5 questions ‘before’ saying yes to a media interview request

Take a minute to watch this short clip from a BBC documentary aired this week, Labour: The Summer That Changed Everything, featuring UK politician Stephen Kinnock moments before he goes live on national TV:

Kinnock has the former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, his wife, to thank for dodging a potentially disastrous grilling on live television. Her wise counsel made sure his interview achieved the best possible outcome—it was forgotten.

But the real point Kinnock began to unravel was in the moments before his dressing down, when he thoughtlessly, almost reflexively, agreed to interview requests from three TV reporters. It was only after his wife pointed out that he had nothing to say that he understood his mistake.

With documentary cameras rolling, the damage was done, and a man once mooted as a potential prime minister has seen his credibility nosedive.

Such errors in judgement are not uncommon.

For many, the lure of the TV camera can be hard to resist. Journalists can be very persuasive—that’s their job. Some people don’t like saying no, especially to reporters who they may at other times be courting.

Business and political leaders work long hours, juggling multiple demands. Fatigue and stress are a constant.

These realities test their judgement. In such circumstances, the risk of a mistake—which a media interview can sometimes be—is never far away. Avoiding such mistakes requires the type of judgement and speed of mind that successful business and political leaders either have or seek out.

PR360 has always taken the view that it is better to tell a client what they need to hear rather than want to hear. Sometimes, that can be uncomfortable. Of course, the client is not duty-bound to take our advice, but the best partnerships work when both parties maximise their respective skills.

When it comes to considering the merits of media requests, PR360 focuses on five key considerations:

  1. Why do the interview in the first place? Do we need to influence the agenda, bring focus to a particular priority, rebut an inaccuracy, or raise our profile? If yes, then agreeing to the interview with the right media is a possibility.
     
  2. What do I want to say? If we don’t know what we want to say, we shouldn’t expect listeners, viewers or readers to know either. Worse, we’re likely to turn a media opportunity into a lost opportunity.
     
  3. How we communicate is key. Simple, engaging language with impactful, fact-based messaging works best. Tone matters. Don’t be self-serving. Leverage news and events to show a perspective on issues of the day. Have an opinion. This will not only result in better interviews but increase social media pick-up.
     
  4. When do we do media? At times, speed is of the essence, particularly if you want to set the agenda and stay ahead of the competition. Other times, it’s better to hold firm, bide your time, or just say no. The time of day or day of the week is also a consideration, particularly if you’re trying to connect with certain audiences.
     
  5. Who you reach out to in media matters. No two journalists and media houses are the same. They have their own interests, editorial stances, likes and dislikes. Some just listen and regurgitate. Others expect detail, colour or insight. The majority are highly knowledgeable and will pick you apart if you do not know your stuff. The best media interviews are tough. If it’s too easy, chances are you’re being interviewed by an outlet that no one takes seriously.

Careers are often defined by media interviews, and success or failure starts with judging whether it’s right to do one at all. Strong leaders with smart counsel understand and value this, especially when it matters most.