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An experienced media spokesperson will be the first to admit that interviews with journalists aren’t always easy. When reporters try to get to the bottom of a story, they might ask some difficult, untargeted or premature questions. A journalist could be confrontational, unprepared or perhaps the conversation simply goes on a tangent. Regardless, a spokesperson might not want or know how to respond to questions in a way that’s beneficial to their organization and maintains credibility.
So how can spokespeople participate in a media interview, without seeming uncommunicative or uninformed? These are the situations that skilled PR professionals recognize as an opportunity to make organizational messages land with an impact – it just requires the right kind of delivery.
The classic block-and-bridge technique can steer the conversation toward more favorable, and often mutually beneficial, topics. Spokespeople regularly use this technique to regain control over the direction of the interview and to ensure their message gets across as intended. While blocking and bridging is certainly helpful when an interview gets confrontational, it may be used in myriad situations. Any interviewee can keep this tactic in their back pocket to avoid PR headaches down the road.
Blocking doesn’t mean completely ignoring the journalist’s question and jumping into defensive mode. That could one, frustrate the journalist and therefore put your media relationship at risk, and two, makes you look inexperienced or worse, suspicious. A journalist can easily detect evasiveness, and it might make them push even harder.
A successful block starts with acknowledging the question. A brief acknowledgment of the question lets the reporter know you heard and understand what they’re asking. This is then followed by an appropriate transition. There are numerous statements a speaker can use to smoothly redirect the conversation. Through this technique, a spokesperson is able to maintain a friendly rapport while regaining control over the conversation.
A few tried-and-true blocking options include:
- “Thank you for bringing that up, however, it’s also important to emphasize…”
- “That is an important point and it also speaks to a bigger issue which is…”
- “That is one way to think about it. Another way is…”
- “That is not my area of expertise, but I can tell you…”
- “It’s our policy not to discuss XYZ, but what I can tell you is…”
Then, Build a Bridge
Follow a successful block with a bridge: introduce a topic that more closely aligns with the message your company is trying to send. Instead of stumbling through an excuse in response to the journalist’s difficult, untargeted or tangential question, treat this as an opportunity to showcase some of the positive aspects of what your company does or has accomplished. To continue the metaphor, arrive on the other side of your bridge with confidence – it might be the perfect moment to connect with the outlet’s target audience with an interesting story or statistic.
In any case, ensure you’re prepared for hard questions ahead of every interview. Feeling nervous? It may be helpful to sit down with a PR professional to review the company’s key message and interview goals. Media coverage is an effective way to get more eyes on your company – but make sure to put your best foot forward. Be on-time, be friendly and be prepared.