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"But we're not gouging our customers"

Ed Shiller

Ed's Blog

Imagine this: A harried spokesperson, whose visible anxiety hardly conceals a welling inner panic, blathers into the microphone, “but I’m not being defensive and we’re not gouging our customers.”

Not a pretty picture! Neither would be the post-interview debriefing that heaps blame upon the media for taking the statement out of context and for unfairly browbeating the spokesperson to the edge of incoherence! We’ve all been there.

But such communications pitfalls can be avoided in the first place by following my simple “derogatory statement” rule: Set the record straight when reporters’ inaccurate, unfair or defamatory remarks could be harmful to the organization you represent, but don’t repeat the offending words.

So how would you respond if a reporter asks, “I could well understand your defensive posture in the face of mounting consumer protests, so why are you continuing to gouge your customers?”

You could follow the example of the fictional spokesperson above. Or you could begin your reply with a brief phrase – such as “on the contrary,” “In fact,” “absolutely not,” or “well, actually” – that politely and innocuously dismisses as untrue the reporter’s derogatory characterizations and then address consumer satisfaction and price levels, the two issues raised in the reporter’s question.

An effective answer might be along the lines of: “Well, actually, we guarantee our prices to be at or below those advertised by our competitors, a policy that gets high marks from our growing list of customers.”

The opening phrase, “Well, actually,” conveys the intended message that you are not being defensive and you are not gouging your customers, but without the unwanted, and presumably unwarranted, appearance of defensiveness and guilt. The remainder of the answer not only contains the information the reporter requested, but it places your organization in a highly positive light.

By responding in this way, you’re also following another of my rules for giving effective media interviews: Always answer the question the reporter asks.


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