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It’s May. The NFL season kickoff is months away. Fans are hungry for any crumbs of news.
Enter Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Clowney, who tweets, “Got My HIV Results Back!! … Thank God for keeping my body healthy and safe.”
The tweet includes a photo of the results, complete with his Social Security number and home address, says Lee Gordon, director of corporate communications at 180 Communications. The media eats it up.
“Don’t spoon-feed [negative] news to the media,” Gordon says.
Gordon spoke in a Ragan session titled, “Did you really just say that to a reporter? How to treat every interview as a business opportunity.” Here are pointers for execs and communicators:
1. Remember that everybody’s a reporter.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is out for a walk. Someone offends him by snapping his photo. His response: flipping the bird. It’s instantly all over social media. Remember—or tell your client to remember—that all it takes is one tweet to start a crisis.
Likewise, no punching the reporter for asking obnoxious questions—or the fan for taking a picture. You can’t win. Trust Gordon on this.
“But if you embrace the role of the reporter, if you embrace the message that they can portray, you are going to be a lot more successful,” he says.
2. Take control.
If you work at a company, put your exec in front of a background with your logo. Make sure the interviewee is wearing the corporate shirt. Don’t let the reporter move the interview into a corner.
3. Prepare. And charm works, when done subtly.
Shake hands with the reporter and, crucially, the photographer. (People often ignore the poor person lugging all that equipment.) Learn a few details about them beforehand.
In his sportscaster days, Gordon was doing a pregame broadcast at the Florida-Georgia football game when a spokesperson asked Gov. Charlie Crist for an interview.
It was one of those weeks that erupt in politics. The single governor was trailed by rumors about his marital status. Gordon summarizes the flap: “Why isn’t he married? Is there something to it? Is there some sort of sexual preference issue?” Fairly or unfairly, Gordon couldn’t ignore the story.
The governor, a former Wake Forest quarterback, showed up carrying a football, greeted Gordon by name, tossed him the ball. Before they went on the air, as the producer was speaking in Gordon’s earpiece, reminding him to ask the question, Crist leans in and says, “That story you did about the high school player with one arm? That was awesome. I just want to tell you that.”
Gordon found himself thinking: I can’t ask him that question. This was his buddy! Gordon did bring up the topic, but he lobbed a softball: “Hey, you’ve had a tumultuous week; it’s been kind of crazy for you.”
Grab the newspaper, and read it out loud. Overcome the awkwardness you feel when somebody goes up and sticks a camera in your face.
5. Remember your posture.
If you want to stand up, then stand. Don’t sway back and forth, Gordon says. If you sit, don’t jiggle your legs. A TV interview takes five minutes. You can do it.
Also, look at the reporter, not the camera.
6. Stay on message.
You feel you aced that interview. No leg-jiggling, no stammering or swaying. You covered the entire history of your organization in the 45 minutes you showed the reporter around. But when the TV news airs, there’s only one brief quote, and it’s not even your primary message. No fair!
Look, the average story is 1:05 minutes, excluding the intro and sign-off. The average sound bite is 12-17 seconds long. Do you want the reporter to decide what your message is? Keep it terse.
7. If you stumble, cough.
In a prerecorded TV interview, you start saying something dumb. Even as the words leave your mouth you know this. What to do? Sabotage the shot.
Cough, then say, “Sorry about that, I have something in my throat. Would you mind asking me that question again?”
You’ll recover and say it better. TV can’t use the coughing quote. Don’t turn into a tuberculosis patient over the course of the interview, though, or they’ll be on to you.
8. Don’t fill in silences.
Pausing and waiting is every reporter’s favorite technique. Don’t fill awkward silences with nervous blather.
Also, you don’t need to answer a question you don’t like at length. Asked about speculation your CEO is going to retire, cut it off with, “Last I checked, he or she was still running the company.”
Never say, “No comment.” It looks like you’re hiding something. Say, “I understand you’ve got a job to do, but I can’t talk about that,” or, “I’m the wrong person to talk to.”
9. If you don’t know, call them back.
Don’t answer a question you’re uncomfortable with. Say, “When is your deadline? I don’t know that information right now. Let me get back to you.” Then, do it.
10. Choose five words.
Pick five words that represent your brand, and every time you go on camera, say those words. Says Gordon, “The more you use these words … the more the media will.”
11. Thank those poor ink-stained wretches.
If you like the story or TV piece, tweet or email to thank the reporter (and the photographer or camera operator). Reporters get bashed all the time. “You’re too liberal.” “You’re too right-wing.” Gratitude, they’ll remember.