The media interview is a key element in public relations media training. As PR practitioners, we work to prepare spokespeople to calmly and effectively interact with reporters, no matter their style or approach. In order to do this, it is always good to prepare spokespersons for the various interview styles a reporter might have.
Here are eight examples of reporter interview styles that spokespeople might encounter during an interview and strategies to handle them:
1. Machine Gunner
Challenge: When a reporter asks a handful of questions at one time.
Strategy: Consider your options before you respond.
» Ask the reporter which questions he or she wants answered.
» Pick the question you want to answer.
» Summarize his or her questions and answer with the information that covers that question.
Video footage courtesy of CNN via YouTube
Challenge: When a reporter constantly interrupts the spokesperson before their response or thought is complete.
Strategy: Let the reporter finish the question that interrupted you and continue on with your initial statement.
3. Loaded Question
Video footage courtesy of Egberto Willies via YouTube
Challenge: When a reporter asks unfair, biased, or leading questions hoping to manipulate the answer or trick the spokesperson into saying something negative.
Strategy: Never repeat a reporter’s negative words. Take your time to respond and answer with positive words or phrases.
4. Pregnant Pause
Challenge: When a reporter pauses between questions. This is psychological as studies have shown that people feel the need to fill the void by talking more.
Strategy: Make your point and embrace the silence. When the reporter realizes you aren’t going to provide any additional information, they won’t have a reason to continue.
5. Hypothetical “If”
Challenge: When a reporter asks the spokesperson to comment on a hypothetical situation, typically a negative one.
Strategy: Note the question is purely hypothetical, and then, only share information on what is actually happening.
Video footage courtesy of Elliptical878 via YouTube
Challenge: When a reporter asks the spokesperson if they really meant what they said and repeats the spokesperson’s response, often with a negative spin.
Strategy: Reply with a “yes,” and simply restate what was said and support it with additional information if possible.
7. Personal Opinion Pitfall
Video footage courtesy of Nicholas Ballasy via YouTube
Challenge: When a reporter asks for the spokesperson’s personal opinion on the topic.
Strategy: Make sure to approach this carefully as you never want to let the reporter get between you and the company you represent. Stay with the approved messaging.
8. False Facts
Challenge: When a reporter provides incorrect information.
Response: If you know the facts are incorrect, point that out. If you are unsure of the correct information, reiterate your messages and say you’re unaware of the facts he or she is referring to, but you are happy to get back to them.
Media interviews can be challenging, but being cognizant of the different reporter interview styles and being well-practiced in how to handle them can help you succeed in your next interview.
Need help preparing for an upcoming interview? Contact us, and we can help develop a media relations strategy equipped to handle any reporter. For more tips on media relations, check out, “How to Write an Op-Ed,” and, “Adapting PR Strategies For Media Needs.”