what makes a good story and how to handle yourself during an interview is the same today as it was years ago.
Here are the ten myths concerning the media that I believe companies must shatter if they are to be successful when being interviewed:
1. The reporter is my friend. A reporter has a job to do – to report. If the reporter was favorable in the past, that doesn’t make him or her a friend or guarantee a positive story. Their jobs come first … just as yours should.
2. The media is out to get me. Occasionally yes, but usually no. What most reporters and editors want is simply a good story. If you bring a confrontational or negative attitude to the interview, it will have a harmful impact on the story. Better to be upbeat, positive and courteous.
3. We can talk off the record. “Off the record” – just like the words “no comment” – should be stricken from your vocabulary.
4. It is best to just not tell. Hiding information jeopardizes a professional relationship and can destroy trust not only with the media but with your customers and employees. Today’s world demands and expects transparency.
5. I have to give another (better) answer. A reporter might come back to a sensitive topic several times; you should not feel the need to come up with a “better” answer. If you’ve made your point in a concise and understandable way, stick to your original response and then stop talking! The more you talk the better the chances that you will say something you didn’t want to say in the first place.
6. I can’t have notes in front of me. Of course you can. The reporter will. Besides, having notes with facts, examples, anecdotes or supporting background materials will help make your comments more robust and authoritative. That will lead to a better story that benefits everyone.
7. Body language only matters if I’m being interviewed on TV. Print and online reporters quickly pick up on nervousness or any signs that indicate you may be holding back or equivocating. Look the reporter in the eye, smile and keep your energy level high. Don’t underestimate the power of facial gestures, a confident nod of the head and other non-verbal kinds of communications.
8. I have to answer every question. Only you retain the ultimate right to what you do and don’t say. Remember, first amendment rights work both ways – the reporter is free to ask, and you are free not to answer. If you don’t like a question, redirect it so you make sure to get your points across.
9. If a reporter comes up with a fact, it must be right. If you don’t think it’s correct, don’t accept it. Reporters can’t possibly know all the facts and more often than not you are the expert. It is OK to challenge false or unsupported information, but as Ben Franklin said, “Don’t get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”
10. Once a notebook is closed, the interview is over. It’s never over until the reporter is out of the building … out of hearing range … and out of sight.
Ideally anyone speaking with media on your company’s behalf should attend a practical media-training program where they can learn and start to perfect their interview skills. Shattering these ten myths is a good place to start and will provide solid footing for establishing the kind of media program that will serve you well.
This article was written by Ross K. Goldberg, founder and president of Kevin/Ross Public Relations. He has more than 30 years’ experience in public relations and is the chairman of the board of trustees of Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center.