Handling difficult media interviews

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Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), was interviewed as part of the recent “Nightline” segment. While only a few seconds of his interview aired in the segment, preparation played a critical role in responding to tough questions.

Q: How did you prepare for the interview?
A: I reviewed existing industry messages on animal care, milk quality, food safety, and other topics that I suspected would come up. I practiced answers for at least 12 different topics. I also developed some new points that would make good sound bites because I needed short and catchy phrases for my responses. I also rehearsed with a media trainer playing a hostile interviewer and did the same with my wife (who is also skilled in media training and messaging, but not usually as hostile). 

Q: How did this process differ from other media interviews you’ve conducted? Did the “investigative” interview differ from a straight news interview?
A:
This was certainly the most confrontational interview I have ever experienced. I also had not anticipated as many questions on somatic cell count levels. The reporter assumed that bad things are happening on dairy farms. The presumption was guilt, not innocence. Being on the proverbial witness stand, I was on the defensive and had to demonstrate the industry’s innocence while looking at videos indicating otherwise.

Q: Knowing the reporting team had an agenda for the interview, how did you make sure your points came across?
A: I knew it would be critical, so I planned for the worst. I assumed that the video generating the coverage would be the same that PETA put on its Web site last fall. The main thing to ensure my point got across was to state the same message several times, using similar phrases. The “World News Tonight” and “Nightline” stories used different sound bites, but both were positive affirmations about animal care that I had prepared.

Q: Did this interview offer you any new perspectives on how the industry addresses the public about on-farm practices?
A: During the interview, and now in the aftermath, the role of NMPF — and for other dairy producers, perhaps — is this: We have to defend practices that are justifiable, criticize practices that are not, and exercise the discretion and wisdom to know the difference. This involves not assuming the worst about a farm operation based on a hidden video, but also making clear that obviously unacceptable practices, such as hitting a cow with a wrench, are not OK. Of all the lessons here, that is the most important.

Q: What would you recommend to dairy producers/industry representatives who receive questions from investigative reporters?
A: Do your homework on messages and practice with another person. Don’t feel you have to answer every question or justify what somebody else is seen doing. You can only talk about your own farm.

Source: Dairy Management, Inc.

 



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