15 Ways to Handle a Paparazzi Ambush

Imagine the scene, a reporter has been hounding a CEO over a recent scandal. The CEO and their PR team are refusing to offer comment. The reporter mentions this to their senior editor who says “well, it can’t be that important, we’ll drop it and cover something else. How about that missing cat of Mrs. Mayford’s?”. If only this were the case, more likely the editor is liable to say “well what are you waiting for? Doorstep them!”.

Doorstepping someone is the act of a reporter, or twenty, turning up unannounced anywhere, anytime with the intent of grabbing an unprepared statement. No matter what anyone says, it is a stressful experience.

Here are 15 tips on how to manage a media ambush and give a a good impression when protecting your personal brand.

  • You should always ask yourself throughout your personal and professional career; what are the nightmare questions or the few issues you would hate to discuss? Ensuring you prepare a response by confronting the issue head on is crucial. You can also have a legal team draft a pre-prepared statement which you can memorise. Doing this will make the experience far more tolerable than being forced to speak unprepared.
  • If you are ambushed outside, stop what you are doing. Take off your hat or sunglasses then turn to the interviewer and smile saying “hello, how can I help you?“.
  • Take a few deep, slow breaths whilst you wait to hear the full question.
  • Your initial reaction may be to state “no comment” to the aggressive ‘gotcha’ questions. Avoid this, as it sounds incriminating. Instead use every element of your body language and charm to come across polite and professional.
  • Check to see if the journalists are trying to show you any documents; if so, do not look at them any further. Instead regain eye-contact with the reporter and give them a pleasant statement such as “…thank you for bringing these to my attention, I look forward to you sending them to my office so I can clarify this with you once I have had the chance to examine them”.
  • Now is your opportunity to decide if you intend to take part in the interview or not. Establish boundaries by either stating to the crowd and cameras; “ladies and gentlemen I would be happy to make a statement and / or answer one, two or three questions”. Or, you can politely yet firmly excuse yourself and continue moving to your next destination by saying “I would be happy to speak to you in at my home / office / a suitable location at a later date”.
  • Remember if you choose to make a statement, you need to get your main point across in two sentences or less. Your ‘unscheduled interview’ will be edited down to a soundbite. Rhetorical devices work well for this.
  • Your statement will be interrupted with probing questions or accusations. Don’t get angry or frustrated; keep calm and finish your statement.
  • If someone has been killed or hurt, offer genuine sympathy. Don’t fake it, people can tell.
  • You can end the interview with “ladies and gentlemen I will be releasing a full statement later on in the day / week. Thank you for your questions” if necessary.
  • Now get moving! The longer you are stood still the more likely you are to become defensive and make a mistake due to being put on the spot. When leaving ensure you do not push the interviewers out of the way, because this will make you look aggressive. Don’t start running either, this will look cowardly and incriminating.
  • If you are ambushed by a single reporter and cameraman, ask the cameraman to write down the questions or details for you. This will force them to put down the camera; once this happens, you should deliver the bad news to the reporter off-camera and then leave immediately.
  • If the ambush team refuse to leave your property or land, tell them politely yet firmly “ladies and gentlemen this is private property protected by CCTV, please leave immediately or we will contact the local authorities who will ask you to leave”, then return to your home / office. Do not attempt to strongarm your way past the crowd.
  • If you need extra time, ask questions such as “who are you”, “who do you represent” or “could you explain the question in greater detail, please?”
  • If the interview is recorded live and suddenly takes a turn for the worse, don’t panic. Repeat your main statement. If you are pressed with a question you don’t know the answer to, you can either take a risky gamble by saying “I don’t know about that but I’d be happy to look into it” then say nothing else. A more secure route involves saying “well that’s currently unclear, but what I do know is…” and give the journalist a safe fact of the matter.

Richard Di Britannia is a voice, speech and presentation coach who has worked with clients from Google, Amazon and similar Fortune 100 companies. To book a bespoke course on improving your crisis management and communication skills, contact him via his contact page.

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