What to do when a reporter calls: a tip for group interviews

Most executives in my experience still have little idea about what to do when a reporter calls and asks for an interview. This puts them on the back foot and raises the chances of them making mistakes, some of which might be costly to their career or their business. Because they cannot control the outcome, interviewees understandably fear that they may end up saying something stupid, being misquoted or simply misunderstood. There are plenty of techniques you can deploy to minimise all of these possibilities. But in this post I want to talk about another danger. It arises when granting an interview as one of several others commenting on a given topic: finding you’ve ended up offering the unintended ‘contrarian’ viewpoint.

This happened recently to a university professor who was invited alongside myself and three other very experienced PR professionals to offer his views on the importance of selling in public relations. He was first to be interviewed and gave his view that selling wasn’t very important, saying he’d never been asked by employers to include selling in a course syllabus and that it wasn’t necessary. Everyone else, including me, said it was a key skill and that it was vitally important to be good at selling to do the job well. Here’s the resulting article. Judge for yourself but I think the academic ended up looking out of touch.

One of the key things I teach people in media training sessions is this: before you agree to an interview request, ask the reporter who else is being interviewed and where you sit in the planned interview sequence. That allows you to think more carefully about what to say, plus it gives you the chance to politely ask the reporter to interview you last of all (when you can ask what others have already said and add value to/take issue with/correct/balance previous comments), or request that they come back to you to review what you’ve said in the light of other comments. It’s not always practical but can make a very big difference to the end result.

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