Answer the Question!
Good public relations people know how to get their clients ready for interviews. We know our clients’ goals and objectives, and can help them project a favorable image if we prepare them well. But what happens when we don’t? Below is a recent case in point from ‘Face the Nation’ with Bob Schieffer.
I think Schieffer is one the smartest interviewers in the business and I enjoy watching him on ‘Face the Nation’ because he’s totally prepared. His questions are often tough, but almost always fair and based on facts. From a PR point of view, that’s the best you can ask for and you should be able to get any client ready to engage with him pretty easily.
So why do I frequently want to yell at his guests, “Answer the damn question!”
Last Sunday, Schieffer shared my frustration when he wrapped up the show with a commentary about political candidates who don’t answer direct questions. You can see the full segment here, “When politicians don’t answer questions,” but I especially loved this rant:
“In this age of sophisticated information management and consultant-driven politics where everyone has a media coach and a strategy guru, it is all the vogue in public relations to tell your client, ‘Here are a couple of answers. No matter what you’re asked, just give these answers.
“Well, I hate to hurt your feelings, candidates, but you’re paying good money for bad advice.”
He went on to talk about one of his favorite guests, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, who would sometimes decline to come on the show because he had “nothing to say.”
I say ‘Bravo!’ to both – Mr. Schieffer for calling bullshit on some stupid advice, and Senator Nunn for knowing when he had nothing to add to the discussion. As Schieffer notes, his audience is smart enough to recognize a ’non-answer’ when they hear it.
So are most audiences…
I haven’t worked with politicians, but I have worked with plenty of people who are deeply involved in politics, and I know they’d agree not all exposure is good. Sure, sometimes questions can’t—or won’t—be answered in depth, but the question should be acknowledged with a proper response before moving on to the next subject. And, the response should fit with the topic, and not be a total non sequitur.
Preparing Your Client Interviews
This isn’t rocket science, just common sense, but here are my suggestions for helping your clients have a successful interview experience:
- Have a fact-finding conversation with your client. Oh, and discuss early on that keeping secrets from your communications person is not a good idea. Tell them it will be their fault if they walk into something they’re not prepared for because they didn’t tell you about it.
- Provide the person being interviewed with three or four key talking points for every topic likely to come up.
- For the rare times when a client can’t or won’t answer direct questions about a certain topic, help them prepare an on-topic, easy-to-remember statement. Or, simply decline the interview. Period. This is a much better choice than insulting the reporter and audience with a non-answer. Saying nothing almost always trumps not answering direct questions.
Credibility is hard to earn and easy to lose when we don’t do our homework… What do you think? Is Schieffer right? How do you prepare your clients for interviews?
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