Ten Ways to Take Charge in a Media Interview

You may think you have no leverage in a media interview, but you do. While it's true that the interviewer creates and asks the questions and has the final editorial word, you still have more clout than you realize.
12/02/2015 01:42 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2016

You may think you have no leverage in a media interview, but you do. While it's true that the interviewer creates and asks the questions and has the final editorial word, you still have more clout than you realize.

Here's my list of suggestions for how you can have more control when you're on the answering
side of the questions. Before doing the interview, there is much that you need to find out.

1. Ask the interviewer what the story is about. Reporters want you to succeed. Most do not want you to go into the interview in the dark and they are not out to get you. They'll tell you more than you think.

2. Ask: "Who else have you spoken with?" This gives you greater context and understanding of the story.

3. Find out how he or she came up with the story. Perhaps it was something from either their personal or professional life. Ask lots of follow up questions. The more you know, the more confident you'll be going into the media opportunity.

4. Ask the interviewer what subjects you should research before you speak to each other. The answer will give you an opportunity to focus on what's important and relevant to the story.

5. Research the reporter's past stories or interviews. For example, we received a call from the CEO of one of the biggest energy companies in the nation. The chief was going to be interviewed by Maria Bartiromo and Jim Cramer on successive days. We came up with critiques of both of them. You can do the same thing for yourself. You'll get a sense of the kind of questions they ask, what their perspective, style, and even their political beliefs are.

6. Reporters have egos, too. Comment on a past story or an aspect of the report/interview they did that you thought was especially informative.

7. Who does the interviewer follow on social media? This gives you additional insight into their thinking.

8. Bring it up before they do. If there is something negative about you or your company, be the first to talk about it. That way you can frame the conversation from your perspective and have more control over the narrative. It also demonstrates that you're not afraid to take on the tough issues.

9. Ask and answer your own questions. In the course of the interview, it is not improper to pose your own questions. "I'm often asked why we..." If they are good questions with helpful answers, the reporter is not going to mind. The idea is for you to get the kind of information out that you think is important.

10. Don't be a slave to the question. People want to cooperate with an interviewer and often will just answer the question being asked instead of expanding on it. For example, I trained a senior partner at a major law firm. In the mock interview that I did with him, I asked him how long he's been an attorney. He said 38 years. Was the answer factually correct? Yes, but he missed an opportunity to talk about how the practice of law has changed over the past four decades, how choosing a jury has evolved as well as court room procedure. By just being a "good" interviewee and giving the relevant facts as an answer, my client missed an opportunity to display his experiences and insights into the evolving practice of law. In fact, he was asked that question in
an actual interview and didn't make that mistake again.

Bob Berkowitz is a communications trainer for The Dilenschneider Group.