Controlling interviews with core messages

Controlling a media interview is vital if it’s to work for you. Bridging, closing off and positive messaging are all brilliant ways to ensure it’s your message that gets transmitted. Yet probably the most effective, and simplest, interview control technique is one that people often overlook – the Core Message.  Basically, be very clear on your central point and make it the heart of your messaging strategy for the interview.

Ducks in a row

If you’ve been media trained you will know that it’s a good idea to prepare for a media interview by coming up with three key messages (or four or five, depending on the trainer).

The problem with this ‘linear’ three (or four or five) key message model is that it allows you to talk across the subject but never actually get to the nub of your argument. And believe me, people do. The result is the viewer or listener comes away confused as to the point of the interview:

For example, let’s say I’m working up a strategy for an interview about my lifestyle.  In the course of a three minute interview I might plan to explore my desire to get fit, lose weight and eat a healthy diet.  But I might never get round to the real central issue: that I’m doing all this to avoid diabetes 2, a potentially deadly health condition which is avoidable through diet, weight loss and exercise.

Sure, keeping fit, weight loss and healthy diet are all perfectly good key messages, but the all-important central focus of the interview – the desire to eschew diabetes – is missing.

Central focus

To be in full control of this interview I need to re-plan my approach  with a Core Message, such as “Diabetes 2 can kill you or wreck your life and I don’t intend to get it”, and then add the key Messages, such as diet, losing weight and exercise:

As the name implies, the Core Message forms the central anchor of the interview, while key messages feed in and out of it.

You can start the interview with the Core Message, which will grab and hold the audience’s attention in the first few seconds.  You can also pop it in again as you trundle through the interview.  And on the good old principle of “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em”, you can also end the interview with the Core Message.

Missing link

Sometimes the core message is not so obvious.  I recently asked a group of senior managers to summarise their corporate position on an issue that faced them. They all looked at each other blankly. None of them had ever thought to reduce their mission statement to a simple one-liner.

A while ago I was brought in to advise a spokes who was struggling to justify the controversial siting of a processing facility. My suggested Core Message was the unintuitive “The plant will be a good thing for the town”.  Nested in positive key messages about benefits to local trade and jobs, along with assurances on site security, this simple central concept provided the necessary focus for controlling the agenda in media interviews.

Core values

What is your Core Message? It may be rooted in an appeal to your audience or a call to action, or respond to a challenge from critics. It’s why you’re doing the interview.  It’s your position summarised in one or at most two phrases or short sentences.

You can maximise its news value by coupling your Core Message with the needs or concerns of the audience.

Research has shown that news value has two key ingredients: change, and relevance to the security of the audience.  To maximise the ‘hit’ of your interview look for the element of change in your story and its relevance for the security concern of the audience.  Then weave those into your Core Message.

Developing a set of key and core messages is a vital part of interview preparation.  Go into an interview hoping for the best and the best won’t happen.    Know what you want to say and laser-focus that down to one killing central point and supporting key messages and you or your interviewee will be confident and in control of the media encounter.

For more on this and other great hints and tips on interview management check out my Kindle books Handling Media Interviews and What is News?

If you’d like to commission a bespoke media training course, contact the CIPR training team on 020 7631 6900 or by email at

Image credit: pexels

Related Content

A campaign must have total certainty about its audience – do your research!
Twitter outrage – knowing your audience
10 things to prepare before every media interview
CIPR’s Integrated Report ‘helps build stakeholder confidence’

John Whyte-Venables MCIPR delivers the CIPR's 'Creating Video Content for the Web', 'Making Smartphone Videos for Social Media' and 'Smartphone Video Masterclass' courses. He is also a media trainer with 30 years' experience. A former BBC multimedia journalist and Press Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, he is the author of 'What is News?' and 'Handling Media Interviews'.

Leave a Reply