Doorstep interview - how to cope with hostile media interviews

More often than not, it is unexpected and unwelcome, but how you handle the situation will have a huge impact on whether you are perceived by readers and viewers. Get it wrong and you make reputation recovery much harder. We all recall interviewees who looked shifty or arrogant by pretending the crowd of journalists surrounding didn’t exist, trying to stomp off down the street in to escape. The results are embarrassing TV footage - which TV companies (and viewers!) love - and dreadful newspaper headlines.

So what can you do?

Firstly, recognise that in such uncomfortable and sometimes hostile circumstances our human instinct is fight or flee. Neither is appropriate: you need to regain control of the situation. So avoid the temptation to say "no comment" or ignore the journalists completely. They need a brief sound-bite, so stop and give them one. Keep it succinct and close down the opportunity for follow-up questions. If you have issued a statement refer to it and say that at for now there is nothing new to add. If you haven't issued a statement then say you will shortly and that it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. If a tragic event has occurred, acknowledge that and show empathy. If your lawyers advise a "no comment" statement then follow their advice, but add that you hope to be able to comment in more detail, later, when able to do so.

Remember - you are providing a sound-bite, not conducting a full-scale interview. Once you have made your comment you need to physically extract yourself. So, be clear what your next steps will be. If you are being picked up in a car then ensure you know where it is and it is ready to go. If you are returning to your home or office, what then? Are you staying there all day? The journalists may stick around for hours afterwards.

Secondly, always be polite - remember the journalists have a job to do and if you come across as irritable or defensive then that reflects badly on you. If you are abusive or aggressive then you are providing material which will be used against you. You want to be calm, confident and in control, even when some may seem to be provoking you  into an emotional backlash, in order to get that ‘material’.

Thirdly, think about your body language. Putting your hands up to block cameras or shoving journalists out of the way creates a distinct impression of someone with something to hide.

Finally, be prepared. If you or your organisation is facing a reputational crisis then there is a strong possibility of being doorstepped. Ask yourself…if that happens what would I do and what would I say? Then ensure you have a strategy and messages in place. That is not always an easy task which is why Gravitas is there to help. Reputation is easily lost and hard to rebuild: investing in reducing reputation risk makes good business sense.

James Lindsay, Corporate PR and Government Affairs specialist, is Director of James Lindsay Consulting