Ten Commandments of Media Interviews – Part 1

Media training for executives facing interviews is one of the services provided by full-service PR agencies. As a K/F Communications media trainer and former newspaper reporter, I share insights into common reporting techniques and motivations to help technology executives better deliver the kinds of newsworthy information reporters need from their story sources, in a way thats mutually beneficial for all interview participants.

In todays Ten Commandments of Media Interviews-Part I, Ill explore the first of five donts of media interviews. In an upcoming Ten Commandments of Media Interviews-Part II, Ill expand on the latter five donts of interviews.

1)      You shall not stray from the truth.

2)      You shall not make unsubstantiated claims.

3)      You shall not interrupt.

4)      Remember never to argue.

5)      Honor your own reputation by not trashing your competitors’.

Commandment One: In interviews, as in life, tell the truth. Quite simply, you never know what a reporter already knows! As a reporter, I typically asked at least one question I knew the answer to, as a gauge of the source’s credibility—especially when meeting the person for the first time. If a source lied about little stuff, how could he or she be trusted to tell the truth when asked more important questions? Carried to extremes, the lie becomes the story.

Commandment Two: While exaggeration is useful in storytelling, it has no place in non-fiction, including interviews with reporters. This also applies to making up statistics, whether on the fly (politicians have perfected this, as seen in this year’s Presidential debates), or because you’ve forgotten the actual figure. If it’s a case of the latter, tell the reporter you’ll look it up and follow up with him. If you’re a busy executive with back-to-back meetings, your PR professional should get back to the reporter on your behalf.

Commandment Three: While some investigative reporters interrupt to throw interviewees “off balance,” you shouldn’t respond in kind. Even less aggressive reporters may start a question going in one direction, but veer off in another by the question’s end. Listening to the entire question enables you to determine what’s really being asked, putting you in the best position to answer appropriately.

Commandment Four: Argument is sometimes used as a journalistic technique for pushing a source to the boiling point, where he or she bursts forth with information—typically confidential–simply to prove the reporter wrong. Learn to take a deep breath if confronted. You gain the upper hand by adopting the perspective that this is a “teaching moment.” If baited with half-truths or falsehoods, correct these with the facts in a calm, neutral, impersonal manner.

Commandment Five: Recognize that even with the best G2, your information about competitors may still be outdated. This may have unintended consequences if the reporter knows more about your competitors than you apparently do. Acknowledge your competitors, name them when asked directly, but don’t give them more credit than they deserve.

The flipside—and equally one to avoid–is to claim you don’t have competitors. Unfortunately, this implies that the market opportunity isn’t big enough to have attracted more companies vying for customers and their dollars.

This commandment doesn’t prohibit naming your products’ features that are unmatched by competitive offerings. The point isn’t to “trash” the competitive products, but to use them to better position your products’ strengths!

Summary: Obey these first five commandments to navigate to a better balanced story about your company and technology, establish yourself as a credible expert, and take steps toward developing solid relationships with reporters, which should be the long-term goal.