At some point in your PR adventure, you’re going to encounter a “difficult” question.
Perhaps it’s a question that’s potentially contentious, for instance, one that pits you against a competitor.
It could be a question to which you don’t know the answer.
Or it could be a question whose answer is confidential.
How do you respond to those challenging questions from journalists? The hackneyed response, “No comment,” is overused and essentially useless. It raises more questions than it answers and makes the reporter (and his audience) suspicious of you.
As an alternative, I’d like to share with you a media interview tactic inspired from… football.
It’s called block-tackle-recover.
It’s a strategy that will buy yourself some time so you can collect your thoughts, redirect the interview to your key points, and help you deliver your key messages without totally ignoring or avoiding the reporter’s question.
Below, I describe each step and give concrete examples of what you could say to a reporter. The assumption here is that you’ve prepared for your interview by having your key main messages prior to the interview.
In football terms: “the act of obstructing or deflecting someone’s movements.”
In PR terms: Blocking is a way of acknowledging a question, clarifying the reporter’s intent, and buying yourself time to prepare a good answer.
“That’s interesting – can you tell me the source of that information, I’d like to get more…”
“Can you rephrase that?”
“Do you mean…?”
Do not hesitate to say, “That’s proprietary,” or “I’m not at the liberty to provide more information on that…,” or “I’m not comfortable answering that question, because I don’t know enough about that…” if it’s true.
In football terms: “prevents an opposing player from carrying out what is intended.”
In PR terms: After you’ve been able to take in the question, think about it, and get clarification, your next step is to look into your key messages and gently guide the conversation in the direction you desire.
“I can see your point – here’s what I think… “
“You make a good point – however, our real focus is to… “
“There’s another side of this issue. It is… “
“Let me tell you what I found out about that… “
When tackling, you turn the conversation in the direction of your agenda, in a way that makes sense. You don’t want to block a question and then deflect it with a response that’s totally irrelevant.
Acknowledge the question first, and then respond in the direction of your key messages.
You want the reporter to feel that you’re answering and providing as much information as possible, but at the same time your goal is to get a story which conveys your key messages. This is why you want to take control of the interview and bring it back to your main points.
In football terms: “taking control of a ball that has fumbled.”
In PR terms: After you’ve bought yourself time and you’ve directed the interview, continue to express your key messages in all of the questions that you are asked.
Every question will provide you with the opportunity to go back and reiterate your main points. This is the point where you are able to convey the three messages that you walked in the interview with.
“Like I mentioned before… “
“Let me emphasize that… “
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that… “
“It’s important to understand… “
“They key here is… “
“Here’s what’s important… “
In all likelihood, the occasions when you’ll need to block-tackle-recover will be rare.
It’s still a good strategy to know, nevertheless, because you never know when a journalist will throw you a question that could stump you.
What challenging questions have you gotten from reporters and how did you handle them? Please share in the comments below.
Image from from Yuri Arcurs Website
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies.
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