Loose lips sink ships – what not to say

10 golden rules for press interviews – Part 2

In my last blog I talked about how the press interview is a staple part of any PR program, but can also be a minefield – and you only see the bomb you stepped on when it appears online the next day and is tweeted to all and sundry and our boss, and your competitors are retweeting away.

Many company executives have waded into hot water because they tried to fill a ‘silence’ with something they were not meant to share, or were waxing lyrical with such passion that they missed the fact they just unofficially announced the next product launch – before it had even left the tech-lab!

Don’t be one of those people. Remember ‘nothing is off the record’, there are no ‘backsies’ – when it’s been said, it’s out there.

But don’t be put off, one-to-ones with a journalist are a great way to get your message out to your wider audience and establish relationships with members of the press. Just remember, follow the golden rules.

In my last blog I set out three of IBA’s ‘Golden Rules’ to keep in mind when speaking with the press – control who within your organisation deals with the press, don’t feel pressured into giving a response response and manage the expectation of the journalist. Here’s the next three.

4. Be aware of subjects you may not discuss, and be prepared to say that it is not company policy to do so

There is no reason to discuss subjects you know you shouldn’t be discussing. Don’t be strong armed or charmed into talking beyond your remit, it is okay to say that it’s not company policy to disclose certain information, or that you might not be the right person within the company to address certain topics – better that than get in wrong and see it in print.

Typically these types of subject might be:

  • Unpublished financial results
  • Legal matters
  • Impending organisational changes
  • Marketing strategies
  • Market share
  • Products under development/not announced
  • Information about clients without their prior approval
  • Any comments about competitors and their business strategies

5. Be open and positive. But never volunteer negative information if you are not prepared to see it in print

Most professional journalists are good enough to uncover a negative story without your help, so keep it positive. If you say it to a journalist, there is always the chance you will see it printed – remember, nothing is off the record. It is their job to get the story, so make sure you give them the right one. Don’t make unsupported claims and NEVER LIE TO A JOURNALIST – you will get caught out.

6. Even if a journalist is combative in his or her questions, it is not a sign that the story will be a negative one. Don’t be aggressive, belligerent or unfocused.

Always treat a journalist with courtesy. For the most part, professional journalists are just that – they are professional. Being combative in an interview is a tactic some journalists employ and its one designed to unsettle the unprepared or the easily inflamed.

Whatever the style of questioning try to maintain an even tempo, let them know that they too are dealing with a professional – it makes you and your company look good. Answer the questions to the best of you ability without being drawn in to breaking rule 4 or rule 5.

Stay tuned over the couple of weeks for the for the last of our Golden rules for press interviews where we will answer the question – is it ever okay to ask a favour?

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