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3 Easy Questions that Trip Up Media Interviews

3 Easy Questions that Trip Up Media Interviews

As the saying goes, it’s the little things that kill, and the little things can derail or trip up an interview with the media.

Media interviews are more important because they are hard to come by these days. Many reporters, even those associated with trade publications, are often required to publish upwards of six stories per day. Some can have even more. That doesn’t leave much time for examining a topic in depth.

Any PRs that blog on a consistent basis will have a special appreciation with the demands placed on members of the media.  When we do earn interest in an interview, it’s an event that can strengthen or weaken a PRs credibility in providing relevant and useful sources.

To that end, most PRs often draft a document – a briefing sheet – to help prepare executives. Typically these briefs should include:

  • The reporter, background and links to any social profile
  • The angle or catalyst the reporter has in mind
  • Relevant or related coverage
  • Likely questions
  • Factual data points useful for answering likely questions

When Easy Questions Become Hard

PRs are especially sensitive to what might go awry in an interview and as a result tend to focus on those hard questions.  While it can vary with the individual being interview, I’ve generally found executives are usually pretty good at answering the hard questions – they do it all day long with customers, leaders and employees. It’s the easy ones that get overlooked — overlooked precedes suprise.

Here are three easy questions that can became a stumbling block

1. The vague opening question. Reporters are usually pretty busy – sure we all are – but what’s unique in a high tempo of writing (or broadcasting) is the transition from one topic to the next.  Maybe the reporter saw the subject line of an email and skimmed the contents in deciding it was a story worth pursuing – but haven’t yet had time to research or delve into the details.  Vague opening questions might include:

  • Tell me about the study?
  • Tell me what’s this is all about?
  • What’s on your mind (with respect to a given topic)?

Interviewees tend to be better at answering specific questions – and can easily get tripped up stumbling over their words as they gather their thoughts.  It’s far better to throw this question out before the interview, so they have a chance to think about how to explain a given topic succinctly.

2. The personal question. News happens fast, and so it’s quite likely if the pitch or announcement is big news, more than one outlet is going to cover it.  To find a different angle, reporters will often ask more personal questions in order to tell a good story. For the executive that PR has focused on the tough questions, this one can be a bit of a surprise.  Examples might include:

  • How did you get your start in the industry?
  • What led you to your current position with the organization?
  • How would you characterize your management style (with respect to the topic)?

Again, an interviewee that’s had a chance to think about such questions can consider what might be important to the reporter.  It also avoids the risk of a long-winded or rambling answer. Usually reporters are not looking for how smart or awesome the person they are interviewing is – they are looking for something unique that might aid in conveying a sense of understanding to their audience.

3.  The vague closing.  Most reporters will close an interview with a simple question:  Is there anything you’d like to add?  This can be a chance to reinforce the most important points.  Sometimes the interviewee will simply answer “No, that’s about it,” which is a missed opportunity on a rare interview, or worse, will introduce something new.  Generally, it’s a bad idea to close a presentation in this fashion – and the same is usually true with interviews. Give executives a chance to consider how they’d recap the announcement or news at the end of an interview.

* * *

Covering down on the easy questions is an important part of prepping executives to provide an interview that reporters will find helpful. Little things done right, can add up to a big difference.

Photo credit:  Flickr, Carla de Souza Campos, CC BY-SA 2.0

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