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Post by Jessica Killenberg Muzik, APR, VP – Account Services
Many executives have stumbled in media interviews because they ran into unexpected questions or techniques commonly used by some journalists to help extract information or juicy quotes from tight-lipped or cautious executives.
Of course, the best way to prepare for such interviews is to refer all unsolicited media inquiries to your PR representative, who can help you to understand the nature of the interview, identify likely questions and help you develop appropriate answers.
Beyond that, it’s important to be aware of some of the techniques that could trip you up, so that you can be prepared to deal with them … and avoid blurting out something you might regret later. Not all journalists use sneaky tactics, but those that do can lead you into dangerous territory.
Based on our experiences, most journalists don’t use sneaky tactics, but should you meet one of the few that do, here are some of the techniques that can trip you up … and our advice for each situation:
Allegation – calling to get a response to rumors, innuendoes or hypothetical situations. Comment only on what’s real or what you know to be true.
Pregnant Pause – using lengthy periods of silence, after you’ve answered a question, to make you uncomfortable enough to volunteer more information. Don’t feel obligated to fill up the silence.
Zinger – gaining your confidence and comfort, the reporter closes an otherwise easy, cordial interview with one last question, usually the zinger that really prompted the interview in the first place. Don’t let your guard down.
Right to Know – implying that the public or the reporter has a constitutional right to know even the most confidential information about your business. If the information is confidential, it’s OK to say so.
Deadline Leverage – using the pressure of a last-minute call before deadline to get you to reveal something you normally wouldn’t say. Don’t let the reporter transfer his/her stress to you. Be helpful and be calm.
Odd-Hour Call – calling in early morning, during lunch or after hours to catch you off-guard. Again, always be on guard. If you need a few moments to collect your thoughts or obtain an answer, say so and tell the reporter you’ll call them back in 10 minutes – and do it.
Reference Check – where a reporter poses as a personnel manager or a credit agent and calls former employers, colleagues and customers, disguising their call as a background check. Make sure you know exactly who you are talking to and where they are from.
As a business-to-business PR firm, we find the media we work with are generally straightforward and honest. But you never know when you might come across one of those ambush-type journalists. So, forewarned is forearmed.
To feel more confident about avoiding these pitfalls, take some media training and practice dealing with them.