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Don’t just answer the question

Media Training Basics: Don’t just answer the question

Imagine this ridiculous scene: You go to a doctor with some slightly worrying set of symptoms in the hope that he or she can reassure you or at least throw some light on what ails you. However, on this particular day your doctor refuses to do anything but answer questions. She (let’s say) has a huge wealth of medical knowledge that would be very useful to you but she refuses to share it unless you ask the right question. Ridiculous I hear you say. No one would behave like that!

Don’t just answer the question

But actually, this is exactly what most novice interviewees do in a media interview. They just answer the question.

Don’t just answer the question: know what you are there to say

In our book, media interviews should never be about just answering questions. You should arrive at the microphone or in front of the journalist knowing what you are there to say. This is absolutely not to say you should ignore the journalists’ questions. That is really annoying for both the journalist and any audience.

Of course, it is clear to all PR professionals that working out what the interviewee is there to say is not so straight forward.

Don’t just answer the question

Why knowing what to say is not so simple

Firstly, if the identified senior business executive spends most of his life talking to colleagues or fellow professionals, he will likely assume knowledge that a general audience doesn’t have and use jargon and technical language that is inappropriate.

Second, he will almost always forget to fill in the context. It is another version of assuming knowledge. One of my training colleagues likes to say ‘don’t forget to state the blooming obvious’.

Thirdly, in business, if you talk to a general audience about making money you are not going to get a good hearing. In the UK making money, whilst necessary, is thought to be a rather grubby activity.

And actually, it is probably not the important point. In fact, most business people spend most of their time worrying about doing a good job for their customers, they only think about costs and margins when talking to the boss. The problem is, if they treat the journalist as they would a grilling from the boss they will come across as hard-hearted and grasping rather than on the side of the angels. (There is an exception to this for financial and investment media who think making money is good. As we all know you have to tailor the message.)

Be credible

So, any spokesperson has to be helped to build a narrative that tells the story that needs to be told. That story needs to be rehearsed so they show up at an interview knowing what they are there to say. If they don’t they will just answer the questions.

And then they must be able to take the opportunity opened by a journalists question to land a message – but do this in a credible way. Credibility and likeability are the holy grail here.

Don’t just answer the question

Who does not have this ability?

• Theresa May. She ignores questions and lands her message without credibility.
• Donald Trump. He usually has no message and makes up a new one in response to the question. Alternatively, he trots out some tired platitude such as ‘Making America great again’ which works for him it seems but is not a strategy we endorse.
• Most Friday Boss participants on Radio 4’s Today programme. They rarely get beyond answering the question.

Who does have this ability?

• David Davis. Generally brilliant at answering the question but then moving to what he wants to say.
•  John McDonnell. Also brilliant these days in the toughest of interviews.
• Nigel Farage. You don’t have to agree with anything he says to know he is an excellent political communicator.
•  Nick Clegg. Continues to impress despite the tide of history turning against him.
• From the business community, Sir Martin Sorrell is always a prepared and credible interviewee.

We think most media trainers – our competitors – just prove how difficult media interviews can be. We constantly work with our clients to help them identify the messages and then codify them in a way that can be easily remembered in the interview.

If you watch or hear examples of bad (or brilliant) interviews do let us know. We are always looking for examples to use in our training.

PR Basics

PR Basics: Don’t overpromise  

PR basics include a rule that you don’t promise something you may not be able to deliver. If there was one outstanding headline from last week’s UK budget it was that the Tories had broken a promise not to raise National Insurance. Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced in the budget on Wednesday measures that included a tax rise for the self-employed despite the previous manifesto promise not to do so.

PR Basics, Philip Hammond

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond is said to have broken a manifesto promise not to increase National Insurance

According to the Guardian newspaper: ‘The Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto was unequivocal, promising four times that a Tory government would not increase National Insurance. It did not mention the self-employed and offered future chancellors no wriggle room.’

PR Basics: Avoid public U-turns if possible

For us, the PR Rule broken here is don’t say something that you might later have to backtrack on.

If we want another hugely damaging example from politics we have only to remember the Liberal Democrats 2010 manifesto promise to scrap tuition fees. This was an election promise made before they found themselves in a coalition with a Tory party.  Personally, I feel that makes a material difference but the electorate is much less forgiving and the tuition fees broken promise seems to have ruined the career of Nick Clegg, one of the most able politicians of his generation. Not to mention wiping out the LibDem presence in the House of Commons. 

PR Basics

Even incorrect forecasting can be damaging. During the Brexit debate in the UK, those who argued the markets would ‘punish’ the UK if Vote Leave were to win, have since been publically lambasted because their predictions did not (fully) materialise. The public often does not make the distinction between a forecast – a best guess about the future – and a firm warning of what might happen. (My mother constantly rails against the weather forecast, which she says is ‘always wrong’. No amount of me pointing out it is a ‘forecast’ and not a promise makes any difference. These people are ‘misleading’ her.)

PR Basics: Avoid any ‘hostage to fortune’ 

Businesses too can fall foul of overpromising. Way back when, I clearly remember the, to me, avoidable pressure on the Chief Executive (later Chairman) of Rentokil who had overpromised. Sir Clive Thompson was always described as the ‘self-styled Mr. 20%’. I am not sure who used the phrase first but Sir Clive was certainly not unhappy with it. He delivered something like 20% growth in Rentokil profits every year for 13 years! But when in 1999 he moved to lower the target investors took their revenge. Even as a journalist I thought Sir Clive crazy to set this near impossible target for himself. He was ‘kicked upstairs’ to Chairman and finally ousted in 2004, apparently for ‘being too obsessed with meeting short-term targets’.  It seemed he could not detach himself from the Mr. 20% label.

It is something we come across often in training. Enthusiastic executives of course have a vision they are working toward. But while talking in broad brush strokes is fine, often it does not do to share the detail of that vision with journalists. The media just love to write that people or companies have ‘missed’ their target, done a U-turn or a flip-flop.

PR Basics

Executives are often tempted to overpromise in an interview

 PR Basics: Highfalutin promises can cause negative headlines 

Good PR people always caution against this. They know that being too clear about targets or making highfalutin promises can often cause negative headlines further down the line. Here is an incomplete list of mundane things we would advise against being too definite about.

  • There will be no further job losses. Who knows there might have to be?
  • We are expecting 20% growth in sales/profits etc. You might be confident but such a public prediction turns a 10% increase into a failure.
  • We want to be number one in the market within two years. Better to say one of the leading players in the market.
  • We expect to be profitable by Q4 2018. This is a difficult one because it is the sort of information you have to share with investors and therefore it may already be in the public domain. My advice would be not to lie if asked outright – stupid if it’s already published – but if possible not draw attention to it in media interviews, and if asked be cautious about it rather than bullish. If it is a major important element of a story that won’t help but hubris is easy to spot and may lead to mischief from the journalist. All in all, this would be more of a judgment call and our advice would depend on what else you have to say.
  • Margins are set to rise to 25%. Here again being vague is the standard. Unless they are published in your annual accounts you may be best to avoid talk of margins. Again you may have an internal forecast but is there really any benefit to being specific?

PR Basics: There are always exceptions

As with all rules, there are exceptions. I have taken part in discussions where CEO’s or other senior bods have weighed up the pros and cons of a ‘hostage to fortune’ pledge and decided to take the risk  – because the benefits outweighed the possible costs.  That is sensible and their prerogative.

Often our role is to bolster the PR advice and ensure ‘enthusiastic’ interviewees don’t make casual public promises or forecasts without understanding this basic rule of PR: avoid a hostage to fortune comment unless there is a very good reason not to.

Don’t forget, if we can help you prepare your spokespeople for a public announcement – results, product launch or a new direction – give us a call 020 7099 2212 to discuss the options.

Photo used under Creative Commons Licence

EU Doorstep

EU doorstep interviews: 4 expert tips

EU doorstep interviews should be seen as an opportunity not a threat. Prime Ministers and Heads of State recognise the PR value of a good EU doorstep – a mini interview or statement done on the way in or out of Summits. Small countries that hold the EU’s rotating presidency, ambassadors and other officials often miss this opportunity to raise their profile and punch above their weight with an agenda setting doorstep quote. Often all it takes is a little preparation. 

EU doorstep: recognise the PR opportunity

Even for smaller meetings where ministers or ambassadors need to broker an agreement, there will almost certainly be one or two news agencies covering it as well as the Council’s host broadcaster, which will then publish footage. So advisers and spokespeople should always prepare for Council meetings in expectation that there will be some form of press waiting for them when they arrive.

EU doorstep interviews should be viewed as an opportunity.

EU doorstep interviews should be viewed as an opportunity.

EU doorstep: prepare

The EU Presidency may hold the role of agreement broker but that does not mean spokespeople should do a read out of the shopping list of tasks and processes that need to be managed (or were managed) at the meeting they will or have hosted (see the example of the Lithuanian Ambassador to the EU below). This is tedious and journalists will struggle to find something interesting they can use. Advisers and spokespeople should focus on one main message with a clear soundbite and then prepare a couple more in case they are happy to take follow-up questions.

Angela Merkel is a good model to follow. She gets out of her car, goes straight to the German cameras, does a well prepared 40-second statement and then walks straight into the meeting. EU Commission Vice President, Frans Timmermans is also a good example of this kind of discipline. There is no reason why ambassadors and ministers shouldn’t do the same.

EU doorstep: rehearse

Usually, spokespeople do an EU Council doorstep in English and one in their mother tongue. All spokespeople should rehearse, particularly if they are not completely confident in English. One way to manage this could be for PR advisers or aides to do a quick run through of the main messages/reactives in the car on the journey to Council (or just before if the PRs aren’t going as well). Switching to English at the beginning of the journey would be even better because the ambassador or minister will be ‘warmed up’ by the time they get to Council and won’t have to consciously change languages when they get out of the car and see the waiting media.

EU doorstep: behave confidently

Confidence is key to a good doorstep. A lot of the time inexperienced spokespeople are caught off guard and look slightly surprised and suspicious when they see TV cameras and press waiting for them at the back of the Council.  This is then picked up on camera and doesn’t do anything to give the impression of authority. Advisers should give spokespeople a steer on what to expect and between them, the spokesperson and aides should decide if they plan to take follow up questions.

The spokesperson should then get out of the car (or leaving the building) in a decisive manner, stand with firm body language and focus their eye contact on one particular journalist. This will look far more authoritative than a shifting gaze. If they have planned to take a couple of follow up questions they should take them before ending the exchange gracefully but firmly and moving inside.

There is a technique to this. David Cameron was roundly mocked for stalking off the minute he had finished speaking and not even saying ‘Thank you’ or ‘That’s all for now’. He probably thought it looked powerful and decisive but most journalists and PR consultants I speak to think he came across as afraid to be challenged.

So there is a lot that spokespeople and advisers can do to deliver a good doorstep. And done well, the journalists will be grateful because they’ve got something interesting and colourful and PR advisers will be happy because their spokesperson has been quotable and in control.

Here in Brussels I train officials and politicians to handle doorsteps and other media opportunities. If you think you or your spokespeople are missing out why not get in touch and discuss how I can help.

EU Doorstep: advice from elsewhere

Politicians and officials are not alone in facing doorstep or ambush interviews. Here are some tips from elsewhere that apply more widely.

This one from a PR company  gives tops for dealing with aggressive and persistent ambush interviewers.

Here is some advice to would be journalists on how to do an ambush interview. Its included here as it is good to understand what happens in the mind of the doorstepped. In the same theme here is the BBC’s guidelines to staff on the rules of doorstepping.

Here is a very old article from PR week on the subject. I guess not much has changed except the removal from public life of Max Clifford!

Mitch

10 tips: what to wear on TV

What to wear on TV: is a question we are asked all the time.

Back in November I wrote ten top tips for women and promised we would also provide ten top tips for men. Just to reiterate: as media trainers, we think what you are wearing is one of the least important things to worry about if you are doing a TV interview. But we aim to provide the information our clients want. So here goes.

what to wear on TV

Normal business wear is a good principle to follow when being interviewed on TV

What to wear on TV: normal business wear

  • As with women, the overarching principle for professional people being interviewed on television is ‘normal business wear’. If you work for an NGO you will likely wear different clothes than someone running a funky design company. Whatever you would wear for work will probably work if you are being interviewed on TV.
  • Even men sometimes need make-up. We do understand that most red-blooded men baulk at the idea of wearing make-up but if it’s offered by a TV station we suggest you don’t turn it down. Many man have what we might diplomatically call a very high hairline. This can present a problem for the cameraman: a shiny pate will bounce light like a mirror and be very distracting.
  • Glasses on or off? The truth is it probably doesn’t matter. But it is not a good idea to take your glasses off just before an interview as you are likely to have an indent on the bridge of your nose which again, can be distracting. It is true that if you wear glasses on camera you can find studio or camera lighting is bouncing off the lenses and obscuring your eyes. However, this is the camera operators problem, not yours and they can easily adjust the shot to avoid the problem.

What to wear on TV: jacket and t-shirt

  • For most of our clients, we would suggest men wear their jackets on camera. Ties are optional and really depend on the culture of the organisation you are representing. As with women, the jacket not only looks smart, covers any embarrassing underarm sweat marks but also gives the technicians somewhere to put the microphone.
  • If you do wear a tie please, please check the knot is right at the top before the interview begins. Also, ensure the tie is hanging straight. Small misalignments can make a big difference to the image and it is easy to give the impression that you are overly informal or don’t care.
what to wear on TV

A small misalignment in your tie can quickly leave the wrong impression

What to wear on TV: think of your socks

  • Give some thought to your socks! The vast majority of interviews are filmed as a ‘mid-shot’ which is the waist upwards or slightly higher. The problem is you may not know what the studio set is like and what shot they are planning to use. It is not something interviewees can have any influence over. If they put you on a low settee (think BBC Breakfast News) there is every chance your legs and socks will be in shot some of the time. If they are brightly coloured or worse too short you are again providing a big distraction to what you are saying. Three inches of hairy leg between sock and trouser bottom will be the main preoccupation of a third of your audience. I am aware that Jon Snow has been wearing highly coloured hugely distracting socks for a very long time but it is part of his brand and he is on our screens most nights which means there is no novelty value.

What to wear on TV: what colour?

  • People often ask ‘what colours can I or should I wear? The truth is it makes very little difference these days so long as you don’t wear checks. 20 years ago camera technology struggled to cope with black, white, bright red etc. Today, black and white are best avoided if possible but only because they can be unflattering in harsh light. Softer colours are more flattering. Pink and blue shirts are considered preferable to white but again it is marginal. However, as with women, one important rule remains; don’t wear high contrast checks. If you do the picture will ‘strobe’ making it look as though you have recently been standing in a nuclear bunker. While this is not a crime, it is distracting.
  • Check your hair. For women the most common problem is long hair falling across their eyes and either being distracting or being constantly flicked away which is also distracting. For men, this is less of a problem but the early morning cow’s lick is very common. It is often right on the crown of the head and not instantly seen when looking in the mirror but will show when you move your head around while speaking. It is not a crime but not ideal.
  • Please do also consider your posture. Sit up straight, don’t loll and consider the BBC rule – bottom in back of chair. Leaning slightly forward means you look interested and caring.
  • Finally, where you look during the interview is much more important than what you wear. Hold the eyeline with the interviewer as much as possible unless you are doing a ‘down the line’ in which case you will need to stare down the lens of the camera.

If you want to prepare for a television or radio interview why not book a session in our studio. We can realistically recreate the interview you are about to do and you can watch and critique your own performance as well as enjoying expert coaching. That means you are much more likely to get it right on the day.

What to wear on TV: other articles

Don’t just take our word for it. Here we share again an article about what to wear on TV.
We condensed it down to 10 top tips but here are 22 tips on what to wear for a TV interview.

What to wear on TV

What to wear on TV: our 10 top tips

What to wear on TV is a question we are asked all the time. As media trainers, we think what you are wearing is one of the least important things to worry about if you are doing a TV interview. But we aim to provide the information our clients want. So here are our 10 top tips. We are dealing here with advice for women but will come to advice for men in the coming weeks.

What to wear on TV

Any sort of jacket is a good idea on TV, partly because it gives somewhere easy to attach the microphone

What to wear on TV: normal business wear

  • As an overarching principle start with ‘normal business wear’. We are not talking here about dressing as a TV presenter or as a celebrity (they do not need our advice). But if you are being interviewed as a representative of an organisation wear something that would be appropriate to going to work for that organisation. This will clearly be different if you work for a tech company where jeans and a black polo may be the norm compared to running a bank where you will be suited and booted every day.  If you work for an NGO you will likely wear different clothes than someone running a funky design company. Whatever you would wear for work will probably work if you are being interviewed on TV.
  • Women need make-up. I remember seriously offending someone from a very politically correct NGO by saying this but my view is that it is a bad idea to go in front of the camera without make-up. Firstly, it is important to understand that TV lights are harsh and will be unflattering. Secondly, almost every other woman on the programme will be wearing lots of make-up and you will look odd if you don’t. Clearly there are exceptions; if you are reporting or saving lives in a war zone there are more important things to worry about. [Orla Guerin MBE is a BBC journalist who reports regularly from the Middle East and is a legend in her own lunchtime. I don’t know for a fact that she never wears make-up but it certainly doesn’t look as if she does. But I totally make allowances as a viewer as she is usually wearing a flak jacket and interviewing distraught relatives of recent victims of some atrocity or other – and absolutely clearly has other things to worry about. But if she was in the studio doing an interview I am sure she would wear make-up and so should you.]
  • This does beg the question what sort of make-up? My topline advice is a good foundation and take steps to make your eyes standout.  Use blusher if you need it and normally wear it while lipstick is optional.
What to wear on TV

The safe wardrobe option for an interviewee is jacket and t-shirt, it is the outfit most often chosen by female television presenters

What to wear on TV: jacket and t-shirt

  • For most of our clients, the ‘safe’ outfit for a woman interviewee is a jacket and T-shirt or jacket and shift dress. The T-shirt should not be too low on the neckline – any cleavage is distracting so avoid showing it. Similarly not too high on the neckline: polo necks are very rarely seen on TV for good reason. They are too hot for a studio environment. Most female newsreaders stick to the jacket and T-shirt formula and it is a very safe one.
  • Having a jacket gives somewhere to clip on the microphone and saves any embarrassing need for wires up under a dress or pulling a delicate top out of shape.
What to wear on TV

Avoid scarves and overly large jewellery: simple lines are least distracting

 

What to wear on TV: avoid scarves

  • Avoid scarves and overly large jewellery. I would advise trying to keep a clean ‘unfussy’ image and amazing jewellery will again only distract from your message. Dangly earrings are to be avoided as they will move and again distract from what you are saying.
  • The vast majority of TV interviewees are shot from the midriff upwards, something that is called a mid-shot. However, unless you absolutely know that is how the interview will be shot you may want to give some thought to the bottom half! Crucially, if there is even a remote possibility that you are going to be on a low settee – do not wear a short skirt. If you do you will surely spend the whole interview tugging at the hem at and worse being distracted by the amount expanse of your legs on show.
What to wear on TV

Jackets can be worn with a shift dress but if it’s too short you might be worried about showing too much leg

What to wear on TV: what colour?

  • People often ask ‘what colours can I or should I wear? The truth is it makes very little difference these days so long as you don’t wear checks. 20 years ago camera technology struggled to cope with black, white, bright red etc. Today, black and white are best avoided if possible but only because they can be unflattering in harsh light. Softer colours are more flattering. However, one important rule remains; don’t wear high contrast checks. If you do the picture will ‘strobe’ making it look as though you have recently been standing in a nuclear bunker. Whiles this is not a crime, it is distracting.
  • Hair off the face. If you have long hair consider tying it back. Viewers need to see both your eyes to trust you. Also, there is nothing more irritating than someone constantly flicking their hair back off their face.
  • Finally, where you look during the interview is much more important that what you wear. Hold the eyeline with the interviewer as much as possible unless you are doing a ‘down the line’ in which case you will need to stare down the lens of the camera.
What to wear on TV

TV lighting means it is a good idea to wear make-up if you are being filmed

If you want to prepare for a television or radio interview why not book a session in our studio. We can provide a realistic run-through   and you can watch and critique your own performance as well as enjoying expert coaching. That all means you are much more likely to get it right on the day.

What to wear on TV: other articles

Don’t just take our word for it, here is an article about what to wear on TV.

We condensed it down to 10 top tips but here are 22 tips on what to wear for a TV interview.

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Media Training Basics: on-air presence

Media training basics include how to behave on-air so that your audience trusts you.

Whether you are a US presidential candidate, a new prime minister or a business leader launching a product or vision, we think this requires three key things:

  1. Warmth – because it is a good idea if the audience likes you.
  2. Authority – because it is an even better idea that it sounds as if you know what you are talking about.
  3. Animation – because the studio and the microphone will ‘shrink’ you.  Most people have to be themselves plus 10% to come across well on-air.

But if you don’t have these great attributes how do you acquire onair presence?

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Our tips for improving your on-air presence

Media Training Basics: animation

Animation is perhaps the easiest attribute to acquire. The people who are naturally good on television are those that are larger than life and often rather hard work at dinner. This is not always true but people who seem quite normal on TV are often really big characters. An occasional interviewee doesn’t need to cultivate a whole new persona but just use a little more energy when speaking. Hand movement and head movement can be good so long as they not so noticeable that they are distracting.

Media Training Basics: authority

Authority is more intangible. We know it when we see it but trying to cultivate it can be challenging. There are, though, some basics.

  • Don’t speak too fast. This is probably the most common way that people undermine their own authority.
  • On television make sure you are looking in the right place. This can be straight at the camera or at the interviewer depending on the set-up. But hold a steady gaze and don’t let your eyes flick up, down or sideways if you can help it.
  • Don’t use highfalutin language. We mention this every other week so do not need to labour the point here, but jargon and professional language does not make you sound clever; it makes you sound arrogant and out of touch. Be colloquial.
  • Consider a personal anecdote. People trust the opinions of those that have relevant personal experience. These need to be planned, rehearsed and above all short but they can really work.

Here are some other tips about being more authoritative in general. And here are some tips written especially for women in an article in Forbes, although most apply to men as well.

Media Training Basics: on air presence

Having a coach to help you improve can make a big difference

Media Training Basics: warmth

Warmth is perhaps the most elusive. Some people have it by the bucket-load even if they are not the most polished interviewee. It is worth a lot. If you don’t have it naturally on-air you can try the following things.

  • Try smiling more, particularly at the beginning or end of an interview. Even on radio, you can hear a smile.
  • Try to be less formal. Often people lack warmth because they think they are required to be very, very serious and correct.
  • A trick I have often used is to ask the interviewee to pretend they really like the interviewer. Of course, in reality, they probably hate the presenter and the process but if they can pretend or act ‘attraction’ or ‘affection’ it will come across. Clearly, this could be taken too far and it will be acting. When coaching people we find that once they hit the right tone – and then watch it back on video playback – they can usually find it again. With coaching, it will become their default on-air tone at which point it is ‘job done’.
Media Training Basics: on air presence

Think about the tone as well as the words when preparing for an interview

Getting the tone right is half the battle and will compensate for other missteps in an interview. In the end ‘people buy people’ as the saying goes: so developing a good on-air presence is something worth working on.

 

 

UK Prime Minister Media Style

UK Prime Minister Media Style

The UK Prime Minister Media Style was this week on display for the first time. Theresa May gave her first major interview since taking office to the BBC’s Andrew Marr. It runs more than 17 minutes and from it I can draw some clear conclusions about the media style of this Prime Minister.  But the question most people will have in their minds when watching this interview is: why don’t politicians answer a direct question with a direct answer.

My advice to the PM: more direct answers please.

May has clearly been well prepared for this interview. She has her messages in place and there was certainly no thinking on the hoof, all the questions had been anticipated and her answers were rehearsed. Thank goodness. For me this is more evidence of a ‘safe pair of hands’.

What’s more, while the hair and make-up were perfect, the outfit was not overly formal (are those bare ankles?) and the setting is the rather faded glory of, what I assume is, the Maidenhead Constituency office, complete with cracked fireplace and 1970’s carpet. I think this was a deliberate choice, indicating that this Prime Minister is not interested in the glory of the job or the opulence of the offices of state.

We also saw a warmer, more animated performer than in the past, with a marked reduction in her frosty impatience with the media process.

Her use of messages was, perhaps overly obvious, just a bit too much repetition and not enough new information for such a set piece interview.

On her vision for Britain the message was: “I want to see a country that works for everyone, a society that works for everyone, an economy that works for everyone…”

On schools: “Good quality education, giving opportunity…”

On Brexit: “We will make a success of it” and “We want to be an outward looking, independent Britain forging our way in the world.”

On the timetable for the exit negotiations  “We need to take time to prepare, we need a period of preparation” and “We will not trigger Article 50 before the end of the year”.

But the rhythm of the interview is annoying. For the first 15 minutes May makes a point of never answering a direct question with a direct answer. This I think is a mistake, probably the only substantial criticism I would make of her style. It was clearly a deliberate strategy, but a misguided one.

So, for example, when asked:

“Would you like to see at the end of the first Theresa May administration more grammar schools open than there are now?”

The answer was:

“What I would like to see Andrew is ensuring an education system, regardless of where people are, regardless of the school they are going to that is ensuring they are getting the quality of education that enables them to take on those opportunities…”

This sort of response drives listeners and viewers nuts. I just don’t understand why politicians won’t say ‘We are looking at that’ or ‘I am not giving you an answer to that today’ or ‘This is something we are still discussing’.

Making a direct response to the question before moving to a wider point makes the speaker sound much more honest and credible.

Here are just a couple of comments from below the interview on YouTube that show how people react to this communication style.

UK Prime Minister Media Style Twitter comments

UK Prime Minister Media Style Twitter comments

UK Prime Minister Media Style Twitter comments

 

UK Prime Minister Media Style Twitter comments

 

 

 

 

Theresa May did actually adopt the strategy I would have suggested, towards the end of the interview  – at 17:18 if you want to find it.

When asked a follow-up question on her stalling over the Hinkley Point decision she said:

“I think you are trying to get me to give an indication of what my decision is going to be Andrew, which I am not going to do.”

She did it with good grace and was not aggressive about it and it worked a treat.

Why do executives need media training? Kevin Roberts

Why do executives need media training?

Why do executives need media training? Because they need to be reminded of the dangers of media interviews on a fairly regular basis. If not they can do something stupid that damages the brand and themselves as Kevin Roberts, executive chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi did last week.

Why do executives need media training?

Kevin Roberts

I had the privilege of making a documentary on Roberts for Bloomberg television many years ago and of all the programmes I did, this was the one I enjoyed most. Roberts was an extremely interesting man and I am personally saddened to see a thoughtless interview cause him so much trouble.

Roberts decided to be outspoken and provocative in an interview with Business Insider. You can read the article here. In it, Roberts claims the issue of equality for women in the advertising industry, unlike in financial services and elsewhere, is over.

Roughly half of the people working in the industry are women. However, while they are well represented they tend not to hold the top jobs. The CEOs of all six major advertising agencies are men. Also, there have recently been allegations of sexism at the top of another agency, J Walter Thompson.

When this was put to Roberts he gave some highly quotable comments about women choosing not to go for the top jobs because they were happy where they were.

Why do executives need media training? Criticising others is bound to get you quoted

He did not stop at explaining his view that women had ‘arrived’ but were choosing not to take the top jobs. He went on to personally criticise a well-known campaigner from the industry, Cindy Gallop, saying she had ‘problems’ and was ‘making up a lot of the stuff’ thereby ensuring that Gallop and her supporters would hit back. Here is a report from The Drum about the response to the Business Insider story.

Why do executives need media training?

Cindy Gallop

Roberts was immediately suspended from his job. He may be the executive chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi but the agency is owned by the French giant Publicis, and the board moved swiftly to distance itself from Roberts and his comments.

For the record, Saatchi and Saatchi employ 65% women and recently promoted a woman, Kate Stanners, to Global Chief Creative Officer. Stanners appeared on the Today programme on Monday, to contradict her boss and explain that women in advertising were just as ambitious as the men.

Why do executives need media training? Interviews can get hijacked

Who knows why Roberts decided to sound-off about this particularly delicate subject. From a media trainer’s point of view, reading the write up of the interview,  it is clear there was little preparation on this point and no caution or careful messaging. In my experience diversity, race and gender issues, are amongst the most difficult to talk about publicly because so much can be open to misinterpretation or quoting out of context. It is not clear from the story, but I doubt this issue was the stated focus of the interview. I suspect it was a planned hijack by the journalist Lara O’Reilly. She seemed to have gone in with her facts and numbers to hand. From a journalistic point of view, she did a great job and got a real scoop, as well as a scalp. Kevin Roberts seems unlikely to keep his job. [Update: he resigned on 3rd August.]

Photo credits: Kevin Roberts from YouTube. Cindy Gallop used under Creative Comms Licence.

Andrea Leadsom you need media training

Andrea Leadsom: you need media training

Andrea Leadsom is a classic example of a smart, sensible, ambitious person who thought that the world does not need ‘spin’.

andrea leadsom you need media training

Andrea Leadsom needs media training.

Like so many before her she apparently felt she should speak to the press in an open, straightforward way; honestly answering questions as they are put. It sounds perfectly reasonable. The problem is it doesn’t work. I have already pointed out in last week’s blog post that Leadsom was naive in her interview with Andrew Marr, who bounced her into a commitment to release her tax returns.

Andrea Leadsom: evidence of naivety

That she has now quit the race after a row over her interview with Rachel Sylvester of The Times is more evidence of her naivety.

Here is a transcript of the relevant bit of what she said, as published by The Times and republished on the Conservatives own website.

Andrea Leadsom: In terms of the country I think I absolutely understand how the economy works and can really focus on turning it around. In terms of personal qualities I see myself as one an optimist and two a huge member of a huge family and that’s important, my kids are a huge part of my life, my sisters my two brothers who are half brothers my mum and step dad’s sons who are very close, huge part of a family so very grounded and normal, enormously optimistic. 

Sylvester: Does your family inform your politics? 

Leadsom: Oh, totally.

Sylvester: During the euro debates, you said several times ‘as a mum’ . Do you feel like a mum in politics? 

Leadsom: Yes.

Sylvester: Why and how? 

Leadsom: So, really carefully, because I am sure, I don’t really know Theresa very well but I am sure she will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’, because I think that would be really horrible but, genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focussed on what are you really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind, ten years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”

Here is how Sylvester wrote it up:

andrea leadsom times article motherhood

 

Leadsom says she was disgusted by this write-up. Here is her statement on the report.

Andrea Leadsom: her complaints

Leadsom complained about two things.

  • She says she told Rachel Sylvester repeatedly, that she did not want to make her family an issue in the campaign and yet the journalist did.

The Media Coach’s view: It’s no good telling a journalist you do not want to focus on something, speak about something or make something an issue if you then go on to talk about it! The quotes are still quotes.

  • She is ‘disgusted’ that Sylvester, or the sub-editor, made the motherhood comments the headline of the story. Yet everyone knows the interviewee has no control over which bit of an interview is given the most prominence and which the least.

The Media Coach’s view: If you don’t want it as a headline don’t say it. If you don’t want it quoted, don’t say it. In an interview you are not briefing an advertising agency, you are talking to an independent journalist.

For the record, we should note that Leadsom apologised to Theresa May for the comments.

I recently had a heated conversation with a friend who explained she hated Tony Blair because every time he spoke you could tell he was really thinking about his words, which ‘proved’ he wasn’t genuine. Personally, I would prefer a Prime Minister who thought carefully about what they were saying before speaking in public, or in private for that matter. This does not mean they are not genuine, it just means they do not trust that their ‘stream of consciousness’ will give them the wisest choice of words.

The Media Coach verdict on Andrea Leadsom: this level of naivety means she was not ready to be Prime Minister, a conclusion she seemed to have reached for herself.

(A version of this article was published as a LinkedIn post.)

 

 

How to survive a TV debate, David Cameron

How to survive a TV debate 1: Cameron the smooth

Those wanting to study how to survive a TV debate could do a lot worse than dissect the performance of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a high-profile, live-grilling on Sky News. However, the headlines Cameron got after his one hour marathon by both a political correspondent out to make his name and a live audience, were universally negative. The Week ran ‘Cameron mauled by TV audience’ and most of the coverage focused on a rather rude student who accused the PM of ‘waffling’.

You can watch the whole one hour here.

How to survive a TV debate: Cameron did an excellent job

All of which seems unjust if not plain misleading. Not normally a fan of Cameron I have to say I think he did an excellent job. He was superbly well briefed, he did not get caught out by any question, from either the correspondent Faisal Islam or the audience. I am pleased to see that I am not completely alone in my assessment. Rather begrudgingly, the Chief Political Commentator for the Independent newspaper at least, agreed with me as you can read here.

How to survive a TV debate: anticipate the tough questions

For students of the PR lesson, it is important to understand that one of the tricks of the journalist is to find a damning nugget of information and then go on and on about it. If the question hasn’t been anticipated the interviewee is left struggling to confidently and credibly answer. The problem is, of course, that there are a huge number of possible ‘damning nuggets’. Faisal Islam started with the manifesto promise from 6 years ago that net migration would be reduced to tens rather than hundreds of thousands, something that the government has failed to deliver on. He moved on to the recent promise that VAT would not rise and noted that the European Court of Justice had overruled a UK law that made solar panels VAT free, suggesting that UK government did not have sovereign control over its VAT rules. He also tried to challenge the Prime Minister with the number of times that the EU Council of Ministers had over-ruled the British government. None of these were questions the Prime Minister looked surprised by or did not have a clear response to. He dismissed the last as a ‘totally spurious figure’ before Islam could actually say it.

Once the set piece political interview was over the PM faced a studio audience. The problem with responding to a public audience is they are, by definition, very diverse and you have even less idea what is coming up. Cameron faced questions about issues as unrelated to the debate as the funding of mental health and his previous pronouncements on the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Again he had clear credible arguments to all of these questions.

How to survive a TV debate: use examples

The Prime Minister not only answered questions credibly but repeatedly landed his main message, that leaving the EU would be ‘an act of economic self harm’; he used lots of examples to back up his points. He talked about why Britain sells no beef or lamb to the US (no trade deal), how the UK’s car industry currently sells all over Europe but outside the EU it would be likely to face a 10% tariff. He also explained that it is easy now for someone from Bolton making fan belts to sell them to all 28 countries, rather than outside the EU trying to meet 27 different sets of rules.

How to survive a TV debate: stay polite

When dealing with the audience he was endlessly polite. The question from the student who accused him of waffling was incoherent and much more waffly than the answer. And despite her rudeness the Prime Minister did his best to answer her.

I saw no evidence of mauling.

I do happen to agree that the missing bit from the whole Remain campaign has been an articulation of the positive vision for a better functioning EU. But this cannot be a mistake. The campaign must be polling, researching which arguments play well, and must be concluding that the positive vision piece just doesn’t work. Perhaps the EU fails in so many ways it is better to not draw attention to what it could do and could achieve.

The question remains, if the Prime Minister did such a good job why did he get negative coverage for the debate and why did it not get ‘cut through’.

The answer, I suggest, is that no one believes anything he says. This is not just Cameron’s problem. It is a problem throughout the world. Since the financial crisis of 2008 cynicism about politicians in power and anything that can be called the establishment has never been higher, at least in the countries commonly called ‘the west’. In the wider Brexit debate there is an endless call for real facts and yet every attempt to deliver serious analysis, projected numbers or explanations are dismissed as unreliable or untrue. It is difficult to see how democracy is going to adapt to this new reality.