How to Avoid A Sean Spicer Moment: Media Interview Dos & Don’ts
By Kathleen Reid
October 19, 2018
So you’ve been asked to speak to the media on behalf of your organization. Or maybe you haven’t been formally asked, but somehow find yourself thrown into the situation. Easy, right? You know your stuff. You’re familiar with your organization, its mission, its operations. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot, actually, if you go in unprepared. You and your organization could spend a lot of time doing damage control from one interview gone awry. Or you could find yourself out of a job, à la Sean Spicer. We don’t want anyone to be like Sean Spicer. Ever.
The good news? There’s training for that. Media training is one of the services we at Switchboard provide to our clients — and one of our very favourite things to do.
Today, we’re offering you a few dos and don’ts for engaging media on behalf of your organization.
- Develop three key messages around the topic in question in advance of your interview. Each message should take no more than 12-15 seconds to say aloud.
- Practice the messages over and over and over again, then practice them some more.
- Practice answering the question you most dread.
- During the interview, go back to those messages again and again, as much as you can — when appropriate (see below don’t).
- Provide written background material about the topic you’re being interviewed about. The reporter will appreciate it.
- Offer to be available after the interview for follow-up calls.
- Bridge away from ‘what if’ questions. Deal with what is.
- Make sure you understand the question before answering it. Clarify if you need to. You’re allowed to ask questions too!
- Speak in simple language.
- Use facts and figures or anecdotes and stories to support or elaborate on what you’re saying. But don’t use confusing or convoluted statistics that require a lot of explanation.
- Correct misinformation immediately.
- Finish your answer.
- Try to refer your organization by name when appropriate.
- Be yourself.
- Over-answer. Do say what you need to say as simply and succinctly as you can. If the reporter needs further clarification, they’ll ask for it.
- Rush to fill the silence. You can pause and think if you need to.
- Guess. If you don’t know the answer, say so, or tell the reporter you’ll have to get back to them.
- Say “no comment.” It’s not appropriate in an interview that you’ve agreed to participate in.
- Use your key messages when they’re not appropriate. Everyone can tell when a spokesperson is using canned messaging when their response has nothing to do with the question they were asked. Answer the questions you’re asked, drawing on your key messages when they’re pertinent.
- Assume the reporter knows more about the topic than you do. You know more about your business than any reporter. Trust us.
- Be intimidated by rapid-fire questioning. Practicing in advance helps deal with this situation when it arises.
- Allow yourself to be provoked. Breathe. Take a moment. Then answer the question calmly.
- Sit in a chair that has wheels. No matter what happens, you will move around.
- Argue with the camera operator. They know what they’re doing.
- Assume the microphone or camera is off immediately before or after an interview. You’re always on the record.
We’ve all seen what can happen when people fail to heed that last one. #hotmic
So there you have it. You’re a media relations pro now, right?
Not so fast. These pointers will help, but this takes a lot of practice. Ideally interactive practice under the guidance of actual media relations pros. That — and some practical strategies for nailing media interviews — is what our media relations training is all about. It’s effective. It’s fun (really!). And if you find yourself in the media hot seat it could prove to be the most useful thing you’ve ever done.
We’ve recently updated our training to include new online interview formats, including Skype/Google Hangout interviews and Instagram Live with the media. Yes, that’s a thing.
If you or someone in your organization needs media training, please do get in touch. We can cater the workshop to the needs of your team.
About Kathleen Reid
Founder and Managing Director
Kathleen is a political buff — she holds a B.A. in Political Science from UBC, and has proudly voted in every municipal, provincial and federal election since her eighteenth birthday. Kathleen is also an active member of the Vancouver community; she volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club of South Coast BC and is actively engaged in the city’s startup scene.