How to PR: what is bridging in media training?
What is bridging?
Bridging is a technique used by spokespeople to move from a (difficult) question to a prepared key message. This key message is usually related to the question but not necessarily an answer to the question.
Bridging is a common media training technique. It is used by spokespeople to reply to questions that they can't answer for some reason. This can be:
- A negatively framed question: "Why haven't you solved this problem?"
- A question that the spokespersion genuinely can't answer: "How many lives were lost in this fire?"
How to bridge: the ABC(D) framework
The bridging technique is usually taught through the ABC(D) framework.
This framework teaches spokespeople to Acknowledge the question, Bridge to a preapproved key message, Control or Contribute, and - for advanced users - to Dangle a new topic.
- A: Acknowledging the question is arguably the most important part of bridging. It shows the journalist that you understood the question and that you will answer it to the extent that you can answer it.
- B: Bridging is the use of a phrase that signals the fact that you will change the scope of your answer. Very often, this is a phrase such as: "What is important here, is..." or "We shouldn't forget that...", "We have always said that..."
- C: Control or Contribute: This is the part of the answer that follows the "bridge".
- D: Dangle. An advanced technique in bridging. This is the technique of mentioning a very salient new subject in the answer to the journalist. The goal is that the journalist will recognize the salience and ask a follow up question about this new subject. A successful "dangle" can avoid difficult follow up questions from the journalist.
When to use bridging in media interviews: quite often
Bridging is useful at some point in most media interviews. It can be useful whenever you feel that a question in the interview is asked in a way that it will not permit you to explain the corporate position on a subject.
That said, it is most useful in cases where journalists ask very hard and probing questions, and you don't want to appear uninformed, uncommunicative or rude by replying "no comment" or "I can't answer that".
In fact, bridging is useful in any situation where it is important for you to explain clearly to the counterpart what your position is on a subject - whether in business or private life (Indeed, quite a few media trainees told us that bridging has served them well in arguments with teenagers and spouses. ).
Common mistakes in bridging during media interviews
The most common mistake - and the most serious mistake - is to not acknowledge the question of the journalist.
This acknowledgement of the question requires a good deal of precision. Especially in the case of negative questions, acknowledgement shows that you take the question seriously, and that you admit that the question is legitimate.
Take the example: "Your oil company now says it's all about renewable energy. However, only last year you've been tapped on the fingers by a parliamentary commission for infractions on advertising regulation as well as lobbying for coal with misleading arguments. Why should we believe that you're all about renewables today?"
There is no way to avoid this bitter truth - and there is no way to avoid this question. The journalist will be primed to look for evasiveness - and by being evasive, you will raise the stakes.
The good thing is that journalists will also be happy quite quickly with an answer that is not evasive. And that will allow you to wade too deeply into the negativity.
If you do not acknowledge the question, you run the highest risk in media interviews, namely that the interview will be no longer about the subject of the interview - but about you. Some examples will show this.
Case: bridging gone wrong
The following clip shows how bridging can go wrong, specifically when the interviewee does not acknowledge the question. Here’s what happened: Adobe CEO Narayen was in Australia for the opening of new Adobe offices, and gave some interviews to the local tech press. He was asked a question about the odd pricing for Adobe’s Creative Suite. (Adobe’s CS was about $ 1400 more expensive in Australia than in the US, despite being delivered over the internet, both in the US and Australia.) It’s not very logical, and hard to explain.