Navigating the complexities of interview strategies
Interviews can be tricky — but incredibly rewarding.
Jessica Starman is CEO and co-founder of Elev8 New Media.
In a society where social media continues to thrive, media professionals are increasingly relying on face-to-face interviews to obtain useful insights about a person or organization. In fact, it’s a trend that’s expected to fuel the number of in-person interviews that will be done in 2023.
Frankly, any company that’s targeting sustainable growth should expect to be interviewed by the media at some point. It’s vitally important for these companies to understand that modern interviewing strategies entail more than just the ability to answer questions. Having an effective communications professional or spokesperson on staff that’s capable of navigating the complexities of modern media interviews is rapidly becoming a crucial asset for the modern enterprise.
Many representatives of the media feel that it’s their job to ask difficult questions, and that can present interviewees with a serious challenge if they’re not properly prepared. A good company spokesperson has the skill to successfully navigate these uncomfortable questions while at the same time managing to convey an organization’s core message in a compelling manner.
Below we will show you the most effective strategies to help you navigate what can sometimes become a turbulent interviewing environment.
Control your message
The purpose of every interview is to deliver a core message. That message should be predetermined well in advance of the interview. Some interviewers may encourage you to digress, but a good PR professional showcases the discipline to control the message throughout the interview. You have a greater chance of achieving this when your core message is concise and can be delivered in simple, plain language that is jargon-free and easily understood. A core message that is concise and easily understood is also more easily preserved as it is distributed to a wider audience.
Handling off-topic questions
Media interviewers have their own agendas and that often leads to off-topic questions during interviews. Attempting to answer any off-topic questions that are not linked to your core message can open you up to unnecessary liabilities. To handle this, many PR professionals skillfully employ a technique known as bridging. PR professionals use this technique to reroute an off-topic question back to their core message. For example, an interviewee might respond with: “That’s a good question, but we feel the more important issue is…”
Preparing to answer the question you hope you’re never asked
The best way to prepare for possibly having to answer the most difficult questions is by having pre-rehearsed answers prepared. This means practicing your response(s) to the most difficult questions ahead of time. In fact, consider audibly recording yourself answering these questions as part of your prep work, then go back and listen to yourself — do you sound believable? If not, you have an opportunity to fine-tune your response delivery. This strategy will prevent you from experiencing those “flat-footed” moments during the interview.
When an interviewer wants you to lose your cool
It is not uncommon to be asked confrontational questions that are deliberately designed to elicit a negative response. In the age of social media, these responses simply help the media get more views.
Don’t let your emotions undermine your credibility. If you sense the interviewer is trying to rattle your cage, remember that it won’t help to promote your core message if you get emotional or defensive. Maintain your composure and remember that these tactics are sometimes used in the modern journalistic process. Be prudent in your preparation and know who is interviewing you ahead of time. One step you should take in preparing is to look at the reporter’s archives online to get a sense of their style.
When you are familiar with the personality and methods of the interviewer, you not as likely to lose your composure.
Showing empathy… to an extent
A public relations crisis can pose a serious threat to your organization, especially if people are affected. If your organization is interviewed in the light of a crisis, it’s crucial to show a genuine level of concern and empathy for the people who are affected. It is imperative that a proper amount of empathy is shown for the level of crisis. However, it is equally important not to spend too much time on emotions.
Acknowledge those who are affected but (diplomatically) usher the interview back to your core message.
Long silences can be weaponized. Get comfortable with them.
Few things in life are as stressful as dealing with a long silence after answering a question during an interview. We are just not used to dealing with these silences during our day-to-day conversations.
Remember, a media interview is not a conversation – it is an exchange of information, and both parties have their own agenda. Awkward silences can be deliberately interjected as means of rattling interviewees in the hopes that they’ll attempt to fill the silence with information they are holding close to their vest.
Seasoned PR professionals know how to embrace these silences; they expect them. You can better handle these occurrences by practicing your ability to remain silent after answering a question. This is a strategy to allow your interviewer the time to really absorb the answer.
Under no circumstances should you go “off the record”
In the modern age of journalism, it’s simply best to consider every uttered word in a public place as something that’s potentially quotable. There is no “before” and “after” the interview. It is all quotable if the words come out of your mouth.
If you don’t want something reported, don’t mention anything about it in public.
Don’t get too comfortable
The media is always to be taken seriously, and it is never prudent to get too “chummy” with an interviewer. We already emphasized the importance of not going “off the record” – the same thing applies here. Talking loosely in a conversation with someone who represents the press or media may seem like a good strategy for establishing rapport, but there is always the risk that the reporter is digging for quotable content without your knowledge or consent.
Always assume anything you say could wind up being published and act accordingly.
Adopt a proactive media strategy
As dealing with the media becomes increasingly more complex (and necessary), forward thinking organizations are adopting a proactive stance to help them maximize the opportunity that can come from media relationships. A proactive rather than a reactive strategy means organizations can gain a much greater level of control over the messages they hope to share, and what audiences they are able to share it with. For most organizations, adopting a proactive media strategy means making prudent investments in the proper media training.
The importance of media training
Today a business can achieve a high level of success without having any knowledge of how to deal with the media. When the time comes, they are often caught entirely off guard. Complicating matters further, everyone should be considered a reporter in modern society. The rise of social media and the incredible power of a single tweet have changed the public relations landscape for good.
As media interviews become more common, it is the proactive organizations with the proper PR training that will be in the best position to handle the complexities of the modern media interview. And enjoy the successful outcome.
This illustrates two of many reasons to hire a great PR firm.
.1. The spokesperson may be way more experienced at press interviews than you or anyone else in your company, and do an interview that’s better for your company.
.2. If the spokesperson screws up, you can recommend firing the PR firm before management starts wondering whether you should go.
Your BIG problem may come if your CEO wants to do the interview personally. He or she may easily understand that a spokesperson may not be the best choice to head accounting, law or being CEO, but not easily understand why a CEO may be very good yet not the absolute first choice for media interviews.
If the CEO insists on doing the interview and blows it, will blame possibly be attributed to you? Will the CEO more likely think “why was I so stupid as to do that interview, myself,” or “why didn’t my PR step in and say something?”
Don’t dare point out that great hospitals use surgeons for surgery and shrinks for shrinkage. It’s more delicate to point out that a PR firm spokesperson may be “more readily available” for prompt answers to follow-up media questions. In truth, the CEO may soon be tied up with more important matters.