In the previous blog, Ten Commandments of Media Interviews-Part I, we explored the meaning of the first five “don’ts” of media interviews. Today, we’ll expand on the latter five.
6) You shall not respond to questions with a mere “yes” or “no.”
7) You shall not tell a reporter, “No comment.”
8) You shall not expect the reporter to be an expert on your business or industry.
9) You shall not tell a reporter, “That’s not important.”
10) You shall not expect to see a story in advance.
Commandment Six: In J-school, reporters learn the difference between questions that are open-ended versus closed (i.e., questions answered with “yes” or “no”). As a media-trained source, you can view closed questions as opportunities to repeat a key message, when and if appropriate. Let’s put this into practice. If you’re asked, “Is your product sold through the channel?” you might answer, “Yes, the channel represents the lion’s share of our go-to-market strategy, and we have strong relationships with channel partners on four continents.” Or, if you’re asked, “Will this be available to consumers during the holiday shopping season?” you might answer, “Yes, and we’ve made extra technical preparations, to handle the higher volumes of Internet traffic we expect from consumers coming to our site during holiday e-shopping.”
In both answer examples, you‘ve provided the reporter with additional background on the “what” in the first case of the first closed question, and the “why” in the second case.
Commandment Seven: There are many ways to answer “unanswerable” questions. “No comment” is a red flag that you may be hiding something, even when you’re not! Consider why you feel uncomfortable answering the question. Are you being asked for information you don’t currently know, but could potentially answer if you could refer to a report you read recently? Then tell the reporter you’ll be glad to check into an answer and follow up. Are you being asked for information your company has rules about not disclosing? Then tell the reporter you don’t disclose this information publicly. Are you being asked for information outside your area of expertise? Then be honest, but not defensive, and offer to ask one of your colleagues with the appropriate expertise to respond to the reporter.
Commandment Eight: Over the last several decades, trade publications have shuttered operations and let go of knowledgeable beat reporters as the media profession has grappled with how to conduct its business profitably in the new reality of information available from a plethora of sources. Remaining publications have skeletal editorial staffs, with reporters covering multiple beats that by-and-large don’t afford them opportunities to develop in-depth expertise. For these reasons, it’s more important than ever to help reporters “connect the dots” by sharing your market expertise, including putting into context news and answering questions that may sound obvious to you in a way that’s informative, not condescending.
Commandment Nine: A companion to commandment eight, this commandment reminds media-trained sources to take a question about a seemingly irrelevant topic, and possibly reframe it to conform to an answer you consider to be newsworthy or important. For example, if you’re asked, “What does the recent acquisition of Company XYZ mean to your business?” you might respond: “While that acquisition doesn’t directly impact our business, our industry is going through an overall consolidation that’s impacting us in ways that may not be obvious…” and then share examples of the less-obvious impacts.
Commandment Ten: However tempting, it’s best not to expect or to ask to see a story in advance. I’ve seen one exception to this rule over my 25 years’ experience: in highly technical industries (in my case, the semiconductor equipment industry), trade journal reporters occasionally offered to send stories prior to publication, for fact-checking of scientific terms known only to PhD’s in physics or chemistry. If a reporter offers to send you a story in advance, consider yourself one step closer to reaching your ultimate goal of developing the level of trust required for a long-term relationship. Support that trust by checking for technical accuracy only, and resist the temptation to change what you’ve been quoted as saying to sound “prettier”!
By obeying the Ten Commandments of Media Interviews, you’re proactively establishing yourself as a credible expert in the eyes of reporters, and delivering newsworthy information in a way that’s mutually beneficial because the reporter has the content he or she needs to attract more viewers/visitors/readers, and your news will be broadcast to a targeted audience. The results should lead to long-term relationships and better balanced stories about your company and products.