How to Redirect a Media Interview that Goes off Topic

We’ve all been there before. What started as a conversation with a co-worker about next week’s deadlines ends in a discussion about the newest neighborhood restaurant and their ah-mazing gin cocktails. While this is normal when chatting with friends, it shouldn’t necessarily happen during a media interview.

So, when the reporter or even your own spokesperson goes off-topic, what are the best ways to re-direct the conversation? Here are our suggestions:

  1. Know your spokesperson: First things first, we recommend a conversation with your spokesperson ahead of any media interviews to get his or her preference for your role. For example, ask your spokesperson: “if the reporter steers the conversation away from next year’s trending flavors, would you like me to jump in and redirect the conversation back, or would you prefer to do that?” Some spokespeople do not like their PR rep to interject, others prefer it. Have an honest conversation with your spokesperson ahead of the interview to understand what will make them most comfortable.
  2. Use transitions: When necessary, use a transition to gently redirect the conversation, such as: “that’s a really interesting point, but as [spokesperson] touched upon earlier, the real issue here is…” It’s important to acknowledge, however briefly, the reporter’s question or statement, but then bring the focus of the interview back into the conversation. This transition also provides an opening for your spokesperson to take over and expand on earlier talking points. We also recommend equipping your spokespeople with a few suggested transitions if he or she prefers to redirect the conversation.
  3. Offer to follow up separately: Another helpful transition is an offer to follow up on a question or confirm a statement after the interview. When the off-topic question is posed, simply reply: “that’s a great question. I’ll follow up with you afterwards and provide more details.” This can ease any stress or surprise your spokesperson may feel when caught off-guard with a question. It also provides you as the PR rep another reason to engage with the reporter after the interview to try and secure coverage.
  4. Know when to not interject: Aside from securing coverage for your client, the most important goal of an interview is to build a relationship with the reporter. So just as a conversation with a friend can go off-topic, so can an interview, especially if your spokesperson and the reporter are hitting it off. It likely goes without saying, but don’t redirect the conversation if weekend plans or the upcoming holiday is brought up. Allow the conversation to flow – within reason – and only jump in if it hasn’t lead back to the main reason for the interview.

 

With these few simple tips fellow PR reps can stay calm, collected and confident when hosting a media interview.

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