When should a PR pro interrupt an interview?

Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper deflected an odd question with the answer, ‘That’s a clown question, bro.’ A PR rep nearly jumped in. Good move or bad?


Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ 19-year-old rookie outfielder, hit a homerun last Tuesday night to help his team beat the Toronto Blue Jays.

He hit another homerun after the game.

During a post-game press availability, a reporter pointed out to Harper that people can drink legally at age 18 in Canada, so he wondered whether he might celebrate by drinking his favorite Canadian beer.

That was a silly question for at least a few of reasons. First, answering that question could create negative headlines, such as “Underage Nationals Star Names His Favorite Beer.”

Second, as a Mormon, Harper isn’t supposed to drink at all. Third, what type of question is that, anyway?

Harper reacted perfectly, refusing the question and telling the reporter, “That’s a clown question, bro.” Priceless. It’s worth watching the brief exchange.

That clip brings up another important media management question: When is it appropriate for a PR handler to jump in and interrupt an on-camera interview?

You may have noticed that just after the question was asked, a PR rep standing off-camera interjected and told the reporter to “ask something else.” In this case, the interruption was unnecessary; Harper’s initial reaction made it clear that he wasn’t going to answer the question. But the PR rep’s instinct to jump in was right.

That goes against the advice I typically dispense on this blog. Generally, I advise PR pros to avoid jumping in during live interviews. Doing so at the wrong time can create a much larger story, as illustrated by this infamous 2004 “Meet the Press” clip:

Still, there are moments when jumping in is the better of two options. In Harper’s case, the PR rep felt he had two choices: to allow Harper to answer the question and potentially embarrass himself and his team, or cut off the line of questioning and potentially take some heat for doing so. Especially given the irrelevant nature of the question, I’d argue the PR pro made the right choice. (I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if the reporter was asking about a legitimate scandal, instead.)

Of course, there’s a third and better choice than the two mentioned above: Give all of your players media training and trust that they’re able to handle these situations without needing outside help (I’m guessing that did happen in this case). Harper looked to have the interview under full control, meaning he was able to deflect the question and move on with ease.

In this case, his PR rep had reason to be confident enough to allow his well-prepared player to handle the situation alone, using the same skill he regularly demonstrates on the field.

A grateful h/t to @FitzFiles.

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