How to Control Your Message During a Media Interview

One of the biggest misconceptions that we face as a public relations firm working across a variety of industries, including healthcare, nonprofits and professional services, is the idea that the media is out to get our clients. The concept of being “on the record” can be intimidating for many people at first and often leads to a hesitancy to speak to reporters.

On several occasions, we have even seen clients decide not to share newsworthy information with the media out of fear  the reporter will latch on to one small, negative component of a story. While the media does cover stories of corruption, abuse of power and other negative aspects of business, as long as your organization is operating ethically and within the law, it is rare that the media will do an exposé story that is unfair or inaccurate in nature.

Communications Problem? We can help

When a client is nervous about negative media coverage, we work with the client to identify any potential negative components and mitigate their potential impact. Often, this is as simple as providing the full picture about the reality of the situation to put the negative information in context. For example, if a healthcare organization improved safety at their clinics year-over-year but had one high profile incident, we can help the client talk about how they’ve increased patient safety while explaining why the high profile incident happened and what steps were taken to correct it.

While the old adage “any press is good press” is not always true, when the opportunity exists to share good news we recommend that our clients don’t refrain from sharing the news out of fear of the media zeroing in on one particular negative component.

There are many steps an organization can take  to help ensure that the media shares the broad picture of your news development. For example, media training can help executives who are concerned with controlling their message during media interviews learn how to effectively communicate with journalists in an interview setting so they get the most of out the interview. When you’re looking to stay on message and ensure your story is covered fairly, keep the following five tips in mind.

Tips to Control Your Message During a Media Interview

  1. Be honest. First and foremost, it is critical to always be honest when interacting with reporters. Never lie or lie by omission. Doing so jeopardizes your reputation and your organization’s reputation. While there is a chance your lie may go undetected, if a reporter uncovers that you have lied, what could have been a small component of an interview can turn into a full-on crisis communications situation with the ability to cause permanent damage.

  2. Never say “no comment.”  We’ve all seen characters on television shows and in movies use the phrase, “no comment” when they don’t want to answer a reporter’s question. However, we always counsel our clients to avoid this phrase.  “No comment” sets off alarms for a reporter by suggesting that you have something to hide. If you don’t know the answer to a question but can find and share the answer, let the reporter know that you don’t have that information available at the moment but you will follow up after the interview. If there are legal reasons why you can’t respond,  explain that you are unable to answer the question because it involves ongoing litigation or personal information about a patient.
  3. Know your key message and drive it home. Before the interview, get clear on what your key messages are and how you would like to present them. When preparing our clients for media interviews we always provide them with a list of potential questions and corresponding talking points. This is a great idea for anyone preparing for an interview, as it helps you hone in on your key messages and how you want to reference them in relation to topics that will be discussed during an interview. Take the time to write out a few notes about the message and how it relates to several potential questions you may be asked. During the interview, repeating the key message several times will help to ensure that it is included in the final article. When possible, open and close with your key message.
  4. Be prepared for the worst. When you have newsworthy information to share but know that there is a less than savory angle that the media might catch on to, don’t walk into the interview hoping the topic won’t come up. Instead, prepare an answer to the worst possible question the journalist could ask you about the topic. If the question comes up, you will be prepared to answer it in the best possible manner.
  5. Be professional and friendly. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again–most reporters are not out to get you. Even if you do encounter one who you perceive as digging for a story, they’ll be easier to handle if you remain professional. Avoid picking a fight with a journalist at all costs. Instead remain firm, but polite when in a contentious interview.

Communications Problem? We can help

For a few of our other favorite interview tips, click here.

Give us a call at 303-733-3441 to discuss how we can help you get comfortable giving interviews and boost your media relations strategy.