Get Political Wire by Email:

January 02, 2013

Media Tip: Why You Shouldn't Speak to Reporters

A guest post from Brad Phillips, author of The Media Training Bible.

How would you define "media interview"? Most people would say that a media interview occurs when someone--often a spokesperson from a company, campaign, or agency--speaks with a reporter.

Pretty straightforward, yes?

But spokespersons who define media interviews that way are making a big mistake. A media interview is not a conversation with a reporter. It is a highly focused form of communication aimed squarely at your audience. The reporter is merely the conduit through which you reach it.

That doesn't mean you should ignore reporters, but rather that you should focus your answers on those members of the audience you're trying to persuade, educate, or inspire.

As an example, let's say you're discussing climate change with a reporter who has covered the issue for a decade. Since the reporter knows the issue well, you might be tempted to speak at a higher level by referring to obscure white papers or using acronyms and technical jargon. That's a bad idea. The reader, listener, or viewer you're trying to reach probably doesn't know as much about climate change as the reporter does--and if the quote the journalist uses from your interview is a bit too wonkish, you'll unnecessarily leave some members of your audience behind.

To avoid that problem, think about the "target person" you want to reach in your next interview. Be specific--identify the person by gender, age, geography, and occupation. Give the person a name. During the interview, focus your answers on that one individual. The idea is that if your target person cares about what you're saying, the rest of your audience probably will too.

For one interview, a client of ours visualized that his "target person" was Pat, a retired 78-year-old African American woman living by herself in rural Nevada. He further defined her by saying she retired nine years ago after working as a trauma nurse for 40 years. By being that specific, he was able to visualize that woman during his entire interview and aim all of his communication toward her, not the reporter.


Political Wire Podcast Engaging conversations about elections and the political issues of the day. Subscribe via iTunes or RSS to get episodes automatically downloaded.