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Crisis Management Hot Seat: The Ambush Interview (and How to Survive it)

By Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications:


There are a few surefire ways to ensure you, as a representative of your organization, can get on TV:

  • Run as fast as you can from a reporter and videographer
  • Grab the videographer’s camera lens and wrestle with it
  • Jump in your car and floor it
  • Slam your front door in a reporter’s face

Any of these techniques are guaranteed to work. Generally, we see this sort of behavior in people who are the subject of a television ambush interview. People who are experienced, rational, successful business professionals. People who are prominent in their communities. People who have probably participated in successful TV interviews, but have never been on the business side of an investigative reporter’s microphone when there’s a particularly ugly crisis and the heat is on full blast.

In my tenure running TV newsrooms, nothing made me more gleeful than a reporter skipping into the newsroom grinning ear-to-ear telling me “…you GOTTA see this one,” and playing back video chasing a mortified ambushee into a building or around a car.

Guess what video was used in each and every news promotion spot that day? And guess what video got edited into each and every follow-up to the original story? I haven’t even mentioned its use on social media news sites – or the possibility it goes viral, turning up on the first page of Google searches for years.

It makes me sad, because it just doesn’t have to be this way. The best way to handle an ambush interview? Don’t give the reporter anything they can use.

If you are getting in your car and suddenly a microphone is stuck in your face and a red-faced reporter is bellowing provocative questions at you, muster all your inner strength, take a deep breath, and as politely and as calmly as you can, get out of your car (or out of your house, etc.) and calmly say, “I will be glad to talk about this. I can’t do it right now, but I can meet you in 15 minutes.” If the reporter insists, calmly repeat it again. And again.

Is that exciting TV? Of course not, and the reporter will never use it in a story. If you can keep your cool and buy a little time to prepare, and do the interview in a neutral location you’ve successfully turned an ambush interview into an opportunity to deliver a meaningful message.


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