We are often confronted with this question about questions. During press interviews, we have watched many executives of varying media savviness look perplexed when confronted with the same question over and over, sometimes asked in different ways. Many of these execs assign bad intentions or ignorance to the reporter.
The reality is that often it’s not the reporters. It’s you. Not the answer you were hoping for, we know. But let's review some of the reasons why a reporter may repeat himself during an interview.
First, you may not be delivering your response in a clear and concise manner. Reporters need sound bites. They need language that is easy for their readers to understand. Business people are very close to the subject matter and can throw in a few too many acronyms, jargon or respond in lengthy, content-heavy paragraphs. Our advice is to choose your words carefully and keep responses to a basic level that reporters and their readers will understand.
Another thing to keep in mind is that reporters don’t do what you do for a living. After some interviews, when the questions are repetitive, the person who was just interviewed steps away thinking that the interviewer is not very bright or well informed. Well, sometimes the reporter needs certain topics defined, or complex issues simplified. Reporters spend their days speaking to industry executives and writing. They usually do not have the background that a business leader has, so cut them some slack.
At other times, this may be the reporter’s first opportunity covering the subject matter. The reporter may be filling in for a colleague, new to a beat or new to covering your firm. Taking the time and patience to help educate a journalist can only help in the long run. Journalists need to learn background and perspective somewhere. This is your chance to build a relationship that can benefit both of you for years to come.
And finally, there are indeed moments when the reporter is trying to get you to discuss issues you simply don’t want to discuss or to get you off message. And he will keep trying; it’s his job. When interviews are on a touchy subject, it is important to prepare talking points and have answers to the tough questions. The most important part of any media interview, whether for print or broadcast, happens before you get in the studio or on the phone. The right preparation will empower you to give clear answers that will both satisfy the journalist’s desire for information and your need to deliver the right message to your stakeholders.