Reporters are not out to get you

There are a lot of media coaches out there who like to push the idea that reporters are the bad guys. They’ll tell you that journalists have a secret agenda, that they’re out to misquote you, to take you out of context or to make you or your company look bad.

It’s a training approach founded on fear. It’s also (in my opinion) based on a false premise. It’s counterproductive. And it prevents spokespeople from understanding how they should really be approaching media interviews.  

When it comes to conducting media interviews, I’ve seen the enemy. The vast majority of the time, the enemy isn’t the reporter. It’s us. It’s the well-meaning spokesperson. The one who’s trying to be helpful, but who doesn’t understand there’s an unwritten set of rules for media interviews.

It’s not the reporter’s job to give you that unwritten set of rules. That doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. But by the same token, they’re not out to help you either. They’re just trying to get to the bottom of the story for their audience. That’s their job. It’s your job as a spokesperson to educate yourself about the rules of media interviews before you put yourself in that situation.

On that note, the number one mistake spokespeople make is conducting a media interview as if it were a conversation. When you think about it, this is pretty understandable. From the time we learn to speak as babies, we’re hard-wired with what I like to call the ‘habits of conversation’. When there’s an awkward pause, our knee-jerk reaction is to fill it with words. When someone asks us a question, we often repackage their words in our response. We let the person asking the questions control the flow and direction of the exchange. We refrain from stating the same point or anecdote more than once.

In everyday life, these habits of conversation are vital. They help us interact with others, to get our ideas across and to build rapport with people. They help us communicate more effectively with our colleagues, our clients, our teenagers or the barista at the coffee shop. But when you’re being interviewed by a reporter, the habits of conversation are absolute interview killers.

If you want to take your interviews from good to great, the single biggest piece of advice I can give you is to get out of conversation mode.