Careful What You Say – That Interview Could Backfire

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I’m one of those strange people who doesn’t have cable or satellite television. One of the nice things about the radio I have is that I’m able to listen to a simulcast of financial news network CNBC, and an added benefit of having no picture is that I get to really concentrate on what’s being said by the interviewees. The payoff has been that I’ve come to understand something very simple and very germane to the public relations world: If you don’t have anything intelligent to say, don’t go on television or the radio.

I know it sounds simple, but I’ve been guilty of breaking the rule myself. Usually it was because I didn’t prepare for my media interview beforehand or because I just wasn’t familiar enough with the topic. This is the main reason I turn down so many speaking opportunities. Unless I’m 100 percent knowledgeable about a topic, I don’t want to get up in front of an audience and talk about it.

Still, it’s hard to turn down a public relations opportunity to go on television or the radio. But there’s an inherent risk/reward factor involved with any media interview. Come off sounding like a genius and it was time well spent. Come off sounding like an idiot and you can do considerable public relations damage. Two interviews I heard recently on CNBC really stood out as examples of the latter.

The first was with Jonathan Abrams, the Founder and CEO of Friendster. If you’re not familiar with Friendster, it’s an online “social networking” community that once received $13 million in investment from some big name venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, reportedly spurning a takeover offer from Google. The company was a bit of a media darling, so it wasn’t surprising to hear Abrams interviewed. Unfortunately, he didn’t come off well.

CNBC should basically be called the Stock Market channel. While the entire business world is its focus, the main purpose of CNBC is to provide investors with information. When a private company is profiled it’s usually because there’s a trend occurring that could seep into the public sector. It’s like an advance warning. Bearing that in mind, if you’re the CEO of a private company, you should be prepared to talk about the financial aspect of your company, or at least provide some sort of insight beyond “our company does this” and “people like it.”

Abrams came off as a dot-com owner circa 1999, unable to explain in detail how the company would make money, coming off like someone who shouldn’t be trusted with $13 million. He seemed ill-prepared for the type of questions thrown his way and a bit nervous. I give him credit for not being over-enthusiastic, but it was obvious he was using the wrong media outlet to get his message across. Interviewed by a general interest media outlet, he comes off much better.

The other bad interview  was with CEO Jeffrey Boyd. A few minutes after reporting quarterly earnings and just minutes before his company’s conference call with investors and analysts, Boyd was interviewed on CNBC. The company had reported a solid quarter, but there was also some bad news on the horizon and some surprising revelations involving some new expenditures. What you had was a mixed-bag of good/bad news that needed public relations spin.

As I listened to Boyd being interviewed, I watched the value of stock decline. Boyd was stiff and boring. His answers were rehearsed, scripted. The interviewer started soft and then laid into Boyd, asking about and its bad news. Boyd seemed over-prepared and obviously concerned about the interview. This was all rather strange considering that the conference call taking place moments later was more important. The interview set the tone for the call and investors, not exactly being riveted by Boyd’s performance, sent stock even lower.

It’s important to be prepared for interviews. That entails knowing the audience and their interests. It’s fine to talk about the general implications of social networking while on a general news program, but on a financial news program, you need to talk about the business implications of social networking. Likewise, when your company has just reported some bad news, it’s important to sound upbeat and confident, not drowsy.

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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