Should You Do Media Interviews By E-Mail?
I often hear spokespersons boast that the reporters they work with allow them to do media interviews by e-mail.
They think they’ve pulled one over on the reporter, maintaining full control of their quotes and taking all risk out of the interview.
Are they right?
Not really. In general, doing interviews by e-mail is an over-used strategy too often employed by controlling executives and scared spokespersons. Here are three reasons I argue it’s often a bad idea to do interviews by e-mail:
1. Unintended Meanings
A clever book called the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations lists dozens of things employers can say to people who call for references on lousy former employees.
To describe a lazy candidate, employers can say:
“In my opinion, you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you.”
To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be better left unfilled, it says:
“I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”
And to describe a person with lackluster credentials, it suggests:
“All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly.”
E-mail interviews carry the same risk of unintended meanings, especially when a reporter wants to find the two words in your response that make you look the worst. Show your e-mail answers to several people before sending, and try parsing every word combination to make sure you haven’t unintentionally given the reporter gold.
2. Looks Obstructionist
I know of a nonprofit organization that is occasionally accused of doing something that exploits a vulnerable population (they don’t). Whenever an investigative journalist covers the story, the segment begins by featuring an interview with the perceived “victim.” When the group responds with an e-mailed statement, it always looks terrible.
Why? Because an e-mail statement butted up against a real person makes the group look guilty.
The group now accepts every interview request, but insists on doing all television interviews on-camera. It shows the group for what they are – caring and compassionate – and accomplishes what an e-mailed statement never could.
3. Prevents Personal Relationships
Media relations is about exactly that – relationships. Those relationships are especially important when your company or organization is accused of doing something wrong. Reporters who know you are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt, reducing the risk of negative stories and improving the tone of coverage. You can’t enjoy those benefits if they only know you by words on a screen.
To be fair, e-mailing reporters does have its place, and I’ll discuss the times when it makes sense to conduct e-mail interviews in a future article. But most of the time, a well-trained, thoughtful spokesperson who can respond to challenging inquiries with grace is better than an impersonal e-mail.
Related: Are Written Statements Enough In a Crisis?
Related: 5 Ways to Avoid Being Misquoted By Reporters
I dont agree. I have plenty of personal relationships developed over email, IM, etc. It’s about what is most convenient for the reporter. If that is email comment, then that is what yWu do. As far as email limiting your ability to convey meaning, clearly this all depends on the circumstance. when you are dealing with a highly sensitive legal or political issue however, a succinct yet informative statement by email can be all you need to both ensure you address the reporter’s question yet, don’t speak about other related issues either not germane nor possible to talk about due to the situation.
I don’t think it’s either/or. Working on a university campus, I deal with student media outlets. They are notoriously inaccurate, no matter how you interact with them. The benefit of email correspondence is that you have an electronic paper trail in the event they get it wrong. Even if there is no correction, pointing it out to a reporter that they misquoted you will make them more likely to pay closer attention next time. Granted, student media is different from professional media, but too often these days “professional” media is not what it used to be. The paper trail is often the best way to work.
Chris – Nice to hear from you, and thanks for your comment!
I agree with you, and I plan to post a follow-up by the end of the month which focuses on the times it IS appropriate to e-mail a reporter.
As I’ll say in that article, my larger goal is to challenge spokespersons to rely on e-mail interviews less, for the reasons I stated in this article. Although spokespersons may have more control over their words in print, other things get lost in the process, such as any real opportunity to build a relationship with the reporter. Unless the interview is likely to be contentious, I’d rather risk a minor misquote than lose the chance to develop such a relationship.
More to come, and I hope you’ll leave a comment on that follow-up article as well.