Preparing for the Daunting “Media Interview”

“Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony, I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

This is a sound bite from a recent interview with New York Representative Michael Grimm, in which he threatened the life of the journalist interviewing him. I guess thats one way to deflect difficult questions… He was under the impression that the camera was no longer rolling. Lucky for him, it was. Okay, yes I’m being facetious, but I just find this to be utterly ridiculous. How can a politician be so foolish as to make a statement like that with cameras anywhere near him? Not to mention that this wasn’t your average, everyday threat, he really went above and beyond with the descriptive language. I mean, come on guy.

This is a crisis if I ever saw one.

Public interviewing always has the potential to be unpredictable, thats why prepping spokespeople or public figures is key to mitigating the potential for crisis. Thats where PR pro’s come in. Its our job to make sure the person being interviewed is adequately prepared to answer possible questions that may be asked.

As PR practitioners, one of the expectations put on us is to be able to think strategically. This couldn’t be any more true than in the process of preparing for public interviews. We need to be able to look at the situation and identify all possible questions and scenarios that may occur during the interview. Then evaluate how to respond in a way that will generate the most favorable reaction/perception.

Ben Silverman gives several things to keep in mind when doing a media interview in his article, Public Relations Basics: Preparing for Media Interviews. While he laid out many suggestions, I will just look at a few of them I found helpful.

  1. Be Prepared – More often than not, the publicity we get isn’t about us directly, but about a general subject, trend, or preexisting news story. Some independent research ahead of time never hurts.
  2. I Don’t Know – Don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not familiar with that.” In the end, admitting you don’t know an answer is better than going on-the-record with something that is inaccurate or poorly thought out.
  3. Take Your Time – Print media is relaxed media, taking a 10 second pause to gather your thoughts can be tremendously helpful. With TV and radio appearances, it’s essential that you do some prep work, which can be the difference between sounding like a genius and an idiot.
  4. Listen – Listen to the actual question before you answer. You may think you know what’s going to be asked, but one word can change the entire meaning of a question.
  5. Don’t Get Something Stuck in Your Head – We all go into interviews with some idea of what we want to say and how we want to say it. Don’t get to attached to specific soundbites you planned ahead of time. Understand what you want to convey and let the conversation flow naturally.

My favorite of these; don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” It seems all to often that people are to stubborn to say this during an interview. This is a sure-fire way to make you seem ignorant. Perhaps they don’t want to seem unintelligent or in any way vulnerable during an interview. Personally, when an interviewee admits they don’t know the answer to a question, I can appreciate that. As long as they do it within reason.

Planning ahead of time, strategizing potential scenarios and adequately prepping the person being interviewed will reduce the likelihood of the interview going aery and causing a PR crisis, such as what happened with Michael Grimm.