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TUESDAY TIP: Reporters have an agenda

We’re just going to say it — reporters have an agenda. Therefore, don’t ever walk into an interview with the expectation that you’re about to engage in a fair Q&A. You’re not, and you never will.

Don’t believe us? Listen to this exchange. Ed Helms reveals what it was like to interview Daily Show participants. The discussion starts around 1:17:00, but here’s a snapshot:

Ed Helms: “But I’m not a real journalist. I have a game I have to play and a script I have to stick to.”

Interviewer: “That they don’t even know they’re playing, really.”

Ed Helms: “Usually they do know that they are playing a game. They just overestimate their own defense mechanisms and their own ability to handle it. The people that knew the show the best were often the easiest to hoist on their own petard because they were cocky. And they don’t even consider the fact that you get to walk away and sit with the footage for two weeks and use whatever part of it you want. You have the final say. They don’t.”

Interviewer: “It’s a rigged game. And not in a bad way…”

Ed Helms: “It is very rigged. Listen, I’ll say it: We took advantage, sometimes.”

But don’t let Ed’s honesty keep you from agreeing to media hits. Instead, use it to your advantage.

Here are the three things you need to keep in mind as you walk into every interview:

#1 — Just do it
Agree to the interview. Even if the reporter has an agenda, he/she can’t put words in your mouth.

#2 — An interview isn’t a Q&A 
Don’t ever treat an interview like a Q&A, because it isn’t. Instead, take control. You should walk in ready to deliver your talking points, which you can do by blocking and bridging. Acknowledge the reporter’s question, and then pivot to what you want to talk about.

#3 — Your audience is at home
Even though the reporter is standing in front of you, or talking to you via an IFB, your audience is the viewer/listener. You aren’t trying to convince the reporter of your talking points, you’re trying to convince those who will read, listen to, and/or watch your interview.

Secrets for Q&A Success

Speaking in front of a live audience can be terrifying. Not only do you have to prepare and present talking points to keep the people engaged, but you will likely have to answer questions at the end.

Sometimes Q&A provides insightful commentary and allows you to talk more in-depth about an issue; other times, you field a filibuster and/or hostile questions you’d rather not answer.

It’s a risky situation, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and the audience.

Here’s what we suggest:

Step #1: Set ground rules. You might think this is an unnecessary and condescending step, because who doesn’t know how to handle themselves during Q&A?? Turns out, a lot of people.

Before you take the first question, explain that you will only respond to questions (NOT comments), and the questions need to be brief to allow as many people as possible to participate.

Step #2: Don’t follow Justin Trudeau’s lead.

We get it, Q&A is unscripted and less formal. Anything can happen! But a joke or petty correction that leaves you apologizing days later means it was better left unsaid.

Even if you disagree with the premise of the question, or the words/phrases used, don’t insult the asker. Kindly reframe the question, and then block and bridge to the response you want to give.

Now, go rock that Q&A.

B²: From Gorillas to Policy

Side face portrait of a gorilla male, severe silverback.

Harambe the gorilla is 2016’s version of Cecil the lion.

Last week, the media obsessed over the gorilla and his interaction with a toddler, then his death sparked an international outcry, and now #JusticeForHarambe exists in the Twittersphere.

A moment of silence, please.

But what if you, like most people, don’t talk about gorilla shootings and/or zoo-related issues? Does this mean you’re out of luck if the news cycle plays animal rights on repeat? Not at all. If you know how to block and bridge, and are willing to play off the story (no matter how unrelated to your topic), you can do interviews. So, how does it work?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that points the narrative in the direction of your talking point:

Q: “Doesn’t the outcry prove that the zoo should’ve tranquilized Harambe instead of killing him?”

B²: “While the situation is tragic all around, it’s very concerning that we’re placing more focus on this issue rather than <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, whether it’s about the increasingly disastrous refugee crisis or the killings in Chicago, remember what Winston Churchill said: “never let a good crisis go to waste.” The jury’s still out on whether the deaths of Harambe and Cecil (RIP) count as crises, but the strategy applies. Just because you may not be well versed in the latest animal rights talking points doesn’t mean you can’t capitalize on the news cycle and pivot to your issue. As DMG consistently recommends, acknowledge the incident and the emotion, but then change the conversation via a solid block and bridge.

Need more messaging help and/or media polishing? Become your best self and contact us today.