Why There’s No Such Thing As An "Official" Interview

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.

Imagine you have a television interview scheduled with a reporter. The handsome TV news personality arrives at your office, the crew sets up the cameras and lights, and the interview begins.

Fifteen minutes fly by in what seem like seconds, and before you know it, the interview is over. You feel good. Even though the reporter asked a few tricky questions, you were prepared and handled them well.

As the crew packs up, you make some polite small talk with the reporter. He casually asks you about one of your competitors, and you make a mildly negative comment about their work. When the piece airs, you’re shocked to find that the reporter introduces the story by quoting your offhand, off-camera remark about your competitor.

Start and Finish iStockPhoto
You may feel betrayed, but the reporter didn’t do anything wrong. The interview didn’t officially “begin” when the cameraman pressed the record button or “end” when he turned it off. Anything you say before, during, or after the “official” interview—including any telephone or email exchanges—can be quoted in a news story.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid talking to reporters in the downtime before and after the “official” interview. But use that time to restate your most important messages—not verbatim, but by advancing the main themes you want them to remember.

Case Study: Carly Fiorina’s Hairy Situation

In June 2010, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina won her primary bid to become California’s Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The morning after her win, Ms. Fiorina sat in a television studio awaiting a post-victory interview with a local Sacramento news program. Seconds before the interview began, Ms. Fiorina turned to an aide and made a nasty comment about her Democratic opponent, Senator Barbara Boxer.

She scoffed, “[A friend] saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says—‘God, what is that hair? Sooo yesterday.’”

Ms. Fiorina stopped herself when she realized she was being recorded. But it was too late. CNN posted the raw tape on its website, fueling an unfortunate story line about Fiorina’s “catty” remarks. The next day’s headlines focused more on her “hair” comments than on her victory, creating a public relations nightmare for her campaign.

Ms. Fiorina never fully recovered. In a political year that favored the Republican Party, she lost to Boxer by double digits.

The Media Training Bible is available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here.