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Negotiating with the media: Debunking the myth

Ed Shiller

Ed's Blog

A reporter calls you for an interview with your new CEO. She'd like to do a profile for the weekend business section and was wondering whether it would be convenient to come to your office next Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Okay," you say tentatively, "what sort of things would you like to cover?"

"You know, the usual stuff about the challenges of the new job, his vision of the company, any changes in management style," the reporter replies.

Armed with this intelligence, you call the CEO, pass on the reporter's request to him through his administrative assistant, and within the hour the CEO pops into your office for a chat about the impending interview.

Tuesday afternoon's fine, the CEO says, but he also wants you to tell the reporter that a couple of topics are off limits. No questions about why he left his last position, and no questions about his divorce and subsequent marriage to a younger women.

The battle lines are drawn: The reporter agrees to these conditions - or no interview. And your instructions are clear: Get hold of the reporter and start negotiating.

You feel uncomfortable about doing this, but your concerns evaporate when the reporter readily agrees to the restrictions you impose.

You relay the happy news to your boss. Everything seems to be working out fine.

The interview starts out on a high note as the reporter - charming, smiling, apparently harmless - greets a gracious and self-assured CEO. And the first couple of questions reinforce your initial optimism.

Then the reporter coyly asks: "Why did you leave your last job?" The CEO jumps up angrily and orders an end to the interview. And this outburst forms the cornerstone of the published profile.

The lesson should be clear: Never negotiate with the reporter. Chances are the reporter will break the deal, and your righteous indignation will spur you to an action you will regret.

Grant the reporter's right to ask any question, and then meet your obligation to answer it honestly. Such an answer may be: "The reasons I left my last job are a private matter between me and the company." This is still better than losing your temper.


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