9 journalistic interview tactics to identify and resist
You have to stay on your toes.
Some reporters use interview techniques that can catch corporate
communicators off guard, resulting in replies they later regret.
Most journalists don’t use underhanded tricks, but PR pros and corporate
executives still should look out for these nine curveballs:
1. Off the record questions. Some reporters request
information in confidence but publish it anyway. Sometimes they never
intend to keep the comments private. Sometimes remarks are reported by
mistake if the interviewer, interviewee or both misunderstand when the
off-the-record session ends. Respond with a simple, “I won’t go off the
record.” Consider everything, even post-interview banter, as being on the
2. “Just between you and me …” This is a variation of the
“off the record” request. Reporters try to act as your confidant. Respond
by asking for clarification as to whether they’re asking for information
off the record. Then decide on your course of action.
[FREE DOWNLOAD: How reporters use social media in their jobs]
3. “One last thing …” The reporter asks a pivotal question
as she heads to the door after you thought the interview was over. The
television detective Columbo used this trick in almost every episode. He
concludes the interview, bids farewell and then, as he’s walking away,
says: “Oh, just one last thing…” Remember, even if the TV crew has packed
up the lights and the camera, the interview is never over until the
inquisitor is out the door.
4. “Who’s going to tell me about this if you don’t?” Don’t
feel obligated to answer. Decline to comment if necessary, but explain why
you can’t comment rather responding with a simple “no comment.”
Joan Stewart, PR and publicity expert, says, “If you decide that you don’t want to talk about a sensitive
subject that’s confidential, proprietary or off-limits, that’s the
reporter’s problem, not yours.”
5. “Don’t you think it’s terrible that …” This is a way
for a reporter with an agenda to steer you in the direction he or she wants
you to discuss. Respond by saying, “That’s not how I feel,” or, “Your
assumption is incorrect.” If appropriate, state you how really feel,
Stewart writes in Entrepreneur.
6. Deadline pressure. Reporters use the pressure of a
last-minute call before deadline to prompt you to reveal something you
normally would not. Don’t let the reporter transfer his own stress to you.
Be helpful, and be calm,
advises Jessica Killenberg Muzik, vice president for account services at Bianchi Public Relations.
7. Reference check. An unscrupulous reporter poses as a
personnel manager or a credit agent and calls former employers, colleagues
and customers, disguising the call as a background check. Make sure you
know exactly whom you are talking to and what organization they represent.
If you are leery, ask for a call-back number and check it out.
8. Odd-hour calling. Reporters call in the early morning,
during lunch or after hours to catch you off guard. The obvious solution is
to always be on guard when talking with media representatives. Don’t
hesitate to say you need a few moments to collect your thoughts or
formulate an answer. Say you’ll call back in 10 minutes, and follow
9. Pregnant pauses. Reporters simply wait after getting a
response to a question. Some people feel compelled to fill the
uncomfortable silence, even when they have nothing more to say.
Inexperienced spokespeople fill the silence with unprepared material,
rather than letting the key message stand on its own. Do not go off
message. Ask the journalist whether she has additional questions, and
remain in control, advises
Corporate PR staff and executives can protect themselves by knowing the
interview techniques and leading questions some reporters might employ.
Learning common interview tricks and how to handle them can prevent
corporate representatives from making comments or divulging information
they later regret.
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