When You Score A Touchdown, Get Off The Field

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 24, 2016 – 5:52 AM

You’ve just delivered the perfect media response. Your answer is on message and perfectly quotable. It will accomplish everything you had hoped.

Then…you say more.

It pains me to see an answer that was brilliant in its first 15 seconds become diluted when it lasts for another minute. An extended answer also risks introducing secondary and tertiary points that offer reporters the ability to quote something relatively unimportant. And sometimes, those unnecessarily long answers lead to a “seven-second stray,” an off-message line that becomes your only quote from the interview.

When I see our trainees deliver a great answer—and then keep going—I tell them this: “When you score a touchdown, get off the field!”

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The tendency to over-answer questions during a media interview usually comes from a good place. We want to make sure our points are understood by our audiences, so we continue to speak and add points until we’re confident that we’ve succeeded.

But since over-explaining during a media interview poses unique hazards, resist the urge to over-explain. Remain conscious of whether you’ve already delivered an on-message quote; once you have, remember that you’ve scored a touchdown and stop talking.

Here’s an example of a typical good exchange:

QUESTION: “Last year, one of your restaurants was fined $2,500 for failing to comply with several city and state food safety codes. Has all of that been addressed?

ANSWER: “Absolutely. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers—and to make sure we’re fully living our values, we retrained every member of our staff, hired two additional certified managers, and conduct quarterly meetings with our staff. I promised last year that we would get this right, and I’m confident that we have.”

That’s a touchdown. The spokesperson should leave the field after scoring six points. But many can’t resist the temptation to say more, which sometimes leads to a seven-second stray.

ANSWER, VERSION TWO: “Absolutely. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers—and to make sure we’re fully living our values, we retrained every member of our staff, hired two additional certified managers, and conduct quarterly meetings with our staff. I promised last year that we would get this right, and I’m confident that we have. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t new. We really did train our staff on this stuff before, but there’s not much you can do if one rogue employee fails to do what you’ve taught them, which is what happened last year.”

If that final line is the one the journalist decides to quote, you’ve lost the interview.

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Sometimes, the extended answer isn’t a seven-second stray, but more of an information dump. The result can be just as damaging.

ANSWER, VERSION THREE: “Absolutely. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers—and to make sure we’re fully living our values, we retrained every member of our staff, hired two additional certified managers, and conduct quarterly meetings with our staff. I promised last year that we would get this right, and I’m confident that we have. For example, we had another meeting last week, and I reminded them to make sure they use one cutting board for raw proteins and another one for produce. The new kids think nothing of cutting a raw chicken breast on a cutting board and then cutting a tomato on the same board two seconds later. We have to constantly harp on them to get a new board.”

Imagine how the news story from version three might have come out:

NEWS STORY: “Since being fined $2,500 for poor food safety measures last year, Brad’s Restaurant has put new training measures into place. But new employees are still not always following procedure. According to restaurant owner Brad Phillips, ‘We have to constantly harp on them.’”

How heartbreaking it is to see a touchdown taken off the scoreboard.

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