I’ve just finished a virtual media training session and someone asked a really good question. What do you say when someone has asked something – if you don’t want to risk appearing to agree with a negative?

This can happen if someone is asking, say, “Your industry has innovated as much as it’s likely to, how do you differentiate now that you’re selling commodities?” If you catch yourself nodding and try to buy yourself time by saying “That’s a good question” then anyone seeing this will assume you agree with the premise.

So the first thing to do is to try not to nod when assimilating a question. This is tricky but do-able. The next thing is to be careful with your filler phrases. There is nothing wrong with a pause while you think. You can even say “I need to take a second to answer that properly”. Journalists will hate the delay but who cares, you don’t work for us. You might say “Thanks for the question, people will have different views on that…” or something.

Just beware of appearing to accept a premise that puts your (or your client’s) business in a bad light. The journalist might quite innocently take your response as an agreement.

I had a chat on LinkedIn with podcaster and speaker booker Maria Franzoni this week. She’d had something I’ve had in the past as a journalist – people calling her up to pitch clients to her podcast and saying flattering things, only to make it apparent that they really hadn’t listened to even one episode.

Nobody is suggesting it’s easy to keep up with every single journalist. I’ve had the same thing; there’s the incident I mention in this tip, and another time a PR person told me their client really, really wanted to meet me because they’d be an invaluable contact and (said the PR person) I was a major writer in their client’s market. I agreed to the meeting, they suggested coffee – and when I got to the venue it turned out the client was finishing lunch and allocated me ten minutes for a quick coffee after their main guest had gone. Which would have been fine but the first thing the client asked was who I was and which publications I worked for – the suggestion that they’d considered me an important contact came from the PR person’s head and nowhere else.

I’m not actually sure where this compulsion to tell everyone they’re really important comes from. I’m fine with someone not having heard of me, my podcast or anything else I do, and it can be very helpful that a mutual connection puts us in touch. I’d just recommend being honest about it. The PR industry has an often-undeserved reputation for over-selling – why not smash the stereotype?

What? No, I’m not talking about whether interviewers plan their interviews. Of course we do. I’m a journalist so I go into every press engagement with a clear idea of what I need to get out of it. This is based around my readers’ needs.

What surprises me is that so few interviewees do the same.

Interviews belong to you too

The fact is that journalists and other influencers are very good at making it feel as if an interview is their province exclusively.  To my mind this isn’t reasonable. The idea is simple enough; someone with a commercial interest (or a political one) is going to push their view onto everyone so the journalist’s role is to cut through this. The same is true of interviews with any other influencer – podcaster, blogger, whatever.

I have some sympathy with this view. Nobody wants to read, watch or listen to a bunch of vested interests. It’s definitely the job of the journalist to make sure their copy doesn’t reflect any of this.

There are powerful counter-arguments, though. Consider a media training client I had a few weeks ago. Nice people, helpful, non-pushy and specialists in their field. Now, I’m a specialist in several things. Publishing. Podcasting. Interviewing. Training. I am not, however, an expert in the client’s field (which was insurance as it happened but you could also slot in manufacturing, technology, any of those things). This could give me a problem.

That problem is that as a non-specialist I don’t necessarily have the right insight to ask something that will get to the piece of insight the reader really wants. I might but I might not. So it’s valid for the interviewee to squeeze their message in, whether I’ve asked about it or not.

It’s also valid (and journalists don’t always have the time to consider this) for the interviewee to look for some sort of value from the transaction. They’re offering their expertise and their time. As long as they’re not nakedly promotional it’s not unreasonable for them to expect their name and company to be correctly credited and for their view and comment to be made clear.

So do you take control of your interviews and ensure both parties come out with value? And if not, why not?

Do you need help ensuring you get value from media interviews? We can help – just get in contact and we’ll set us up a time to talk.