The 10 Worst Mistakes in Media Interviews

Tees Business Digital Media Pack

Dave Allan. 8/7/15

Most of us are inexperienced at being interviewed by the media – and it’s probably not in the job description.

But if your business becomes news for the wrong reasons, speaking to the media is a key role of crisis communications.

Whether it’s wide-scale redundancies, a chemical leak or an industrial accident, facing the press is the responsibility of senior management – and putting your head in the sand and hoping they’ll go away is not the answer. But there are common pitfalls that should be avoided when speaking to the media. Here’s 10 of them.

1.Reading out a written statement
This NEVER works, so don’t do it. It’s very hard not to sound robotic when reading out a statement – and if it’s a TV interview, constantly looking down to read your statement or press release looks terrible – and will make viewers and the reporter think your words are insincere.

2. Trying to be word perfect
So many people make this mistake. They write down their key messages, they practice what they want to say – and then they get hung up about saying every word in exactly the same order as they had written them. Unless it’s a very short answer, getting it word perfect in one take is a tough ask of anyone, so you’re likely to find yourself stumbling and stuttering your way through your key messages, too busy trying to remember every word you’d practised, instead of simply getting over the key points. It’s far more important to be yourself!

3. Using industry jargon
Unless your audience is knowledgeable about your industry (which the general public are very unlikely to be) then giving technical answers is a sure-fire way to alienate listeners and leave them wondering what on earth you’re talking about. Every sector has jargon – but it’s best to leave your KPI’s, helicopter views and reverse vision for those within the industry. Keep it simple.

4. Giving long-winded answers
Keep your answers relatively brief and to the point. TV and radio reporters want sound-bites, not monologues. Unless it’s live, your answers will probably be edited anyway, and they are looking for short, sharp, snappy quotes.

5. Answering with “no comment”
Unless you’re in court, resist any temptation to answer even the most difficult question in this way. It will make you sound arrogant or, worse still, like you’ve something to hide. Try to explain why you can’t answer or that you’re not in a position to answer that question at the present time.

6. Talking bull***t!
People aren’t stupid and will know when you’re waffling. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so!

7. Filling awkward silences
Some reporters will deliberately leave an awkward silence in the hope that you’ll fill in the gap by talking – and you may potentially say something you’ll regret.

8. Making jokes
Jokes can be misunderstood at the best of times. But never use them in a crisis, even if you think it will break the ice at a tense moment.

9. Getting rattled
If you’re business or company is under the spotlight from the media, reporters are trained and have every right to put you under a bit of pressure by firing tough questions at you, some of which you may feel are unfair or deliberately provocative. Don’t bite! Losing your temper during a media interview will make any situation far worse. Remain calm, composed and reasoned.

10. Talking down to the reporter
Towards the end of the last football season, Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson (the former Middlesbrough captain) made a personal and concerted attack on a local reporter during a press conference. Pearson felt the journalist had been unfair with his reporting. But instead of embarrassing the reporter, Pearson’s arrogant attitude towards the press became the news. Despite Leicester’s excellent end to the season, Pearson no longer has a job. Coincidence?

Dave Allan, Director, DNA PR & Publicity
DNA offer media training to businesses of all sizes, from two hours to two days.


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