‘No comment’ is no answer – 10 golden rules for press interviews, part 3

In my last blog, I spoke about how company executives are at risk of blundering into a controversial or negative comment if they are unsuitably prepared for a press interview, and the topics they should stick to discussing.

We’ve been through some do’s, so let’s explore some of the don’ts. Not everyone is Donald Trump, able to say what they please and still get elected – there are some things you should simply steer clear of. Don’t ask the press to do you favours – they won’t – and never consider your personal opinion when representing your company. Here’s our final four golden rules for dealing with press interviews:

7. Use ‘no comment’ with caution
If you’re presented with an awkward question, you aren’t obliged to immediately answer. At the same time, acting combative or defensive by answering with a ‘no comment’ will throw up a red flag to journalists. It indicates they’ve touched on an issue that is sensitive to the company – something that could hide a bigger or more controversial. This might be good for a journalist’s readership figures, but it could be disastrous for your company’s image if a journalist decides to do some post-interview digging.

If you refuse to comment on something, this will form part of the journalist’s coverage regardless – perhaps even more so than if you’d offered a mild or evasive answer. Instead, act polite, act helpful. If you’re simply unable to give an answer, offer to provide an informed comment from a colleague more suitable to the topic.

8. Never offer anything ‘off the record’
Once you say something to a journalist in an interview, it’s on the record. Put bluntly, there is no such thing as an ‘off the record’ comment in an interview. By offering a comment like this, you’re indicating to a journalist that your answer is either not endorsed by the company, or is unfit for public consumption – and they’ll be sure to publish it anyway.

There is no alternative to offering an ‘off the record’ comment, even if you’d like to use it to form context around your stock responses. Avoid the topic – if this is a customer win that isn’t yet approved for public announcement, you can always follow up with the journalist to inform them at a later time.

9. Don’t ask the press to ‘do you a favour’
Don’t put a journalist under pressure to paint you in a more positive light, or pressure them to send you their copy to vet before publication. If you give a calm, informative interview, the journalist will write a fair and balanced article.

Attempting to tie-in recent advertising with an interview in the hope of achieving favourable coverage is another cardinal sin that falls under this category. A successful interview which provides the journalist with the information he/she asks for, and more, is the desired outcome. Journalists prefer to deal with those they’ve dealt with before – and if you’ve been helpful to them in an interview, they’ll come calling again in the future.

10. Don’t offer your personal opinion
If you’ve been chosen to do an interview with the press, you are there in an official capacity, acting as a representative of the company. Don’t put forward your personal thoughts on a public issue – particularly if this conflicts with the company narrative.

A journalist may outright ask you “but what do you think about this?” to elicit your personal opinion. But by asserting your impartiality and assuring the journalist that it is your company’s position that you represent, you will be able to firmly communicate the correct message, without controversy.

That’s the final four golden rules of dealing with press in a nutshell – if you missed our previous blogs, you can find them here and here. Have you abided by our ten golden rules in a recent encounter with the press? If so, why not leave a comment below?

Jamie Kightley is Head of Pitch&Place at IBA International

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