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Media Training: Protect Yourself in Interviews

By Suzanne Spurgeon, Founder of Women Media Pros  September 20, 2019

Media interviews are a double-edged sword.  Do them well and your business may benefit from the media exposure.  Or, if your company is facing a crisis, an interview is your opportunity to set the record straight and begin to take control of the situation.

But there are dangers of doing interviews if you aren’t prepared and you don’t know the basics of media relations.

If you agree to an “on background” interview with a reporter, do you know exactly what that means?  A reporter will use the information you provide, but agrees not to name you.  But, the reporter may characterize the person he/she interviewed.  For example, you may be described as, “a high-ranking company official.”  If the company you work for is very small, people around you may put two and two together.  To protect yourself, in advance of the interview, work out the exact wording of how you’ll be described. 

Once you’ve told a reporter something either on the record or on background, it’s really hard to take it back.  Say you are doing a taped TV interview and you blurt out something that you later regret.  You can ask the reporter to cut it, but there is no guarantee he/she will. 

You should also be cautious of what you say while a TV news crew is shooting cut-aways after the interview.  Typically the videographer is shooting video of the reporter to use in the taped piece, or perhaps he’s shooting a 2-shot of you and the reporter.  Chit-chat is fine but don’t assume because the actual interview is over that you can say something juicy and the reporter will just ignore it.   It is also a good idea not to be laughing during the cut-away shoot.  If this cutaway of you is edited into the piece you could come off looking stupid, or insensitive--if the interview topic is a serious one.

It’s not that every reporter is out for a “gotcha” moment, but why chance it.  We’ve all seen people caught on “hot microphones” saying inappropriate things they would never have said if they knew that mic was open.  It happens to even high-profile people who have done hundreds of interviews.  Learn from their mistakes.

From the moment a journalist first calls you, just consider yourself on-the-record.  That way you won’t have any regrets.  There is no need to avoid the media as long as you prepare.

Some Quick Pre-Interview Tips...

  • Google the journalist and learn about his/her reputation. Read/listen/watch some of his/her previous stories.  If you don’t like what you find out, you may want to pass on the interview.

  • Will you be interviewed solo, or be part of a roundtable?  Find out who those other guests are.

  • Prepare your talking points and practice them.

  • Check to see if there are any relevant breaking news stories that you may be asked about.  You may be planning to talk about one thing, but given your expertise, the journalist may hit you with questions on the breaking news.

  • Know that if a journalist gets the story wrong, you may ask for a correction.  Reputable news organizations should want to correct their mistakes. 

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