As we explain in our specialist media training courses for architects, what you shouldn’t say or do to a journalist during an interview is as every bit as important as what you should say and do. So, here are our top media interview no-no’s – plus some suggestions about what you should say or do instead.
1.“I’m surprised that you don’t know about this already.”
We know that as architects you spend years training and gaining working experience to ensure that you’re experts on every detail but journalists tend to take a broad brush approach. With newsroom headcounts slashed and journalists having to produce more with less, many of them have even less knowledge of a particular subject.
Yes, there are some writers who specialise in a particular subject these days but most are generalists. Even if they’re working for an architecture, construction or planning publication they might be covering a wide range of topics. They might also be new to the sector – they’ve either just started out in journalism or last week they were writing for Retail Week or Potato Storage International (it really does exist).
Instead: Talk to your PR company or Corporate Comms team about the journalist to find out whether they’re a specialist and what line they tend to take on particular issues. You can also start the interview with a friendly enquiry such as “So, what stage of your research are you at with this?” In many cases the journalist will be happy to confess that they’d like you to talk them through it.
2.“Off the record…”
Our recent blog on this subject got a great response. It’s widely used, especially in political and business journalism but there’s very little consensus among the journalists that we’ve spoken to about what this phrase actually means in practice. What will the journalist do with any information given to them under these circumstances? Well, that depends on the situation.
Instead: Assume that everything you say to a journalist during an interview can be printed and attributed to you. If you’re meeting them face to face on a site or at your offices or if you’ve encountered them at a reception, you can be friendly and helpful but just remember – you could still be quoted!
“How architects talk: ‘Spatiality, interrogation, materiality, praxis.’,” Tom Dyckhoff Tweeted recently. “What the rest of the world hears: ‘Blah, blah, blah.’ Poor communication skills start in architecture school and get worse from there. No wonder architecture’s in the state it’s in.”
We couldn’t agree more. We love the fact that as architects you have passion, vision and a genuine desire to make a better built environment – that’s why we love working with you.
Instead: We want to hear you talk about all of the above qualities in everyday language. Even if my audience can just about translate the jargon that you’re using, you’re not speaking the same language as them and so you’ve immediately alienated them. If you’re talking to the local media about a new project then the language of the pub or coffee shop is all the more important. Even for specialist publications, natural, punchy words and phrases work best. If you need to use a technical term then explain it.
4.“I’ll want to check what you’ve written before it’s published.”
Here too, the blog we wrote created a lot of interest – especially from Communications and PR professionals as well as journalists from abroad. We work around the world – even more so now, thanks to Zoom and Teams. In most cultures what’s known as “copy approval” simply isn’t possible – and, if anything, will only irritate a journalist. There just isn’t time to ping-pong text backwards and forwards until both sides are happy with the wording. As we say in our media coaching sessions for architects firms – you’re in charge of what you say and the journalist is in charge of how they use it.
Instead: Be very clear on your messages so that the journalist has a clear idea of what you want to get across to them. Given that architecture is a complex technical business, you might want to offer – and only offer, please don’t demand – to check your quotes. Just explain that you know that the journalist will want to get it right as much as you do.
5.“Can I get back to you next week, I’m really busy at the moment.”
The answer is probably “no” because I’ll have finished the story by then and I’ll be on to another one, or two, or three.
Instead: If you really don’t have time –and we appreciate you’re very busy – then try to find somebody else within the organisation who is available. We work closely with the in-house Comms teams and PR companies of the architectural firms that we provide media training for and so here’s a plea from them – please respond to their request for you to speak to a journalist as soon as possible, even if you can’t do it.
We know that journalists are often pushy and demanding and that they might have interviewed you and then what you said never appeared. We hear it a lot in our media training courses for architects. However, avoiding saying the wrong thing as we’ve listed above and choosing instead something more appropriate as we’ve suggested will help Corporate Communications and Public Relations professionals to handle them.
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