Runaway clients can hurt coverage

Media interviews are an interesting thing to “manage.” There are clients who just want you to set up interviews, clients who value your involvement and guidance, and clients who are like helium balloons that just lost their strings.

Every now and then, even the best clients can get a little out of control, because they’re so passionate.  Passion is fine, but when it gets to the point of bulldozing an interview, it’s time for media training.

Why Bulldozing is a Bad Thing

I’m one of those journalists who prepares for interviews.  I have a set of questions I develop for a story because somebody is going to ask me for one and I need to define the scope of the interviews.  Sometimes I have to improvise when I’m interviewing which is fine, but when the whole interview is off-script, it may cause problems for everyone involved.

Sometimes I can’t get a word in, let alone a question, if it’s a telephone interview (which is very rare these days).  If it’s an email response, I’ll read through it, but…

Why I Have a “Script”

I develop a list of questions for every set of interviews I do.  I’m happy to send them in advance when requested, but I tend not to send them as a matter of course.  Occasionally, whether or not the interviewee has the questions in advance, that person will say, “I know you want to cover this, but…[I’ve decided the angle of the story should be something else]” or “I’ve looked at your questions and [I’m going to ignore them].”  Then they wonder why they’re not included in the story, or why the other guy was quoted multiple times.

There are several answers to to these types of queries which are:

  • The content was irrelevant
  • The content was difficult or impossible to use given its lack of structure
  • The content doesn’t dovetail well with other conversations
  • It’s just too much work to use

An important thing to know is: I write on assignment.  That means an editor says, “write this,” or I pitch an idea, and that’s what I’m expected to deliver.

The Good News

The good news is that most interviewees have figured out that the best way to conduct interviews is to answer the questions asked, directly.  It’s fine to give examples, cite use cases, or use analogies as supplementary material as long as the content is relevant to the angle of the story.  If they respond to questions  in a relevant manner, their chances of being included in a story or getting more coverage than they would otherwise get can improve significantly.

I do my best to include everyone I interview, but it’s not always possible.  I am happy to explain the situation to the PR rep, if asked.  After all, I spent many years sitting on that side of the desk.

Thankfully for all of us, the bulldozers are few and far between.  If your client is one of them, you’re wise to explain why bulldozing isn’t wise.  It will help you better manage client expectations down the line.