PR Bridging 101: How to Answer the Unexpected Question

Imagine yourself heading into a media interview; your enthusiasm is running high and you’re equipped with your talking points. And then it happens—the reporter asks you a question you either don’t know the answer to or don’t want to discuss. Fortunately, you can avoid the deer-in-headlights panic by employing a bridging technique.

Bridging refers to a statement that allows you to acknowledge the reporter’s question and then transition (or bridge) back to your key messages, thus avoiding the dreaded “no comment” response and refocusing the interview.

While you will have your own agenda for the interview, so will the reporter – both parties are likely to steer the conversation in unexpected ways. This is not the time to be unwilling or steamroll past an uncomfortable question. There is an art to bridging and it requires practice; here’s a collection of our best tips for a smooth crossing:

Do:

  • Prepare – review your talking points, key messages and any stats or figures that should be top of mind. It may be helpful to rehearse how you want to convey them.
  • Research – look into the reporter’s archive to see what types of articles they write, their journalistic tone, audience, etc. You may discover something they’ve written recently that you can tie into your conversation. (they will have researched you, so it’s best to make this a 2-way practice)
  • Create a list of questions you think the reporter may ask you to help rehearse your talking points and delivery.
  • Make a list of bridging statements to keep in your back pocket. More on those later.

Don’t:

  • Wing it. If you truly don’t know how to answer a question, don’t speculate. It’s better to admit your uncertainty, offer to check and get back to the reporter with an accurate answer, and then transition back to your messages.
  • Fall for the silent treatment. Some journalists will leave “deep air” and be silent, hoping you will feel obligated to start talking and possibly spill some information.
  • Say “no comment.” It can make you seem unintentionally suspicious (and often uncooperative), so it’s better to use a bridging technique than say nothing at all.
  • Repeat an inaccurate statement. At the risk of being improperly quoted, simply correct the inaccuracy and move on.
  • Think there is such a thing as “off the record.” Never say anything you wouldn’t want quoted – the mic is always on.
  • Come back across the bridge – once you’ve transitioned into your messages, don’t go back to the reporter’s question. Otherwise, you are inviting further discussion on a topic you don’t want to discuss.

There’s more than one way to bridge. Figure out what is most comfortable for you and what will be most natural to the conversation. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • “While (that) is important, we find the more important issue is….”
  • “Let me emphasize…”
  • “X is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, but if we look at the big picture…”
  • “Before we move on, let me just say…”
  • “That’s a great question. Admittedly I’m not sure, but I’m happy to check on that for you/I’m happy to connect you with my colleague who focuses on that”
  • “I cannot speak for X company, but what I can say is…”

Here’s a longer list.

You may want to consider working with a PR agency to help you prepare your talking points and review proper bridging technique. Through simulated interviews, you will get a clearer understanding of how to bridge comfortably and smoothly. Reporters can spot a bridge, especially a clumsy one. Stumbling away from a topic can position you as unprofessional or unprepared, especially during a broadcast interview. We’ve all seen political interviews when the candidate infuriatingly steamrolls past the question and recites a clearly rehearsed answer. This is not proper bridging and is annoying to both the viewers and journalist. Those most skilled at bridging can quickly reframe questions in a way to positively transition to their messages, but framing is a topic for another blog post—stay tuned!

 

 

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