While it is important to prepare and practice as much as possible before meeting with the press, it is equally important to remember that even the best media spokespeople can have off days. If something goes wrong, don’t get bogged down by it, but keep going, chances are the gaffe isn’t as big a deal as you think it is. Even if it is, is that really the last impression you want to leave? If you do get stuck, keep in mind our former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson.
Mr. Pearson is very well regarded. We’ve named airports, schools and streets after this amazing Canadian. He was a Nobel Prize winner, a man often perceived as being too smart for politics, and he was also a relentless disaster in the media. It seemed as if, if something could go wrong, it did. In one instance in an attempt to offset previous missteps, great efforts were made to ensure that Mr. Pearson would appear before the press in an authoritative and commanding fashion. The timing of his press conference was fussed over for weeks in advance, the placement of the microphone was carefully considered and his entrance was contemplated at length. He would enter the room on cue and stride across the front of the room with authority. His handlers had even added three cushions to his seat to ensure that he had presence at the media table. What they didn’t anticipate was that Mr. Pearson would not only enter at the wrong time, but through the wrong door. The result was that he interrupted his own assistant’s presentation, was spotted by the press and was then left trying to shuffle his way through the centre of the room in a space about one foot wide. Picture it, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, excuse me, pardon me, need to get by, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, hardly an authoritative entrance.
Despite these less than sterling encounters with the press, he still remains one of our best regarded Prime Ministers. When his name is raised, it is rarely to recall his less than commanding encounters with the press.
During – (Day of the Event)
· Be sure to have numbers of the media outlets that have agreed to attend and call to reconfirm interviews.
· Designate a member of your staff or group to keep track of media attendance and greet the media.
· Make sure that media participants have the information they need and that they know who to contact should they have follow up questions.
· Keep extra copies of the backgrounder material on hand.
Managing Interview Questions
· Nothing is “off the record” if you say it, then expect it to be made public.
· Repeat important points, especially for sensitive or controversial issues.
· When dealing with a question you’d rather not handle at the moment, you should always address the question, but you don’t have to answer it. If you do answer, keep it short. In either case, move on quickly.
· Beware of hypothetical questions. They make dramatic headlines, but don’t relay the facts.
· Don’t bluff. If you don’t know, say so.
· You don’t have to answer a question the moment it is asked. Pause to collect your thoughts. A moment is a lot shorter than you think. It will look like you are giving the answer some thought (which is what you should be doing).
Try these delaying phrases if you need more time,
· “Well, I’m not surprised you asked that question….”
· “I’m pleased you asked that question, let me take a minute to explain….”
· “This is a challenge we’re looking at and expect to soon have….”
Bridging phrases to get back to your message.
· “But perhaps an equally important issue here is….”
· “What I think you’re getting at is….”
· “That’s not in my field, but what I can say is….”
· “I don’t know…but I do believe….”
· “That’s because….”
· “As you know….”
Tips for avoiding difficult questions:
· “That’s in the future. What I want to talk about now is….”
· “What I think you want to know is….”
· “Those were important factors, but….”
· “Too soon to tell….”
Send photos with a detailed caption along with your press release to all print publications (this includes online) that didn’t make it to your event. Plenty of local coverage is garnered in this fashion. Try to keep a copy of your clippings or any comments you receive. They may come in handy for future documentation or correspondence.
Note lessons learned. Were spokespeople well prepared? Did you have sufficient information? Did you have too much information? Did the press follow an unanticipated angle? How did your spokespeople handle themselves? Did any nervous tics make themselves evident during interviews? Add the information to your media kit for future reference.
Have you ever attended or watched a press conference go wrong? Watched one that went like a charm? What made them work or fail?