The Washington Post is midway through its 12-installment series on what they call “Washington’s most famous unsolved crime” – the disappearance and murder of Chandra Levy, the California college student who served an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and went missing for a year before her remains were found in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D. C.
Our interest in this case is two-fold. First, Sawmill Marketing Public Relations provided ongoing PR counsel and media relations assistance to the Levy family beginning as the initial non-stop coverage subsided. With our urging, the family agreed not to talk with any media until someone had been arrested for their daughter’s murder.
The second reason is that we believe former U.S. Congressman Gary Condit is the poster boy for how not to conduct yourself with the media. In fact, we use his diastrous interview with Connie Chung on ABC’s PrimeTime Live in our media training as one of the best examples of “bad decision to agree to be interviewed meets bad interview preparation and execution.”
As they view the tape, media training participants note how his body language, posture, facial expression, monotone and hostile attitude each combine to underscore the emptiness of his answers. Why agree to an interview if you are unwilling to put forth your best effort to get your message across?
We’re convinced that the keys to a successful media interview, regardless of the topic, situation or outlet include:
Basic, but thorough, understanding and command of your subject matter;
Knowledge of and practice with simple, easy-to-remember techniques for staying on and returning to your agreed upon messages;
Overview of what the interview will be about, the reporter’s history with the topic and the outlet (tells you about the audience);
Preparation time to gather your thoughts, think about potential questions and therefore answers, take a quick check in the mirror to make sure your lunch is not on your chin; take a few deep breaths;
Greeting the reporter with a smile and a handshake – just as you would a colleague – and be yourself.
Imagine what our perceptions of Gary Condit would be today – many years after the fact – if he had been better prepared to more skillfully deal with the scrutiny of the media. Regardless of what people think of him, he has paid a hefty price for his inability to effectively deal with the press at a time when he most needed their empathy, influence and fairness.
[Photo: The Washington Post]