If you don't feel a bit of tension between yourself and the reporter during your media interview, you may not be doing it right.
That doesn't mean there should be an antagonistic or negative tension between the journalist and the interviewee. Think of it more along the lines of two people who are each vying for control of the steering wheel of that fast-moving car that is the media interview. The two parties will usually have different slightly destinations in mind. It's completely okay for you to have a hand on the wheel and try to steer the exchange in your desired direction. It's when you're just sitting there as an interview passenger, letting the reporter dictate 100% of the interview's direction, that you need to be concerned.
It's rare that the agendas of the interviewee and the reporter will be in complete alignment. Just because you've agreed to an interview on a given topic doesn't mean you can predict the specific line of questioning the reporter has in mind. And since a media interview is a fluid, dynamic thing, that line of questioning can change based on your responses or new ideas that might pop into the reporter's mind.
So if you've agreed to talk to a reporter about your company's upcoming product launch, a red flag should go up when they start asking questions about the patent infringement lawsuit filed by your main competitor. That feeling is called discomfort. And it's a sign that you should be working to refocus the interview back onto the negotiated subject matter or to provide a reason why you're not able to comment on the lawsuit. It's an uncomfortable process. But if you want to have any control over the content of the two or three quotes you're going to get in the story, it's also a very necessary one.
How you refocus the interview (without sounding like a weasel or a politician) is another matter. One that I'll deal with in an upcoming post. If you have specific questions or opinions, please list them in the comments section below and we can get a dialogue going.
The bottom line is that even if you're in basic agreement on the subject matter of the interview, chances are that the reporter has one idea about where the interview will go and you have another. It takes focus and mental agility to successful navigate the interview and maintain message discipline in a tactful and professional way. That undercurrent of tension can be an indication that you're on the right track and that the interview is going well in terms of your desired outcome.
On the other hand, if your interview sounds more like a chit chat over coffee, or if it feels like a great conversation with a friend, or if there's no topic that you won't readily address, don't be disappointed when the quotes that end up in the story don't resemble anything you had on your list of interview messages.
So embrace the discomfort. It probably means you're on the right track.