There’s an easy way to pre-empt some of the questions that a journalist will put to you, either in an on-the-phone or face-to-face interview. Just remember the 5 Ws:
Most questions for most interviews will fall into one of the above categories. Knowing this should give a spokesperson a head-start in an interview
The first three on the list – What, Where and When – should be easy for you. Don’t even think about giving an interview to a journalist unless you’ve got the basic facts and figures of the story well-marshalled in your head.
Why and Who can be trickier. Handling questions in these areas requires having your antenna finely-tuned as to where the journalist might go as they pursue their story.
The Why factor can take an interviewee down all sorts of roads where they would prefer not to tread. Prepare for questions about ‘blame’ and ‘guarantees’ the same thing won’t happen again if, for example, your company has been responsible for death or injury or has suffered some other dire setback.
The Who factor requires a spokesperson to be aware of all those who could be affected by the news story that is the subject of the interview. Let’s say your company has been responsible for a major environmental disaster. The ‘Who’ list of those affected could be pretty long – the local population, the rescue services, your shareholders, your staff, local MPs, the local council, watchdog bodies, safety organisations etc. Make sure you think through all of these before doing the interview.
Finally, journalists are very skilled at pacing an interview, particularly newspaper reporters. They can spend 25 minutes softening you up with a range of non-controversial, easy-to-handle, seemingly innocuous questions. So much so that you begin to wonder whether the journalist is part of your organisation’s PR team. Notwithstanding the fact that you’ve just announced a major product recall having killed 50 people, the journalist seems so pleasant and helpful. Watch out. He or she has gained your confidence, won you round. They’ll keep the killer question or two until the very end, when the interviewee is off their guard and has mentally started winding down. Like the final run of the day on the ski slope, that’s when you’re most vulnerable.