Stay in Your Lane – and Other Advice to Drive Your Media Interviews

My 16-year-old son is in the final throes of driving lessons. He's obtained his permit, completed his eight in-class sessions, and has just two of four in-cars left. The last step will be to take the driving test onsite at the license bureau and he'll then be a licensed driver in Ohio. (Watch out, world!)

It got me thinking – there are a few rules of the road in learning to drive that also are relevant to successful media interviews. While there are many more parallels, here are just a few:

  1. Stay in your lane – One of the first rules of media relations – stay the course. Stick with what you know. Stay on message. Don't make a wrong turn and end up on a side road. Know what you intend to say to the media and then say it. Most importantly, don't go outside your lane and speak for others. Answer questions appropriate for your expertise, and don't speculate on subjects that aren't in your wheelhouse.
  2. Maneuverability is important – Like great defensive driving, media engagement requires some flexibility and maneuverability. While the questions may be tough, media training can help you respond when the road gets rough. Valuable interview techniques like blocking and bridging help you direct the conversation with a reporter from topics you wish to avoid back to your key message points.
  3. Prepare for the unexpected – Sometimes, the driver in front of you may stop without prior warning, or you may encounter a roadblock that wasn't there a few days ago. Preparing for the unexpected is essential to an interview as well. Identify those questions that you're most afraid to get, and write down your answers in advance. Then practice answering until you're comfortable. Anticipate what the reporter might have found when doing research on your company or organization. If you have a "past," they are likely to find it, so you might as well recognize the potholes ahead and prepare to work around them.
  4. Watch for signs – When driving, signs help you navigate where you're going. In an interview, look for signs that can help identify where the reporter is headed. If a reporter goes silent, that may be a sign they're hoping you'll keep talking and say something that gets you in trouble. If a reporter asks you if you have anything else to add, use that as an opportunity to drive home one of your key message points.
  5. It's always construction season – You can't just develop those message points and then park them somewhere. Good messages always need ongoing construction and frequent use. Know that those orange barrels you weren't expecting may appear, requiring you to rework your message route. Use messages regularly, update them as needed and ensure that any repairs are made to keep your journey smooth.

Like driving, media relations requires a lot of navigation. With practice, understanding and patience, you can secure a license to engage with media and look forward to many years of driving home your message.