How To Survive An Ambush Interview (Part One)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 9, 2012 – 6:12 am

When most people think of ambush interviews, they think of a television interviewer chasing after a scandal-tarred executive in an empty parking lot with camera and microphone in tow. Those types of ambushes do occur occasionally, but they’re somewhat rare.

More typically, an ambush occurs in one of two ways:

  1. 1. When a reporter shows up without notice (the topic of this post)
  2. 2. When a reporter deviates from the agreed-upon topic to blindside a source with something totally unexpected (the topic of part two)

In both cases, the reporter is after one thing: A great visual that makes you look guilty. If you respond with defensiveness, anger, or shock, the news outlet will run the tape of your bad reaction repeatedly, often for days.

You win an ambush by denying the reporter a great visual. If you’re ever ambushed, remember the advice offered in that old deodorant ad: Never let ‘em see you sweat. By remaining calm, you can prevent reporters from getting the compelling “money” shot they desire.

What Not To Do In an Ambush

Dick Fleming, the President and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA), didn’t adhere to those rules when he was ambushed last April, going so far as to hide behind milk crates in the back of a hotel conference room (full story here).

What You Should Do In an Ambush

So what should you say when a reporter shows up without warning? Try something like this:

“Thank you for coming. I’d be happy to speak with you. I wish I knew you were coming – I have a meeting scheduled in a few minutes that I’m already running late for. Please contact my office so we can set up a time to talk.”

 

Then, walk to your destination. To avoid the devastating “walking away with back to camera” shot, consider continuing to face the reporter as you walk backwards, delivering the same message a second time. Deny them the defensive-looking visual!

Below is one of my favorite examples of an ambushee turning the tables on the ambusher. When one of Bill O’Reilly’s producers ambushed liberal television host Bill Moyers, Mr. Moyers didn’t show a hint of defensiveness. Even better, he used the audience against the ambusher, invited Mr. O’Reilly on his show, and formed a personal bond with the ambusher.

The perfect ending of this video? The tables were turned on Mr. O’Reilly’s producer after the ambush ended. He defensively walked away, his back to the camera the entire time. 

Click here to read part two of this series.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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