Media Interviewing 101: You Only Get So Many “Circle Backs”

In our media training programs over the years, one of the key takeaways we try to leave with participants is that if you don’t know something, don’t fake it. Tell the journalist that you don’t have that information or that answer right now, but you will get back to them. And then make sure to close the loop.

This is what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki does quite often in her daily briefings with the White House Press corps. In fact, she’s so proficient at telling reporters that she will have to “circle back” with an answer to a question that it’s already become a meme. That’s not a good thing.

While it may be totally cool to “circle back” on occasion, this should not be standard procedure. Standard procedure is to be prepared for almost all of the questions you will receive (and a few more you won’t receive), and to address them on the spot. That’s how you drive messaging in real time, since so much of news content is reported in real time.  In the time it takes to “circle back” you are losing a valuable opportunity to influence the narrative.

Everyone – from those in your own organization, to the news media and the public – expects you to be prepared. So, when you make a habit of not being able to answer those predictable questions, you begin to erode your credibility.

So, it’s with this in mind that Jen Psaki would be better served to prepare more thoroughly and vigilantly for those daily press briefings. She should work to reduce the number of times she may need to “circle back.” One exercise we do quite a bit in our own media training programs is to role-play and drill intensively on the full range of questions that could come up. This probably should happen daily until it becomes second nature.



Also published on Medium.

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