You agree to an interview, but when the reporter shows up, he suddenly switches to a surprise and controversial topic. You have been ambushed.
You also can be ambushed when a reporter and a cameraman jump you en route to a meeting, asking uncomfortable questions in an equally uncomfortable setting.
The ambush interview is a newsgathering technique reporters employ to get a scoop. They may have new, explosive information or a hunch they will encounter reticence in a news source.
Like any ambush, the ambush interview can be painful. Like any communication crisis, the ambush interview can be a moment of truth where you can shine.
The nature of ambushes makes them hard to anticipate. But corporate leaders, spokespeople, political figures and public agency directors would be wise to prepare. Here are a few tips:
Maintaining good media relations habits is one way to avert ambush interviews. Return calls from reporters so they don't feel the need to ambush you. Establish rapport with the reporters that routinely cover your company, nonprofit or agency, so you have a reservoir of trust. Be straight with reporters. Be willing to talk about the good and the bad, so you build credibility.
The digital age has made virtually anyone a "reporter." While the ambush interview is a challenge, the ambush by someone with a smartphone who records what you thought was a private moment poses a much greater challenge.
If you are someone with any degree of public profile, the best advice is to believe you are in a perpetual ambush zone. Don't let down your guard. Be prudent and thoughtful in what you say and do. Don't be surprised by an ambush.