When a member of the media expresses interest in your story, be sure to offer the reporter a spokesperson who can provide in-depth information on the topic. The selected spokesperson should be someone who can speak with authority on the role of health-system pharmacists, and who understands ASHP’s objectives and messages.
Remember that flexibility is key when working with reporters to find the best time to schedule the interview! Reporters work on tight deadlines and are often short on time. Make sure you or your spokesperson is available when needed.
Interview Do’s and Don’ts
Keep the following principles in mind when you speak with a reporter:
• Remember that you are an expert in your field, and this is why the reporter is interested in talking to you. If a reporter asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it probably means he or she is asking you the wrong question. Reorient the reporter toward the subject matter at hand. It is your job to educate the reporter; the interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation.
• Anticipate negative questions. Spokespeople should always anticipate the toughest, most negative, and potentially surprising questions. Develop a strategy in advance and an answer that will defuse each one.
• Be brief. News stories require concise messages that can be easily converted into sound bites and short quotes.
• Avoid (or translate) jargon. Every business speaks its own language: education, broadcasting, medicine, aviation, agriculture, politics, you name it. A shared language allows people of the same profession to understand each other quickly, and builds a sense of camaraderie. When you are dealing with a reporter, though, it is important to speak in a language that everyone can understand. If you use terms specific to pharmacy, you should follow them immediately with “by that I mean. . .” Even if the reporter is familiar with the term you are using, they will welcome, and probably borrow, a definition that the general public will understand.
• Correct misinformation and rumor. If a reporter cites inaccurate information in a question, be sure to note where the information is flawed.
• Ask for clarification if you don’t fully understand a reporter’s question. For instance, “What specifically are you referring to? Can you give me an example of the situation you are describing?”
• Wear comfortable clothing that is appropriate to the setting. If you are going to appear on television or give a speech in front of a large group of people, solid bright colors work well. On television, avoid flat black or flat white, and pare down accessories.
• Remember your body language. Many studies show that this is the most critical element of communication. Remember to literally lean in to the interview. If you sit back with your arms folded, you are conveying the nonverbal message, “I don’t want to be here, and you are going to have to work very hard to wring this information out of me.” Sit forward, and you convey something entirely different.
• Remember phrases such as the ones that follow. These are good to shift the focus of a question, and they will also buy you a little time to think of your response. None of the following phrases should be viewed as conversation stoppers, but rather bridges to information you would like to offer.
“_______ is a much larger issue than the one I’m fluent on.”
“_______ is a legal question that can be better answered by an attorney.”
“Could you give me a specific example of the kind of situation you’re referring to?”
“To fully answer that, you’d need an expert on _______. I can tell you that, in general...”
“I don’t know the answer to that, but, I can tell you that. . .”
• Be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” This should, of course, be followed with, “I’ll try to find out that information and get back to you,” or “What I can tell you about the subject is…”
• Believe the “off-the-record” myth. The spokesperson should always assume that everything she or he says before, during, and after an interview will be on the record. Don’t repeat a negative question. Here’s why: Suppose a reporter asks you, “Isn’t this study really full of bias and very flawed?” Our immediate instinct is to deny this. “No, this study is not full of bias and is very flawed.” The story includes the following: “John Jones vehemently denied that there were problems with the study, saying it is not full of bias and very flawed.” In the process of denying the reporter’s allegation, you’ve repeated, and to a certain degree taken ownership of, the negative language. Instead, make a positive statement. For instance, “The study used widely accepted methodology and was carried out with great care. We are certain of the accuracy of its findings.”
• Say, “I think. . .” or “I believe. . .” Remember that you are being interviewed as a representative of ASHP and the profession of health-system pharmacy. A reporter will assume that you are speaking for the organization or the profession and that your statements represent their views. If you find that there is a conflict in a specific situation between your views and the position of your organization, our recommendation is that you gently turn down interviews on that subject.
• Answer “what if?” questions. Reporters will frequently try to prompt your responses by describing hypothetical situations, and asking you to comment on them. Use bridging language to get back to the point you wish to make, such as, “The important thing to remember is...”
• Stonewall or use the response “no comment.” If the reporter is asking about information that cannot be made public, say, “I don’t have anything for you on that today.” Likewise, don’t give away the store by revealing proprietary or confidential information.
• Give emotional responses. We all know people who enjoy getting a rise out of others: Some of these people are reporters. It is all right to express righteous indignation in response to an unfair question, but anger will turn the audience against the spokesperson rather than the reporter.
• Make a speech. If you are on television, a 20-second response is about all the media can use, with one central idea per response. When dealing with a print or radio reporter, you can give a longer response. But it is important not to talk at great length. You also should avoid introducing a topic that may be very interesting but is extraneous to the subject matter at hand. This can tend to blur your message points.