Never Comment On Unfamiliar Documentation In An Interview (Part 3 of 5)

In our series related to “5 Things You Never Do in an Interview,” No. 3 on our list relates to responding to documentation. In short, never respond to materials presented to you in an interview that you have not previously had the opportunity to thoroughly review. This includes written material (reports, emails, court papers, news articles written about you or your company), video, photos, tweets, or other documentation that a reporter may introduce to you during an interview. 

Reporters have many tactics. Once you learn to spot some of the more aggressive tricks, you become a savvy interviewee. In our industry of Skilled Nursing and Long-Term Care, some reporters like to create uncomfortable situations to create a new story for the day. If, or when, this happens to you, consider yourself the target of a sensational reporter. 

If you reference our other articles in our “Never” series, you know that you have rights. One of those rights is to review and have time to validate the material presented to you. So here is what you should do if you find yourself dealing with a relentless reporter, a camera that is rolling and a document or cell phone video shoved in your face.

1.      Say, “Thank you.” Shocking, I know. Thank the reporter for visiting and giving you the opportunity to review this material. Then say, “May I have this copy so that I can review this and give you an appropriate response.” Nine times out of 10 this response will keep you out of the news because it is boring.

2.      If they say anything else….repeat No. 1. You may know the employee in the video, this may look like the court case you are involved in, or this may be a letter from the famously aggressive family that you deal with every day. It doesn’t matter – you have the right to review the material in its entirety.

3.      Don’t give into the dirty tactics. If someone has confronted you with material of any kind, you don’t know if it has been altered, edited or manipulated. You have the right to review this material before you comment on it.

4.      Assure the reporter that you are interested in reviewing this material and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

5.      That. Is. It. Stop talking and keep repeating the thank you message in No. 1.

Sensational journalism is all about catching you off-guard and putting you under the gun as you stumble over your words. Depending on the reputation you have built in the community and the relationships you have with various stakeholders, positioning you and your facility in an unfavorable light can do significant damage.

Most skilled communications professionals invest in building key relationships with reporters and will build community good-will programs that help create trust and balance on your behalf. In these cases, reporters we know or communicate with on a regular basis will give you a call, first.

But good-will programs are just one step. There’s also good ol’ fashioned education and information. You are the expert in your industry. Reporters do not have the depth of knowledge you do. It pays to spend time and educate reporters. I have often re-educated, clarified and provided proof to reporters who were tracking down a dangerously inaccurate and potentially “Fake News” path only to lead them to a more comprehensive story rooted in facts and truth. It doesn’t have to be sensational and damaging to rate as good news. Most reporters want to get it right. Many reporters understand that great stories are about having reliable, trusted sources and people who will talk to you. Without people to quote or interview, a story can become baseless and boring. Boring will land a story on the editing floor. 

Make no mistake – everything is “on the record” all the time. So be prepared and be aware of some avoidable interviewee mistakes.

After you have sent the message that you won’t be making an on-camera statement until you have had an opportunity to review the documentation, be sure to get the name, email, phone and deadline of the reporter – and enjoy the win of gracefully walking away. Call your communications department or Trifecta Public Strategies to help you navigate the follow-up and next steps. A confident interviewee with a great story to tell makes great TV. Nothing boring about that!

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