media relations

Leaping over Media Interview Pitfalls

By Chad Van Alstin

A media briefing or interview is an important chance to reach a wider audience. Furthermore, it’s a chance to exercise your communication skills, enhance your message, and go beyond the press release. Every interview is a chance to have a conversation with another knowledgeable person and develop your resume as a notable thought leader.

Over my time as a newspaper correspondent, magazine editor, and media relations professional, I have conducted and sat in on hundreds of media briefings and interviews. And, honestly, most of them go fine. The ones that don’t go well (where it isn’t the media member’s fault – which it sometimes is!) usually are a result of a spokesperson tripping into three common pitfalls:

  1. 1. The Sales Pitch

Even after media training, it’s hard for a lot of spokespeople to get out of the “sales meeting” mindset. A journalist is not your customer. Keep the sales language, rhetoric, and other press-release-style verbiage out of the interview.

Even if you believe the company you’re speaking on behalf of is a leading innovator and is revolutionizing the space, remember the journalist isn’t likely to print that, probably doesn’t care, and really wants to stick to the facts.

The soft sell of being knowledgeable, being yourself, and sticking to the topic at hand, is what’s important here. Even if the article in question is a potential business profile, it’s best to keep the sales language to an absolute minimum.

  1. 2. It’s OK to NOT have an answer

Your type-A attitude may be the reason you’re now an executive. But, in a media interview – and while also interacting with the public at large – not having an answer is acceptable. In fact, it’s preferred to having a vague, uninteresting, dodgy “politician-y” answer.

You aren’t required to know everything about the space or your company. If you have to refer to another person for an answer – even at a later time – that is a sign of a good, cooperative leader. Remember, you’re acting as a spokesman at this moment, but no one person makes up an entire business.

Granted, you’ll want to know something. In fact, you’ll want to know enough. But, have confidence that your success has come from more than enough, without a need to fake it. Be humble, don’t overthink, and don’t be afraid to be someone who may miss a few details in the larger picture. It’ll make for a better, more human interview.

  1. 3. An interview isn’t a battle

Every now and then, a spokesperson in a media interview will have this weird fantasy that they are about to be grilled by some investigative journalist looking for a “gotcha.” And, yeah, sure, gotchas happen every now and then. But, without evidence other than my experience, a gotcha in modern times usually involves some misguided tweet, or worse; a deeply unethical scandal.

Chances are, most media interviews are just a conversation. There may be hard questions. But, good media training should prepare you to give concise, thoughtful answers to those questions. Being able to handle tough questions is positive – it helps you to stand out. If you’re not afraid to speak your mind and provide substantive answers, you will more easily rise above the noise of boring corporate speak.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be controversial. And, don’t see the media as your enemy. The amplification from the media – articles, social posts, and more – is a necessary part of any robust public relations strategy. There is some push and pull on both sides, but unless you’re listed in the Panama Papers, you can probably relax. An interview is just a chance to build upon ideas and have a conversation.


by Chad Van Alstin

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