5 Good Reasons to Turn Down a Media Interview

In my 20 something years in PR, I could count on one hand the times I have advised a client to turn down a media interview, or at least advised them not respond to a story.  It’s a rarity, especially working in the PR world where we embrace publicity with all our might. However, there are valid times when refusing an interview will be a far more effective move and one that will minimise or avoid reputational damage.    From the outset I have to be very clear that I am not advocating a “no comment” response (there is never a time when this response is appropriate) but you can turn down an interview yet still respond.

Here’s how:

1. Its not your area of expertise

I have been approached in the past by media asking me to provide expertise around various topics.  While there may be a loose connection, if it really isn’t your specialty area, then don’t comment. It won’t do your reputation any good to try to be something you are not and may potentially backfire.  Politely refuse and say why.  Even better, recommend an expert you know who is in a better position to respond.

 

2. The issue is negative and it isn’t yours

Let’s say there was an industry issue.  A competitor has been found to be doing the wrong thing and they are currently being profiled in the most negative light.   Being one of that company’s strongest competitors, you have been approached by a journalist to add commentary.  It sounds like it might be a good opportunity to gain the edge over your competitor, right? Wrong!   While it may seem like a positive move, the fallout will be that when audiences hear or read about this issue, your name will be associated with it.  Politely decline and advise that you aren’t in a position to comment on other organisation’s actions.

 

3. The timing is wrong

Its imminent.  You are on the verge of making an announcement – good (significant growth) or bad (significant loss).  Its too early to announce the good news and hopefully you have a media strategy in place which embraces a broader campaign.  Its too early to announce the bad news, you may have to lay people off and this is definitely not something you want employees and their families reading about in the media.     Either way, politely refuse but tell the journalist you will be in touch in the near future when you are in a position to offer a story.

 

4. You don’t have a media training spokesperson

A poor performance in the media – radio, television or print – can do considerable and sometimes irreparable damage to the reputation and goodwill of an individual or organisation.  In the case of a contentious issue, the worst action you can take is throw an untrained spokesperson into the spotlight and painfully watch them writhe under the scrutiny of an investigative journalist.  If there is an issue that needs a response but your spokesperson isn’t media ready, then issuing a carefully crafted media statement would be the best way forward.   You are still responding, but it will be contrived and controlled with the messages you want heard.

5. It’s a legal issue

You or your company are in a legal battle or an issue is currently being investigated.   A media ban is advice that usually emanates from a lawyer but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t communicate.  This is again one of those situations where you should refuse the interview, and say why, but provide a short statement or comment that doesn’t go into the specifics but addresses the reasons you are taking action and the outcome you hope for.

 

There are some occasions where silence or a “no comment” reply can do more reputational damage than good.  In almost every case I would advocate communication and some sort of response.  The key is in both the content and the way you respond. Journalists have a job to do and so do you.  So while at times your objectives and theirs may not be aligned, its important to maintain professionalism and courtesy on every occasion.