It stands to reason that a positive media interview can benefit the reputation of your business. Likewise, negative coverage can ruin it – in seconds, if things truly go wrong.
[Editor’s note: this article is the first in a two-part series by Luke Buesnel on avoiding and bouncing back from negative media. You can read part two here]
Dealing with journalists can be nerve-racking because you’re relying on them to accurately portray you. While media interviews involving SMEs tend to have a positive outcome, mishaps can still happen.
During the 2013 federal election, Greenway candidate Jaymes Diaz demonstrated how quickly an interviewee can hurt their own credibility. Not only did an interview with the press result in international condemnation, Diaz also withdrew his candidacy.
As the video above illustrates, being underprepared for a media interview is a death sentence. If you’re scheduled for interview about your business, prepare by asking what topics the journalist wants to cover, then research and practice your responses over and over again. Having confidence in your preparation will help safeguard you against failure.
Beyond preparation, applying these three steps will see you avoid a negative media interview:
Always direct back to what you know
If questioning goes off script and you’re asked about topics you don’t know, direct it back to your expertise. If you sell an education product for high school students but you’re asked about university dropout rates, respond along these lines:
“I’m unaware of the latest university dropout statistics but we believe our product creates a more engaging educational environment for developing students”.
Thus, you’ve dealt with the actual question but refocused it back to your area of expertise. Of course, all claims you make must be accurate.
The logical next journalistic question is “How does your product engage developing students?” And with that, the interview is back on your terms. If you’re not knowledgeable on the topic asked don’t pretend you are.
Find Out the Answer
It’s possible you won’t know how to respond to a question that’s relevant. Don’t fudge the answer and expect to get away with it. There’s no harm in acknowledging you don’t know the answer off the top of your head. Mention you will provide the journalist with the information they require before their story is broadcast or published (and make sure you do) – this is perfectly acceptable if the interview is pre-recorded as facts/quotes are often inserted later.
Of course, if the interview is live, this approach won’t work as well – but it still works. At the very least, it shows you have integrity – don’t underestimate the power of being honest in an interview. For the audience, it is refreshing and reinforces the fact that, as humans, we can’t know everything.
Direct a Journalist with Confidence
Confused by a question or don’t understand it? Stumbling through an answer is giving a journalist ammunition to attack you or you claims. Instead, ask the journalist to provide an example to clarify what they mean and answer from there. If they can’t provide an example, you’re not obliged to answer. Simply reinforce that you don’t understand the question and therefore you can’t answer. If a journalist can’t provide a practical example, they either don’t understand the question themselves or they may be trying to lead you astray.
Don’t fear participating in a media interview: most journalists won’t deliberately attack you. Go in confident that you can speak meaningfully but avoid comment on situations that fall outside of your expertise. Nobody, including journalists, expect you to know everything – you’re not a politician and, fortunately for us, neither is Jaymes Diaz.
About the author:
Luke Buesnel is an experienced journalist and political media advisor with an interest in small business issues and trends. Luke is the Founder and Director of Real Media Management. Twitter – @RMM_Luke