“Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power,” says Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way.
When you sit down with a reporter you have no control over how prepared the reporter is, what questions the reporter asks, whether the reporter likes you or finds your content interesting, how the reporter’s editors might change the story, what the headline will be, how long the story will be, what the reporter will quote, who else the reporter will interview, or what overall angle a reporter will take in the story.
The ONLY thing you have any control over is what comes out of your mouth. So what do you do? Accept this and govern yourself accordingly.
I’ve worked a lot with litigators, who are accustomed, to put it euphemistically, to a certain amount of control. After prepping one litigator for an interview, he said, “When will I get the text of the article to edit?” I said, “Uh, never.”
He couldn’t handle the lack of control, so he delivered a wooden, defensive interview and wasn’t quoted at all. He may not have hurt our cause, but his interview certainly didn’t help. It was a huge wasted opportunity!
My colleague Paul Wilke at Upright Position Communications has a similar story:
“In my past life as an international PR professional, I had a country manager for a shipping company as a client. He had never done a media interview before, so I did everything in my power to prepare him to talk to a major trade publication. We drilled down on key messages and story angles, and I prepared a very detailed briefing document with anticipated questions and answers. There was nothing we weren’t prepared for. Or so I thought.
Come interview day, we converged in his office – me, the country manager and the reporter. The reporter asked his first question, something like “Can you comment on the bunker fuel market will affect the shipping industry next year?”
My client looked down at his paper, looked at me, then looked back to the paper. Finally he said to me, “But that’s the fourth question on the briefing document. What about the first three questions?”
Paul’s client was clinging to that briefing document like a life preserver, expecting the “anticipated questions” to be asked in the exact order they appeared on the doc. Needless to say, that client did not become a favored spokesperson for that important trade publication.
What’s the lesson in both of these stories?
Rather than trying to exert control over other aspects of the media relations process, focus on what’s in your power. Focus on your message and how you deliver it. Your job as a spokesperson is to deliver memorable and useful soundbites, interesting data points and compelling key messages over and over again, with sincerity and energy, no matter what the reporter asks.
When you artfully deliver artful messages you are doing everything in your power to contribute to a great story. Everything else is beyond your control.