Not Every Media Interview is a Good Public Relations Opportunity

Imagine that you are a horse breeder. You agree to do an interview for a live television show. Once the interview starts, the anchor begins asking you questions about dogs and dog breeding. You can answer the questions in general terms, but you don’t want to try to offer advice or insight on a topic that you’re not entirely familiar with. This is what happened to me recently when I did a live phone interview with a cable news network. And I learned how quickly a “gimme” public relations opportunity can go sour.

It had been a busy week at my investment research company. I fielded many calls from the media and been interviewed more times than I could count. I spent hours putting together research, spreadsheets, and other material for journalists. This is all part of my job, but it’s not part of my core responsibilities. I’d rather spend 100 percent of my time dealing with clients. Regardless, media exposure is important for my company, so I played the game.

The Monday phone interview was not something that I wanted to do and I actually turned down an opportunity to appear on camera because of the time involved. The cable network in question does not reach my company’s core audience, and the only upside to the interview was establishing a contact at the cable network that could be helpful down the road for another part of our company. Even that excuse was a stretch; let’s just say I did the interview out of professional courtesy.

The interview lasted about three-and-a-half minutes and I probably spent a total of 10 seconds talking about subjects that fell within my area of expertise. The other questions would have been best aimed at someone who manages money for a living, someone comfortable providing investment advice to retail investors. At one point I literally had to say, “I’m not a registered advisor, so I can only talk in general terms.” This is an interview kiss-of-death because it makes the viewer wonder what I’m doing on the air or why the interviewer is asking me these questions.

Looking back at my email exchange with the producer, it’s apparent that what happened is my fault. The producer never explained what the interview was going to be about and in an effort to be helpful, I provided her with some insights that have nothing to do with my job. The producer decided to focus the interview around those insights. I should have confirmed the interview’s focus ahead of time, and if it was outside of my comfort zone, I could have demurred.

The television interview wasn’t the only public relations mistake I made this week.

Twice I was interviewed for a major television network’s web site and both times the interviews covered topics outside my area of expertise. The results were better than the cable network interview, but again, it didn’t make sense for me to spend the time and energy talking to a media outlet that doesn’t reach my core audience, let alone attaching my name to a subject that has little to do with my company’s business.

I can only blame my ego or perhaps fatigue for these public relations blunders. Otherwise, I’m drawing a blank as to why I would ignore the meda interview tips I’ve given to PR Fuel readers in the past:

1. Focus on media outlets that reach your core audience, not necessarily the largest audience.

2. Don’t speak to the media about subjects that you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.

3. Before any media interview, especially television and radio spots, ask specifically what topics will be covered and be honest about whether or not you can and are willing to speak about them.

4. Every opportunity for press is not a good opportunity.

Luckily no harm was done as a result of me ignoring my own tips, but the results could have easily been worse. Hopefully, I’ve learned my lesson. Again.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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