Ten DOs and Ten DON'Ts for handling media interviews

The Ten DON'Ts

1. Don't lie, mislead or exaggerate.

Never, ever, lie. It could be tragic. Don't mislead or exaggerate, either. It will damage your credibility. If you've done something awful, 'fess up and get it over with. Admit you were wrong, apologize, and explain what you're doing about it. Of course, don't miss the opportunity, at the same time, to talk about your successes as well.

2. Don't answer questions that are not asked.

The reporter won't know what you're talking about, and a confused reporter talking at cross-purposes with you is a recipe for trouble.

3. Don't question the questions.

A reporter's question may sound irrelevant, immaterial, offensive or even downright stupid. But it is not so to the reporter. If you don't answer, he or she may well go elsewhere—to your competitor, a disgruntled ex-employee, or unhappy customer. If a question really does seem out of line, try to use it to get back to relevant territory. Talk to us at Clarity Communications about the use of "bridges" to get back to safe ground and your agenda.

4. Don't answer hypothetical questions with hypothetical answers.

Remember that really important point from the Ten DOs: The reporter's questions do not appear—only your answers appear. Your hypothetical answer, appearing on its own, may suggest there is smoke where there is none, and thus a fire where there is none.

5. Don't say "No comment."

"No comment" is a comment. And it usually comes across as somehow guilty or negative. If you really can't give or get an answer, say so—and explain why. And really do explain; don't just say glibly: "It's our policy."

6. Don't say: "That's off the record."

If you say something to a reporter or blogger, it should be for the record. After all, you're trying to tell the public your story. If you can't say something publicly, don't say it at all.

7. Don't ask if you can review the story in advance.

You can not see it or check it in advance. Nor can you check the reporter's notes, or see or listen to their recording or disk. Simple as that. It's one of the ground rules of the news business.

8. Don't argue or lose your cool.

"Never get in a shouting match with someone who buys ink by the barrel."

By definition, the reporter, editor or blogger always has the last word. Fencing with them, arguing, or blowing your stack may be a natural reaction, particularly if you are provoked by some harsh or off-the-wall question. But the question is not seen or heard—only your answer or your reaction is.

9. Don't play favourites.

You may have your favourite reporter or blogger. But giving information to one reporter, and not to another, can be a very risky game. If one reporter calls you on a story, chances are another will. Treat them all equally and fairly. Don't give nice detailed answers to one, and reluctant, partial answers to another. And never tip off Reporter A that you've had a call from Reporter B.

10. Don't whine about "misquotes" or "bad press".

Even if you conduct a superb interview, the final story or headline may strike you as unfair or inaccurate. Journalists do get their wires crossed now and then. Take steps to set the record straight. Call the reporter, for starters. But a polite "I'm concerned that I didn't give you the figures clearly" works a lot better than "You fouled up. . . ." After all, the foul-up may not have been the reporter's at all, but an editor's.

If you follow the tips and thoughts Clarity Communications has given you here, we hope you'll get only 'good press'.

After all, the newspapers, radio, TV, magazines and the Internet are only the medium. You are the messenger, and yours are the messages.

Clarity Communications Inc. offers media training sessions to help you deal comfortably with the media. Call us at 604-329-8712 or email us. Your first consultation is free.

Clarity Communications Inc. provides expert professional services in all forms of public, media and community relations and media training, in Vancouver BC Canada and in Washington State

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