Photo by Flickr user Marrejos
As a former journalist and communicator I’ve been watching the media coverage of the presidential election closely. I’ve advised hundreds of clients, in both large and small businesses, from senior executives with years of experience to product managers doing their first press interviews – and one thing caught my eye recently that I wanted to talk about.
As a PR there are times when I help clients manage crises and deal with difficult questions. One thing I’d never never advise a client to do ignore a question, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they are about it, so I’m fascinated by Mitt Romney’s seeming reluctance to ignore questions during a recent fund-raising event for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. According to reports Mr. Romney was asked the same question by multiple reporters on fourteen occasions. It’s a PR no-no! He did the same thing in the first Republican presidential debate earlier in the year, stating “… you get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want!“.
While we all know that interviewees, from politicians to businessmen, don’t always answer the question they were asked – they often use a technique known as bridging to get from the question that they’ve been asked to the message they want to communicate – its rare that they simply fail to respond at all. This approach shows contempt for the journalist; disrespect for the audience; and makes you appear dishonest and that you have something to hide. If you really don’t want to answer a question then explaining to a reporter that you can’t, or aren’t able to answer it, is preferable to simply ignoring the question.
Mr. Romney either isn’t being briefed properly, or isn’t taking the advice of his communications advisors. To show you what happens when an interviewee chooses to avoid an interviewers question take a look at this clip from 1997. It’s a long clip, but worth the investment for anybody either doing, or advising about, media interviews. The main attraction starts about 3 minutes in as Jeremy Paxman asks Conservative MP Michael Howard, the first [of fifteen] ‘Did you threaten to overrule him?”.