As a candidate for elected office you’re invariably going to be contacted by the media.
How often they reach out to you for a quote or a comment may differ, but they will reach out with you.
A newspaper reporter or blogger will call you up to get your thoughts on a subject.
A TV reporter may call you up to do an on camera interview, either in studio or on location.
When they do, you need to be prepared.
If you’re not, it could be detrimental to your chances of victory on Election Day.
A stumbling answer, a misspoken word, or an inaccurate statement can not only haunt your campaign, but destroy it.
To prevent such ruin to your chances of winning, here some six simple rules to follow when talking to the media.
1. Don’t Do Media Interviews on the Spot
Seldom are you going to run into a reporter and have to do an interview right then and there.
But a reporter will call you asking you to talk to you or schedule an interview.
When the call comes tell the reporter you are in the middle of something but will get back to them when you are free.
Then ask for these three items of information:
- Which phone number is best to call the reporter back at — this proves you want to call them back
- What the reporter wants to talk to you about — this is the information you want so you can properly prepare for the interview, even if they just want to schedule an interview for a later time
- When the reporter’s deadline is — this let’s the reporter know you understand the pressures they are facing at work and engenders good will towards you.
2. Talk to Your Advisor Before Talking to the Media
As soon as you’ve hung up with the reporter, call your political consultant (if you have hired one).
If you don’t have a consultant, dial up the person who is serving officially or unofficially as the advisor to you and your campaign.
Discuss the topic that the reporter wants to interview you about later.
With your advisor, run through all of the possible scenarios that may be presented to you and work out the answers and statements that best serve your campaign’s purpose.
3. Keep Your Statements Short and to the Point
When you are being interviewed, it’s vital to keep your comments short and pithy.
Don’t wander off topic or provide more information than you have been asked to provide.
Give clear, succinct answers that can’t be misconstrued or taken out of context.
That may happen anyway, but it’s important that you aren’t the reason it happened.
Long, meandering comments often make a candidate look bad, and guess which ones almost always wind up in the newspaper or on the TV news?
Yep. The one you shouldn’t have ever let out of your mouth.
4. Always Stay On Message
The interview may not be about why you’re running or what you want to do once elected, but that’s what your campaign is about.
It’s not your job to ensure the media has a good story.
It’s your job to do all that you can to get the media to report and disseminate your message to its audience which also includes your voters.
Regardless of the topic you are being interviewed on, always find ways to either sprinkle in or circle back to the reason you’re running for office and the message that’s central to your campaign.
When you’re doing your pre-interview preparation with your consultant or main advisor, you should be discussing the best and most organic ways to accomplish this.
It may seem awkward at first, but the more you campaign and the more interviews you do, the more natural this skill will come to you.
5. Never Lie to the Media
It’s a cardinal sin to lie to the media. Under no circumstances can you do it.
When the media catches you in a lie, that becomes not only a story but a series of stories.
First they’ll report you lied and how they found out about it.
Then they’ll report how they tried to follow up and you tried to explain but never came clean. This could be one or more stories. Count on it being more.
And if they’re really upset at you, they’ll start digging into every other statement you’ve made to determine if you lied about anything else. That means more stories and more and more….
At that point your campaign is way off message and you’re chances of being elected have probably been derailed — now and in the future.
If a reporter asks you a question and you don’t know the answer say just that: “I don’t know.”
Tell them you don’t know but will get back to them with an answer.
Making up an answer when you don’t have one can lead to all sorts of problems, including the media believing you lied to them.
There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know and will follow up with an answer.
It shows you’re thoughtful and honest. But most importantly it prevents you from possibly being labeled as a liar in the press.
6. Know How To Not Answer Certain Questions
There will be questions and topics you will not want to answer for a variety of reasons.
When they come up — and they will — do just that: don’t answer them.
If it’s a question that’s way out of bounds of current campaign or is just plain ridiculous say, “I’m not going to justify that with an answer.”
If it’s a question about a member of your family who is not a public figure, you can refuse to answer and say “My family is not running for office. I am.”
If it’s a question you shouldn’t answer for a variety of reasons, especially if it will hurt your chances of being elected, you can say “I have no comment.”
“No comment” in my experience is the most difficult thing for a candidate for office to say to the media. Instead candidates want to answer the question and explain the situation being asked about.
One of my political mentor’s taught me this mantra when I first started out in professionally in politics:
When you’re explaining, you’re losing.
Explaining things that shouldn’t be explained or even talked about should never happen.
This is the instance when the answer will create more problems than it resolves, or possibly land the candidate in hot water one way or another..
If that’s the case, suck up you pride, put your ego in check, and say, “I have no comment.”
That’s always better than saying something that will get you in trouble politically or legally.
If you follow these six rules when contacted by the media, you’ll go a long way to keeping your campaign on track and on message.
You’ll also find you’re more relaxed during interviews.
Relaxed candidates come across as leaders and leaders win elections because voters like to elect leaders.