A crisis has hit. Your business or organisation is embroiled in a media storm. You have been nominated to front up to the press. So how do you handle hostile interviews?
Remember: your two key objectives if you are doing a crisis interview are to take control and deliver your key messages.
This is all about presenting your organisation in a positive light – that you are concerned about the issue, that you are not hiding anything, that you are prepared to take responsibility and that you are pro-actively resolving whatever problem has occurred.
If you are doing an interview in a “crisis situation”, your key messages should incorporate the above three thoughts:
Care: that you are concerned about what has happened, that it matters to you that something has gone wrong – especially in the case of injuries. Your tone, and the manner in which you incorporate this into your answer is vital – it MUST sound sincere and genuine
Action: that you are taking steps to rectify what has gone wrong, to investigate what has gone wrong, to co-operate with the authorities, to review your procedures so that it cannot happen again, to recompense those that have suffered as a result of any problems
Perspective: that this is unprecedented for your organisation, that this is the first time such a thing has happened, that you have an excellent safety record, that it’s an issue which occurs across the industry
These tips and techniques for dealing with hostile interviews should help:
1. Be very clear about what your key messages are, especially if you are doing an interview in which your organisation might be culpable, and know what you can and cannot say.
2. Take the opportunity presented by the first, often open question, to deliver your most important point about the incident.
3. If someone has been injured or hurt, you have to express sympathy and sound concerned – no matter whose fault it is and making sure your response is in proportion to the circumstances. Make sure you sound genuine and try to integrate what you are saying into your answer. The “before I answer your questions, I just want to say that our thoughts are with …” approach, sounds hackneyed. If you are doing a soundbite, the reporter simply won’t use that part of your answer. If you know the injured person personally, then you should mention this.
4. Do not pass the buck or blame others. Remember that if you talking on behalf of your company, in the listeners mind, you ARE that company, and if you are talking about something done by contractors or suppliers on behalf of the company, it is still your responsibility. If you do mention or even blame (either implicitly or explicitly) other businesses/organisations, before reviews and investigations have taken place, it could not only prove damaging to your business relationships but will also open the door to the reporter going to them for comment/reaction, and you have no control over what they say.
5. Be aware of the legal implications of what you are saying
6. Never talk about issues you don’t know about, never guess, never speculate and never comment on breaking stories.
7. Try not to repeat negative points put to you by a reporter, as they tend to reinforce the idea in the audience’s mind, when what you want to do is move onto the positive points you want to make as quickly as positive. Some people repeat negatives to give themselves thinking time, but there are other ways to do this such as pausing or clearing your throat, both of which are perfectly acceptable, even in a live interview. In a print interview or a recorded one, such as a soundbite, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a minute to think about it (unless it’s a fact which you ought to have at your finger tips).
8. Consider scheduling a press conference if there is likely to be a succession of interviews.
9. If it helps, rehearse and practise your interview with your PR team, other senior members of staff, or media training experts, such as Rough House. We are always happy to rehearse interviews at short notice – we’ve even done this at 10pm in a quiet corner of a pub the night before a spokesperson was on BBC Breakfast