7 bad media interview mistakes (and how to avoid them)

January 19, 2016

You could shoot to fame for all the wrong reasons if a bad media interview goes viral.

Unprepared, rude or flippant comments you make can damage your reputation and that of your company in seconds. At best, a bad media interview is a wasted opportunity to spread your message and raise your profile.

Here are seven signs of a bad media interview, together with four examples of people who need some media training. Quick.


Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 1. The CEO doesn’t answer the question.

Journalists’ most newsworthy questions are often the ones you don’t want to answer. You might be tempted to ignore them or just answer the one you wish you’d been asked, but unfortunately this won’t work. It might even stoke the fire, drawing attention to the fact that you don’t actually have a satisfactory response for the real question.

Instead, use the bridging technique: acknowledge and respond to the question, then link your answer to one of the key messages you want to convey, so you can regain control of the interview.

Bad media interview mistakes | How not to do it – Shantung Narayen is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Adobe Systems. Notice how he repeatedly avoids answering a direct question in this media interview:


Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 2. The CEO bad-mouths others.

Sometimes a CEO feels cornered, and wants to point the finger of blame elsewhere. Sometimes, negative media attention focuses unfairly on one company’s processes, while a competitor seems to be getting away with it. At other times, ill-judged humour backfires.

Whatever the cause, rise above it and resist bad-mouthing others. The media-fluent CEO remains nice at all times when speaking about journalists, competitors, former employers and any other stakeholders during interviews.

Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 3. The CEO doesn’t  prepare for negative questions.

The media pays journalists to dig beneath the story given to them and find a unique, newsworthy angle. In addition, you’re more likely to be given media time and attention during a crisis or controversy.

Write down the tough questions that might be asked and rehearse your responses until you can respond calmly. Use the exact words and phrases that you want to be published or broadcast saying. Schedule formal mock media interviews to help you practice under pressure.

Bad media interview mistakes | How not to do it – Peter Ward is the Chief Executive of the British Dental Association. He was asked about the dangers of amalgam fillings in this media interview. This was his unexpected response:

Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 4. The CEO doesn’t correct mistakes immediately.

If you don’t fix any misunderstandings during the interview, then the journalist will write and publish their interpretation of what you said.

Instead, quickly say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I explained that very clearly. What I meant is…” to ensure the correct message reaches the audience.

Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 5. The CEO doesn’t prepare proof, examples and stories.

If you lack the detail to back up what you say, you will quickly run into trouble.

Instead, create a ‘message house’: draw a house with three ground floor rooms, three top floor rooms and a roof on top.

Write your overall message in the roof of the house. The three top floor rooms should contain up to three sub-messages. Beneath each of these sub-messages write the proof, examples and stories that back up each of those sub-messages and bring them to life for your audience.

Then practice. The best CEOs constantly refine and stress test their messaging with mock media interviews. Sufficient practice will ensure you are fully prepared, confident and in control when the time comes.

Bad media interview mistakes | How not to do it – This radio interview is from the political world and features Natalie Bennett from the Green Party. It shows how quickly confidence in a message is lost without the necessary evidence and detail to back it up:

Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 6. The CEO uses jargon.

Powerful communicators use simple language, with no hackneyed phrases or long words. The audience may differ in their grasp of your industry’s jargon. Therefore, speaking simply and clearly will ensure the maximum of people understand what you are trying to convey.

Bad Media Interview Mistakes | 7. The CEO doesn’t know who the end audience is or why they are doing the media interview.

The interviewer is just your route to the audience. Think of media interviews as an opportunity to engage your target audience without having to pay.

Research the journalist and their publication before agreeing to anything. What angle are they planning for the piece? What have they published on this (or similar topics) previously? The more challenging the interviewer or his/her angle is likely to be, the higher the risk of a bad media interview.

Bad media interview mistakes | How not to do it – Tony Hayward was previously the CEO of BP. He committed a string of media interview gaffes following the Mexico Gulf oil disaster, including stating he wanted his ‘life back’ during this apology on behalf of the company:

How to avoid a bad media interview experience

Click here to read how to use a dress rehearsal to prepare for your next media interview, and our five checks to ensure media interview-readiness.

> Help Me Prepare For My Next Media Interview

What Next

Benjamin Ball Associates prepares and coaches CEOs for media interviews. We can help you with every aspect including words, stories, messages and appearance.

Call our Client Services Director Louise Angus on 020 7018 0922 to discuss your needs and how we can best support you.

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