Deer in the headlights: 3 ways to answer a tough question

How to safely answer a reporter’s question that’s outside of your expertise.

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“We had a recent experience where our Chamber president was asked to participate in a live radio interview about our economic development program. Instead, he was asked numerous questions about a proposed rate hike by our city-owned utility—an issue which we are not the appropriate spokesperson for. Ultimately, our president did a good job not speaking on behalf of the utility and there was no fallout, but it was an uncomfortable situation that was particularly difficult since it was happening live. I was just curious as to how you would handle that type of situation?”

It sounds like Nicole’s president handled it perfectly. But to elaborate on her question a bit more, spokespersons generally have three options when a reporter asks a question that falls outside of their realm of expertise.

Option No. 1: Answer the question

The most straightforward option is to answer the question, even if it’s outside of the spokesperson’s expertise. This approach is fraught with danger, since the spokesperson is now on the record speaking on behalf of a different agency.

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