Walking the tightrope of the media interview

Written by Marcela Balart

The recent (and ongoing) Woolworths media storm has dominated the news, escalating when the now outgoing CEO, Brad Banducci, walked out of an ABC’s Four Corners interview. 

Not only did the move go viral, it also became the story, taking away from the controversial topic at hand – the price gouging tactics of Australia’s supermarket giants. 

Indeed, there have been a number of recent interviews where the words and actions of high-ranking spokespeople have landed them in hot water. Just last week, former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, thought his valedictory speech was an appropriate time to quote pop-sensation, Taylor Swift, when reflecting on his time in Parliament.  

With the corporate watchdog (and the ever-watchful public) coming down on some of Australia’s biggest household names, cultivating trust has never been more important for brands and their spokespeople.  

Being the face of an organisation is no easy task. Serving as a reflection of a brand’s identity is a role that requires constant media training.  

With this in mind, we look at our six top tips to prepare for and navigate tough media interviews: 

  • Know what you’re walking into: Not all interviews are created equal, and there may be times when tough questions may be asked of you or your brand. Make sure you have as much information about the interview as possible before going in. Is it a pre-recorded interview or will it be live? Who will be the reporter and what is the extent of their knowledge on the topic? Is the outlet speaking to your competitors or a disgruntled staff member or customer?  
  • The art of steering the narrative: You might be asking yourself whether you can get an interview back on track. The answer is – yes. While the reporter is the one asking the questions; you are the one who is control of your response. Otherwise known as ‘bridging’, understanding the skills and techniques to respond in a way that serves your messaging is an art. Don’t be distracted if the question is not what you expected; take your time to respond. In some cases, the power of silence can be equally as impactful – something we cover in our media training sessions – ask us how!  
  • Respect the media: It’s worth keeping in mind the role of the journalist. They are tasked with independently reporting news and events that are in the public interest, including holding organisations accountable. Bound by a Code of Ethics, they are there to do a job. To presume you can sway or request a journalist on what they can and can’t report would be a grave misstep. 
  • Treat every question seriously: It’s true, and common, for journalists to take the opportunity to ask a question that is unrelated to the press conference at hand. They may even adopt a humorous tone to ask a serious question. Every response should be treated with the same consideration and courtesy as any other. Read the room and politely acknowledge the question and/or bridge accordingly. 
  • Recovering gracefully: Authenticity and sincerity are the cornerstones of how you, as the spokesperson, will come across, particularly if a line of questioning focuses on the human impact of a story. However, mistakes do happen so knowing how to recover is equally as important. Arrogance will get you nowhere fast, so if you do misspeak or the journalist points out that you’ve made an error, apologise and correct yourself immediately.  
  • No such thing as off-the-record: Whether it’s a pre-recorded interview, questions over the phone or written responses, nothing is off the record when it comes to the media. It’s for this reason that if you are asked a question with a negative slant, do not repeat the negative. This ‘snippet’ can be potentially misunderstood by the journalist, reported out of context, or misquoted. If there is something that is commercially sensitive, simply say so.   

Above all, practise, practise, practise. Leaving media training to the last minute will almost always deliver a substandard result. There is simply too little time to digest the messaging and prepare you for the potential angles you might face.  

Without running through scenarios, a tough line of questioning can leave you rattled and on the defensive, activating your fight or flight response. This is where interviews come undone.   

Are your spokespeople media ‘fit’ or in need of a refresher course? Get in touch with Victoria to organise one of our media training sessions at: victoria@impactagency.com.au

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