In An Essay on Criticism, the eighteenth century poet Alexander Pope wrote “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This certainly applies to media interviews. An encounter with a journalist – even when there is no crisis or sensitive issue as a backdrop – is never to be entered into lightly and always involves an element of risk. To mitigate that risk, organisations need to properly consider the risks of doing an interview, as well as the (frequently greater) risks of not doing one. If you or your company/charity/group have decided to speak to the media, get on with it. Why let your competitors/detractors get all the attention? If you don’t do an interview, somebody else will, so take the opportunity to get your message across as soon as you can, giving you the chance to get ahead of the story and contribute to the coverage. This is especially true you’re facing criticism or a media storm.
When training spokespeople and press/comms teams, I’m insistent on the importance of preparation – specifically, deciding on three key messages and including examples, evidence or an explanation to back these up. However, taking your time (i.e. not rushing in like a fool) also applies to technique. Spokespeople should bear in mind Pope’s declaration when answering questions from a journalist, especially in a broadcast setting. Never feel under pressure to answer the moment the journalist has finished speaking. A hasty answer sounds rushed, unconfident and lacking in credibility. Instead, pause briefly. Take a breath and make a strong start, giving the impression (even if you’re not feeling it) of confidence, certainty and control.