Three interview tips you can learn from Phil Robertson

President Richard Nixon was once asked why he didn’t do more press conferences. His response: “Too much exposure cheapens the product.” It’s advice Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty boys would do well to heed.

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Robertson, the patriarch of the ubiquitous family made famous by the reality show, Duck Dynasty, found himself in the crosshairs of the GBLT crowd and those who kowtow to political correctness by saying in a magazine article that homosexuality is a sin. The network that airs the program, A&E, suspended Robertson and made a statement categorically disagreeing with him. Supposedly the network is considering dropping the show.

Whether one agrees with Robertson is less important than the fact that, as an American, the man has a right to his opinion. But just because Robertson has an opinion doesn’t mean he has to – or should – share it. No, I’m not saying he should suppress his Constitutional right to freedom of speech or his personal convictions. I’m saying he should embrace another bit of biblical instruction when it comes to talking to the media: “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

Here are three interview tips Robertson should have known, and three you’d do well to consider if you are asked by the media to participate in an interview.

1. Know who you are talking to

This really ought to be a no-brainer and certainly falls into the category of media relations 101. Even cursory research would have revealed Phil Robertson and GQ Magazine were not a good match. What could Robertson possibly have gained from being featured in a magazine that is diametrically opposed to everything he morally represents? And what about writer Drew Magary? If Robertson (or more likely his PR rep) had scouted Magary like Robertson scouts a hunting location, he would have found little common ground in the crude and profanity laced ramblings of Magary’s writing. Magary’s GQ article reveals a gratuitous use of profanity that would embarrass any serious journalist.

2. Know when to say no

Researching the reporter and the media outlet requesting an interview ought to help you know when to say no. Personalities and company spokespersons alike have no obligation to consent to an interview, especially when it’s determined there is no personal or organizational benefit to it. Crisis situations are different. In those situations someone must speak on behalf of a person or organization. However, consider the law of supply and demand. Right now Robertson and the boys are in high demand and unfortunately they’ve made themselves readily available (do these guys ever say no?). Why? There is no need. Too much exposure cheapens the product, and worse, it can damage the brand unnecessarily. This interview is one that should have never happened.

3. Know when to say when

And even when you do consent to an interview it doesn’t mean you have to say everything that is on your mind. I applaud Robertson for sticking to his convictions, but spokespeople need to know when to stop. I am certain Robertson’s comments about homosexuality would have gotten national play regardless of where they appeared, even if in a more compatible publication; and I recognize Robertson is a straight shooter and probably doesn’t care how his comments are taken. However, few organizations enjoy the luxury of such a large and rabid fan base. It is possible to tell the truth without telling everything, but you have to know when to say when.

Be wise and gentle, and some research and forethought to what will be said go a long way toward informing wisdom. I wrote about Four Elements of Effective Speaking Points that help  journalists get the information they need, yet also advance the mission of the organization. It is a two-way street, but at the end of the day, it is all about the brand.  You don’t want to be the one to cheapen the product…or crash the stock value.

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