VIDEO: Spokesman 101 – Know Your Audience

There are many tips when it comes to interviewing with the media. I picked up quite a few during my time at the Massachusetts SPCA when I spoke with the press several times each day. Today I want to share one of the most fundamental tips I learned.

Know Your Audience

“But I’m not after you. I’m after them.” – Nick Naylor

If you are in the PR industry you should instantly recognize the above quote from the film Thank You for Smoking. If you want to refresh your memory, take a moment to watch the scene below, it’s only about a minute.

In this scene, Nick Naylor is speaking about serving on a televised panel of experts where debates break out regularly. His advice is also a wonderful warning to help budding spokespeople when interviewing with the media either one-on-one or during a press conference.


Spokespeople are in a unique position. The words that they speak one minute may not be presented to the public for hours, days, weeks, or even months depending on the media outlet. It is therefore extremely important that they understand the outlet’s audience demographic and stay on message.

Promising spokespeople can easily get caught up in a back and forth with the interviewer if they are not careful. Nick Naylor and interview veterans may thrive in this scenario because of their debate skills however this can be dangerous ground for a maturing spokesperson.

Don’t Bite, Greenhorn

Once the polite banter stops between you and the interviewer, during which you should also always stay on message, and the cameras roll, spokespeople can get hit with any number of questions. Some of the most dangerous questions to respond to are hypothetical scenarios or quotes from another source or opponent of your mission.

These challenges are frequently thrown out by the press to goad you into a sound-bite that fits nicely into their story and can take a novice completely off message. In that moment, when you make a statement directly at your opponent’s comments, you are narrowing the discussion being presented to the hundreds, thousands, or millions of supporters that may see your interview or read the article.

It is always important for up-and-coming spokespeople to remember that when you interview, you are speaking to a broader base of consumers and not only the person holding the microphone to your face. Do not become sidetracked or fall for a distraction. Stay focused and on message.

Next Steps

Once you have interviewed enough times to better control a conversation with the media, then you can practice responding to comments from opponents. The interviewer will not only appreciate you giving them a sound-bite but it will also help you make your delivery succinct. Maybe then you can get someone like Joey Naylor to eat vanilla ice cream just as his dad did.

Final Thought

No matter how many interviews you have under your belt, it is still best to stay away from hypotheticals.

Has a reporter ever gotten you to give an off-message comment you later regretted? Share your stories in the comments section below.


One thought on “VIDEO: Spokesman 101 – Know Your Audience

  1. Great article Brian. I remember when I was starting out I was giving an interview on an animal cruelty investigation and when the camera’s stopped rolling the reporter continued to ask me questions. Thinking I was “off the record” I let my guard down and began talking more freely. Low and behold when the segment aired none of the official interview was used, they did a voice over running b-roll footage using information I didn’t want released. That was the first and last time I ever allowed that to happen.

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