A lot of people who agree to be interviewed by a TV or radio news programme make one huge mistake.
They, or their comms person, have been told by the programme’s producer or researcher that the topic of the interview will be X.
The spokesperson then diligently starts acquainting themselves with any areas of this topic with which they are not already familiar. By the time they enter the studio, they are as boned up as they ever will be on the topic of the interview.
Except…there’s one problem.
As Chief Financial Officer of Everyday Widgets, you’ve agreed to be interviewed on the Today programme, Sky News Sunrise or the Radio 5Live Breakfast programme on the impressive annual results your company has just notched up. You’ve briefed yourself thoroughly on the figures themselves. Your CEO has given you a thorough rundown on his ‘strategic’ vision for the next 12 months. You’re all set to go.
And indeed the first three minutes of the interview go swimmingly. You can almost feel the share price of Everyday Widgets rocketing as you speak, so impressive is your performance.
Then comes the body blow.
Next question: “And what about the reports overnight that the CEO of your rival company Day-to-Day Widgets was spotted yesterday having lunch with your CEO? Is a merger or takeover in the pipeline?”
Or: “And what about the overnight news from Brussels that the European Commission is to come up with a new EU directive that will radically reinforce quality control checks on widgets, leaving you with huge new quality control costs that could damage your long-term prospects?”
Gulp. “I didn’t know about either of these two stories,” you think. “I’m sunk.”
The lesson from such an incident is this: just because a programme has told you the subject of the interview is X, that doesn’t mean the interviewer won’t career off and cover topics Y and Z.
Just because the ‘secret’ meeting between the two CEOs broke only late last night, as did the Brussels directive, that’s no excuse for you or your comms team not knowing and not making sure you are briefed accordingly.
So, the guiding principle is this: make sure you have your radar screen training widely in the hours before you go on the air to check what other news is around that could crop up in your interview. Don’t assume the interview will cover only what you’ve been told will be the subject of the interview. The questions can easily stray into other areas the presenter deems perfectly reasonable to put to you.
So, if you are going on breakfast telly or radio, don’t turn in early because the taxi’s arriving at 5.30am.
Instead, go to bed and tune into the Radio 4 Midnight News – a comprehensive summary of the previous day’s news, but which also includes stories that are breaking overnight or running in the first editions of the newspapers. If you are still up watching TV, check the midnight news on Sky or News 24.
Then check again when you wake up and ask the taxi driver to turn on a news channel as you’re heading into the studio.