Media interviews: Go deeper, not wider

(Originally published June 3, 2009)

Seth Godin blogged recently about using the strategies of deeper and wider  to expand a business. His point was that most businesses offering new products or services stay in a narrow band of offerings that appeal only to the markets they’ve already found. This might increase sales incrementally, but it does nothing to expand the business’s reach geographically and into new customer segments.

Godin urges businesses and nonprofits to consider going both deeper and wider. Using the example of a buffet, he says you might go deeper by offering a dozen bacon dishes, including chocolate-covered bacon, and a chocolate-obsessed dessert bar. Now you’ve differentiated yourself so much that people will drive across town and bully their friends into coming with them.

Going wider would mean adding offerings that appeal to vegetarians and healthy eaters.

Godin’s advice is great for those seeking to grow a business. It’s unlike a principle I teach in media training: When doing a media interview, always go deeper, not wider.

The idea is simple. In a productive interview, the spokesperson is well-prepared and has a few simple ideas to convey. Usually, the person’s area of expertise is specialized. As the interview unfolds, the interviewer might have a number of topics he or she wants to explore. The temptation for the spokesperson is to accommodate each and every question, but it should always be resisted. Once spokespeople start swimming in unfamiliar waters, it’s only a matter of time before the current pulls them under.

Al Campanis, one-time general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, paid with the loss of his job by going wider, not deeper, during an interview. In 1987, he and several others appeared on ABC-TV’s Nightline to talk about the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut in major league baseball.

Campanis knew Robinson personally and would have had many wonderful anecdotes to share. Unfortunately, when the interview widened to a discussion of the lack of African-American managers in the major leagues, Campanis made remarks widely criticized as racist. Had he simply said, “I’m here to talk about what a great, wonderful man Jackie was,” he could have gone more deeply into what would have been a productive conversation for him.

When you’re speaking on behalf of your organization, stick with what you know. Don’t allow yourself to be taken into uncharted territory.

Grammar tip: Today let’s discuss “principal” and “principle.” “Principal” can have three meanings. If you take out a loan, the portion of your payment that isn’t interest is principal. The person who heads a school is a principal. The main or major reason is also the principal reason. “Principle,” on the other hand, has to do with guidelines, rules or moral laws. A basic principle of gravity is that what goes up must come down. I can’t cheat on my taxes because it’s against my principles.