Torso of a woman in front of two microphones for a media interview.

Media interviews: Should you give your opinion?

Participating in media interviews is a great way to get your message heard. Research shows that consumers trust independent, third-party media more than most other sources.

I’ve coached hundreds of clients how to be successful in media interviews. And one of the trickier items to navigate is whether you should give your opinion in a media interview.

When you should give your opinion during media interviews

There are times when it is perfectly okay to do so. Such as when your company has the facts and credentials to offer an informed opinion on the topic of the media interview.

But some spokespeople can be tempted to offer their own opinion when asked. And that can cause issues for them and their company.

For example, my business partner George Stenitzer once coached a founder CEO. Who, when asked during a media interview what he thought was going to happen in his industry, went off message and said, “It’s our industry’s nuclear winter.”

Of course the reporter used the quote in the story. And soon the company’s stock price started dropping. Unfortunately, even though my colleague and the executive team asked the CEO to stop using that phrase, he stubbornly continued to use it. For a time, he became known for saying it.

Be careful when giving your opinion in media interviews

While that’s an extreme example, it’s a good reminder to be careful when giving your opinion during a media interview.

On the other hand, if you do it well, offering an opinion during a media interview can help your company and make the resulting story more interesting.

Offering your opinion during an interview can be helpful

“A 2019 RAND Corporation analysis of news in the digital age demonstrates a steady shift toward more subjective journalism. It is especially apparent in cable TV news.  But across all formats, reporters use both facts and the opinions of subject matter experts to provide information to their audiences,” says Elisabeth Ritz, Founder and President, Ritz Communications.

“If you are asked to provide your opinion for an article, it is important to be able to demonstrate your knowledge of the topic. And to provide facts supporting your point of view, as well as your qualifications for providing the opinion.”

When and how to give your opinion during a media interview

The number one thing you can do to safely give your opinion during a media interview is to plan for it.

Start by making a one-page Message Map on the topic of the media interview. Co-create the Message Map with the right stakeholders in your organization. This ensures buy-in for the Message Map – including any opinions it contains.

Roads signs showing "opinion" and "fact" pointing different ways.
When giving your opinion during a media interview, it’s important to have the facts to back it up.

When leadership buys into the message, you know you are expressing the views of your company and can represent those views in a media interview.

If a reporter asks your opinion during a media interview and you haven’t planned for it, think carefully.

Before you answer ask yourself:

  • Is it relevant to the story? If it’s not, you can kindly say something such as, “While that’s an interesting topic, I’m here to speak with you about (state the media interview topic).” If it is relevant to the story, and you know your company’s opinion and can back it up with facts, then it may make sense, and make for a better story, to provide an opinion.
  • Is your opinion the same as the company’s opinion? If you are unsure of your company’s stance on a certain matter, it’s best not to offer an opinion. If you’ve crafted a Message Map and prepared for the interview, then you should be ready to offer an answer that aligns with your company’s view. For example, Siemens CEO Josef Kaeser opines whether it’s helpful to the company or not.
  • Are you a company founder? Then you may take more license to share their opinions. When founders are wise, their opinions help advance the industry and the business. For example, Sir Richard Branson at Virgin Group started his career by opining about domineering professors and bullies in his magazine, Student. Elon Musk opines freely on many topics, such as his support for Greta Thunberg.

When NOT to give your opinion during a media interview

There are also times, such as the earlier “nuclear winter” example, when it’s not appropriate to provide your opinion in a media interview. Think twice about giving your opinion if:

  • Your opinion differs from the company’s official opinion. You are doing the media interview as a representative of your company. Therefore, in the interview you should stick to company messaging – not undercut your company.
  • You don’t have the facts or credentials to back up your opinion. If you can’t point to any evidence as the basis for your opinion or you’re not an expert on the topic, don’t offer an opinion. It could backfire, especially if the reporter interviews someone with credentials who gives a differing opinion.
  • It’s not related to the topic of the interview. I once coached a spokesperson for an interview on a specific technology. At the end of the interview, the reporter said, “Oh by the way, how’s that new contract with (he named a specific company) working out for you?” Thinking nothing of it, the spokesperson answered honestly. We had not yet announced the contract with the customer, so imagine our company’s surprise when the reporter wrote an entire article about the contract in addition the article on technology.

Providing your opinion during a media interview can make the resulting article more interesting and help get your company’s story heard. Creating a Message Map and ensuring you know your company’s stance on the interview topic can help ensure you stay on message.

Need to equip your spokespeople with the tools they need to succeed in media interviews? We can help. Email us today.

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