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olivia colman

Olivia Colman Snivels in Front of 30m TV Audience

Olivia Colman is a wonderful actress, I have huge respect for her and make a point of watching anything with her name attached. But I am deeply disappointed that she did such a pathetic speech at the Oscars.

I understand this is an occasion of very high emotion but given that she was one of the favourites to win best actress, there was always a good chance she was going to have to make the winners speech.

Surely, a little bit of forethought would have been a good idea – ensuring that she was a bit more comfortable on stage and her audience was a bit more entertained by her words.

What Can We Learn From Colman’s Performance?

As ever I am not really commenting on Olivia Colman herself, one could argue she does not need my advice. But I do think there are some clear takeaway lessons.

Think About the Practical Aspects of Any Outfit!

First things first, it might be a good idea, as a woman, if you know you might have to go on stage, to think about the dress. Perhaps, as a result of one or two of her roles, Ms Colman has fallen in love with the very full ball gown style. But that together with the train made mounting the stage somewhat inelegant. For business women rather than film stars, there are other considerations. If you are climbing up onto the stage anywhere, you might want to give consideration to just how much leg you want to show. I have been criticised for saying this before but there is a reason why Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel always wear trouser suits. I commented on the dangers of showing a lot of leg in a previous blog here.

Prepare a Few Points

However, more important than the outfit, would it not have been a good idea to prepare a few words and even jot them down. This is probably not right for the Oscars: I can see it might have been a bit presumptuous for Colman to whip out a speech but in most other circumstances this would be a completely normal thing to do.

Reading a script is a bad idea. Unless you are trained it will be very difficult to get the inflections right. Better for most people to adlib around a few bullet points.

A Long List of Thanks is Dull and Risky

There is a particular difficulty in thanking people. It is very difficult to make a long list of people you want to thank interesting and the danger of missing people out, particularly if you haven’t prepared the list, is huge. My advice is to think long and hard before heading into an Oscar-style thank you list – ask yourself if there is a better way. Perhaps a story that illustrates how much help you needed along the way and a more general or blanket thanks – or just an expression of gratitude. It would be a lot less boring to listen to.

Shedding a Tear in Public is Good, Snivelling is Not So Good

Emotion is good in a speech but in most cultures not too much. Clearly, it can be difficult to control but it would help to think about how you want to come across before you get there. I personally hope I am never caught snivelling in front of an audience of 30 million. If you are with me I suggest in emotional settings, set yourself a clearly articulated communication ‘style goal’ and role-play it in the bathroom.

Quit With the Raspberries

Finally, call me old fashioned, but I am not in favour of blowing raspberries at the organisers who are trying to keep a long and complicated evening running on time.

 

getting out in front of the story

Getting Out in Front of the Story: Bezos Case Study

Getting out in front of the story’ is a phrase that comes up a lot in Crisis Communication Courses. It refers to coming clean about all the bad stuff in one go before anyone else releases it.

In my experience, it is extremely difficult to do.

Human nature is such that everyone balks at revealing negative information if they are not absolutely sure they have to.

Jeff Bezos Case Study

In the last week, Jeff Bezos (the world’s wealthiest man and the Chairman, Chief Executive and President of Amazon) has given us the most dramatic example I can remember of ‘getting out in front of the story’.

getting out in front of the story

Jeff Bezos

It is a complicated tale but at its heart the National Enquirer let Bezos know that it had compromising photos of him and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez – and told him they would publish.

 Political Motivation or Just a Good Story?

To prevent publication, the Enquirer wanted Bezos to stop or curb an investigation into an earlier leak of his private text messages. Also, to publicly state that he did not believe a story based on those texts (or sexts i.e. texts with sexual content) published in the Enquirer, was politically motivated.

Bezos has been married to wife MacKenzie for 25 years. The couple announced they were to divorce in January this year. Immediately after the announcement, the Enquirer published an expose of Bezos’ affair with the former TV presenter Sanchez, including the texts.

A crucial factor here is that Bezos, as well as his Amazon roles, is the owner of the Washington Post newspaper. The Post has been a long-time critic of President Trump, among many other things his relationship with Saudi Arabia. In particular, it has given a lot of coverage to the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – in which the Saudi regime is implicated. This criticism and coverage have annoyed the President.

getting out in front of the story

The National Enquirer is a supporter of President Trump

National Enquirer and its owner American Media (AMI) are supporters of President Trump. The group and AMI’s owner David Pecker are currently being investigated for their part in the election of Trump. They are also being investigated for various actions taken on behalf of the Saudi government. In other words, the group is under a lot of suspicion about using its power for political purposes and in ways that may be illegal.

We now know that Bezos believes the embarrassing stories about his love life and in particular, the threat to publish the photos, are all about silencing the Washington Post’s anti-Trump and some would say anti-Saudi stance. AMI denies this.

Here is a detailed account of all this in the Daily Mail.

Getting Out in Front of the Story

The point for us is that rather than giving in to the blackmail, Bezos published the emails that threatened him. He published them with his own commentary on a website called Medium.com– thus getting out in front of the story.

Rather than being the victim he is now suddenly the one in control. The price he has paid for this is letting the world know about the embarrassing photos and a lot of other private details about his extra-marital relationship. Like many before him (Prince Charles, Max Mosley, Jeremy Thorpe etc.) he knows these will affect his reputation for years to come. But he did the brave and difficult thing and published all the bad stuff but on his own terms.

As he says himself ‘If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can.’  In a particularly good line Bezos accuses the National Enquirer of ‘weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism.’

It is too early to say whether Bezos will be the eventual winner in all this. But for now, it has certainly turned the tables on those threatening him.

 Crisis Preparedness

The Media Coach and in particular myself and Catherine Cross regularly run Crisis Communication courses. Large organisations that have considered business recovery or crisis planning usually conclude that senior staff need some formal training so they are equipped to deal with the media in the face of a reputational crisis.   If you would like to talk to us about what we offer please do give us a call on 44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Photo credits:
Jeff Bezos: Wikimedia Commons
National Enquirer: Flickr, credit Rusty Clark

how to dress for tv

How to Dress for TV: Our Top Tips

How should I dress for TV? is a question we are regularly asked, so this week we are repeating one of our best performing posts of all 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 ‘how to dress for TV top tips’. [This post is dealing with advice for women but we have also posted advice for men, which can be found here.]

how to dress for TV image

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

How to Dress for 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 if you were going into the office.  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 I stick to my view: 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 on 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 stand out. Use blusher if you need it and normally wear it while lipstick is optional.
how to dress for TV image

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

How to Dress for 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 you may choose to 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 also 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.
how to dress for TV image

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

How to Dress for 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 of leg on show.
how to dress for TV image

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

How to Dress for 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. While 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 than what you wear. Hold the eye line 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.
how to dress for tv image

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 with us in a 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.

Other Articles

We have posted in the past about the importance of how to sit and stand on TV – you can read this post here.

But don’t just take our word for it, here is another article about what to wear on TV.

 

want to control a media interview image

Want to Control a Media Interview? 8 Naive Mistakes

Most organisations want to control the media or at least want to control what is written or broadcast about its business.  A surprising number of senior business people, in my experience, do not understand that as the ‘fourth estate’ journalists can write whatever they like – with very little constraint. There are laws of libel and slander and some very strict rules around court reporting. But beyond that in the UK, most of Europe, the US and Australia there are very few other restrictions. The freedom of journalists can be more restricted in other countries.

want to control a media interview image

It is not sensible to verbally attack or threaten a journalist. Most treat their independence as a matter of honour and they may be tempted to write a critical piece just to prove the point.

This press freedom is a source of great angst and concern to many senior people. Even those who have absolutely nothing to hide.

[By contrast, seasoned media performers realise that 100% control is impossible.  Whilst they prepare and are disciplined about what they say, they are likely to take a more ‘you win some, you lose some’ attitude to what a journalist writes.]

Given the high level of unease, there are often inappropriate attempts to control the interview and write up process. Here are my top eight.

1. Asking for a list of questions before the interview

At first sight, this seems completely reasonable but journalists hate it, mostly because it gives the impression that they are being overly controlled. Many will not provide a list, others will happily give a list of questions and then ignore it in the actual interview. The effect is counter-productive for the interviewee because preparing for one set of questions only to be asked completely different ones is annoying and stressful. Much better to ask a broader question such as ‘what are you interested in?’, ‘what’s the story?’ or ‘what’s your angle?’.

2. Telling the journalist you know the editor and have influence

I have only come across this rarely and find it very funny. All I can say is that editors are rarely open to any kind of external influence. Being independent is a matter of honour for most journalists. What’s more, claiming special influence is likely to annoy everyone in the editorial process and they might be tempted to ‘prove’ their independence’ by printing something you would rather not see in print.

3. Asking to check the copy before it is printed

This is not uncommon these days in the trade press but is not something that respectable national newspapers would allow.  There is a less intrusive version which is to ask to ‘check quotes’. It still smacks of naivety to my mind and can give the interviewee a false sense of security. Even if a journalist allows you to see the copy or quotes before publication, he or she is unlikely to allow you to make anything but the most technical of changes.

4. Telling the journalist what they can’t ask

Again, journalists do not obey rules. If you tell them they can’t ask something they are very likely to ask it. You are potentially alerting them to a sensitive area. What is more, making it look as if you or your spokesperson is unable to handle a question makes you or them look weak.

5. Allowing your PR person to intervene during the interview

PR people should only intervene if they absolutely have to. Again, it makes the interviewee look weak and the organisation look over-bearing. I blogged a few months ago about the interview where the off-camera PR person intervened because the former CEO of Persimmon did not want to answer a question about his bonus. As we know the CEO subsequently lost his job -after the intervention went viral on YouTube!

6. Attacking the journalist

This used to be more common than it is these days. Most people now understand that it is never going to look or sound good. Better to understand that journalists are allowed to ask anything and you as the interviewee can choose how to respond. Often journalists do not subscribe to the point of view they are putting in a question. They are just representing another side of a story. We are taught always to balance a story or an interview and asking a tough question is one way to do that. Accept they are just doing their job.

7. Questioning the source of the journalist’s information

This is a more subtle form of attacking the journalist. For my money it is fine to say ‘I am not sure those numbers are right’ or ‘I don’t recognise that’ before moving to your argument. But don’t get into a fight with the journalist by saying ‘where did you get that from’, ‘tell me where you got those numbers’ etc.

8. Giving information then saying: that is ‘off the record’

There are some occasions where ‘off the record’ has a legitimate place in PR but they are fairly rare. If you want any agreement to be respected it must be put in place in advance of an interview and absolutely not during the interview, after you have just said something you shouldn’t have said. In general ‘off the record’ is a tool that can be used by a professional PR but should be avoided by interviewees.

The way to control media interviews is to do your preparation and deliver high-quality information in colloquial language. You should, of course, also prepare for any particularly difficult questions. Finally, it is important to be disciplined and in control during the interview to ensure you don’t say things by accident that provide embarrassing headlines. In fact what you need is a little training, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?

Managing emotion in a media interview

Managing Emotion in a Media Interview

Managing emotion in a media interview can be a huge challenge.

Emotion on radio or television is considered good entertainment. Brutal but true. However, if you are a professional person, or you have an important point to make, your priority becomes not breaking down in public.

Andy Murray Breaks Down

Andy Murray gave a press conference just before the Australian Open last week, in which it was absolutely clear that he was struggling emotionally with both his continuing pain from injury and his decision to give up professional tennis. (The bit that makes even me cry in sympathy is at time code 4:45 minutes for about a minute.)

 

Having lived so long in the public spotlight Andy Murray is, perhaps, not uncomfortable sharing his pain, but most people would be.

So how do you cope?

Tips for Handling Emotion in Interviews

I have just a few tips:

Firstly, work with an adviser to work out what your trigger words or phrases or images are. I have worked with people who have lost children or husbands etc. who want to talk to the media (always about lessons to be learned) but don’t want to breakdown in public. It is usually certain phrases that trigger overwhelming emotion.

Once these trigger phrases are identified you can build a narrative or messages that avoid them. Knowing the trigger phrases is crucial to managing emotion in a media interview.

Rehearsal Acts as a Sort of Aversion Therapy

Secondly, rehearsal really helps. We always advocate rehearsing aloud for even a simple media interview. But for something of high emotion, it is critical. If you can tell the story several times the emotion triggered by that particular narrative decreases. It is something we all know from our life experience. It is a mild version of aversion therapy. Repeated exposure lessons the reaction, at least in most cases.

Brief the Journalist

Thirdly, if it is a radio or television interview tell the journalist what you don’t want to talk about, or tell someone else to do so in the briefing. Even the most aggressive journalist will play ball if you say: ‘I am alright so long as I don’t have to talk about the moment I identified the body’. In this sort of interview journalists and broadcasters will absolutely respect your wishes.

If you need help preparing for difficult interviews of any sort give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

start with the end in mind

Plan Your Communications: Start with the End in Mind

Starting with the end in mind is such a useful way of thinking. I am aware it does not only apply to media interviews or presentations but is widely useful in everything from preparing a roast dinner to writing a business plan. So crucial is this idea that it is one of the seven habits of highly successful people identified by author Stephen Covey. 

start with the end in mind

Planning your communications: start with the end in mind

However, as a media and presentation trainer, I can tell you that most people do not apply this simple way of being more effective when it comes to planning their communications. In fact, most people don’t plan their communications, period.  The reasons they give are many and varied:

  • Too busy.
  • Talking or communicating is already a professional skill (so detailed prep for an interview or for a presentation is not necessary).
  • It is boring.
  • It’s not about me, it’s about the subject.
  • I am not clear what if anything I want the audience to think or do.

I could go on.

5 minutes strategic thought saves hours of preparation

start with the end in mind

Of course, the reality is 5 minutes serious thought will save hours of preparation and will deliver a better result.

So, if preparing for a media interview it is worth asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Which bit of that audience matters to me? If you are doing national media it is clear that most people watching, or reading will have only a passing interest in the subject but the audience will include a few hundred key influencers, potential clients, important regulators etc. Knowing broadly who these people are and what you want to say to them is helpful.
  • Is there anything I want people to do as a result of this interview: click a link, pick up the phone or make a purchase for example?
  • So crucially – what headline or main idea do I want to see in the finished piece – or if television or radio, what do I want the audience to remember?

Once you have this clear in your mind the preparation of ‘messages’ or if you prefer your argument will be much quicker.

For a presentation, it is a similar process:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do I want them to remember from the presentation?
  • Is there anything I want them to do as a result of the presentation?

Advice to a younger me

If I could meet my younger self I would have a number of pearls of wisdom to pass on – top of the list would be to stop wearing heels to walk in. (Apparently crushed toes 20 years ago mean I now have misplaced toes so my feet find it difficult to keep me upright.)

But also high on the list would be to ‘start with the end in mind’ for all significant conversations. Even more usefully, I would advocate the practice of not only preparing for important conversations but preparing for unimportant ones. Once they have taken place I would suggest that my former self got into the habit of reviewing her ability to continue the conversation with the end in mind. Preparation can easily go out of the window in the intensity of the moment unless you have trained yourself. Training is easy to do because every conversation with the butcher, a neighbour or your stroppy teenager provides good opportunities for practise.

The guy that made me take this simple mantra – start with the end in mind – from a vague idea to a solid practice, was a UN negotiator I met in Kampala. I have forgotten his name, but I vividly remember his stories of negotiating with rebel leaders who had committed atrocities, in various parts of the continent. He had trained himself out of having any emotional reaction to the history of those he was dealing with and instead stayed completely focussed on his strategic aim, knowing the lives of innocent people (sometimes hostages, sometimes children) depended on it.

Few of my clients have such critical communication challenges, but we could all learn from his ability to keep his target in mind.

Here are other blogs we have written on related subjects

Preparing for a Media Interview: 5 key steps

5 Ways to improve that presentation

Developing Messages: Are you guilty of navel gazing?

The Media Coach is a group of working and ex-journalists who provide media and presentation training and message building for a wide variety of organisations. If you think we can help your team give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Photos used under creative commons licence.

 

Controlling the quote Robert Hannigan

Controlling the Quote in Media Interviews

Controlling the quote is not something that can be guaranteed in a media interview. Anyone who speaks to a press or web journalist for 20 minutes is likely to say somewhere between 3,000 – 5,000 words based on three to five words per second. Even if it is a three-minute radio interview the interviewee is likely to have said around 500 words by the time it ends. The journalist will have a wide range of options for the few words they put in quotation marks, choose for the soundbite or make the headline.

What matters to most people is that they don’t say (or agree) something by accident that ends up getting all the attention. Last week saw a clear case of this.

Controlling the quote

Facebook Threat to Democracy

On Friday, it was widely reported that the former head of GCHQ had stated Facebook was ‘a threat to democracy’. [GCHQ is part of Britain’s intelligence and security organisation that listens in on communications across the world.]

Just to illustrate how widely this was reported here is a selection of headlines.

Controlling the quote

Did he mean to say it?

Controlling the quote

Robert Hannigan agreed the quote but didn’t actually say it.

However, on closer inspection, it looks doubtful that the former head of GCHQ actually meant to say ‘Facebook is a threat to democracy’. If you read the story closely you can see this was not a phrase that he originated but in fact came from a response to a BBC journalist’s question.

This is how The Times reported it:

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Facebook was a threat to democracy Mr Hannigan replied: “Potentially yes, I think it is, if it isn’t controlled and regulated.”

The thing to note here is that the one phrase that made all the headlines was not actually spoken by Hannigan. He just agreed it.

In fact, The Times quoted the Radio 4 interview even though they had spoken to Robert Hannigan themselves. Annoyingly I imagine, for Lucy Fisher, The Times reporter, Hannigan did not give (or agree) the standout quote of the day to her. She had to report something he said to another journalist in a different interview.

What I conclude from this is:

1) Hannigan does think Facebook is ‘potentially’ a threat to democracy but
2) He did not choose to couch it in these terms.

The clever journalist presented him with a rather dramatic, high-level version of his opinion and Hannigan agreed it.

If you don’t agree it, they can’t use it

We do not know if Hannigan was dismayed or delighted with the headlines he got all over the world. But we can be pretty sure it was not a phrase he had planned to use.

The takeaway message, that those of you trained by us have heard all Media Coach trainers repeat many times: don’t say ‘yes’ when a journalist rephrases your argument and asks you to agree it. If you don’t agree it they can’t use it.

And to be clear, we suggest interviewees never say ‘yes’ when a journalist does this. What can seem sensible, innocuous and often caveated (as with this example) in the conversation, can sound or look extreme and aggressive if transformed into a headline.

It is safer if interviewees pick their own words. It is safer still if they plan their key phrases before any interview.

It is all part of the discipline needed to do a media interview, assuming, of course, you are in a professional role.

The Media Coach has been providing media training in several languages for business and professional people for more than a decade. If you have a spokesperson who needs training why not give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Hannigan Photo distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
Facebook logo provided Pixaby under a CC0 Creative Commons Licence

 

Nwws Management

News Management – the Brexit Deal Case Study

News Management is something we are going to be very aware of in the UK in the next couple of weeks. By all accounts ‘Selling the Brexit Deal’ is going to be a full-on political campaign.

The Prime Minister, having finally and somewhat amazingly ‘got a deal’ with the European Union, now has the daunting task of getting it through Parliament. This make-or-break parliamentary vote will take place on December 11th, just two weeks away.

News Management

PR Blitz is Planned

Before that, we are told, Theresa May will embark on a tour of the home nations followed by Question Time in the Commons and many more media appearances including a possible TV debate with or without Jeremy Corbyn.  (See the Telegraph headline here: Theresa May demands Brexit TV debate with Jeremy Corbyn as PM begins campaign to win Commons vote on deal.)

News Management

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn may be invited to debate the Brexit Deal with The Prime Minister in a TV debate.

News Management Project of Highest Order

Co-ordinating all this activity, having a plan but also responding as things happen, trying to win hearts and minds, is a news management project of the highest order. In this day and age it is also 24/7. I notice the Number 10 rebuttal of Trump’s unhelpful comments last night was out very early this morning. News management is both proactive and reactive.

Media Training does not teach News Management

People often call us to ask for Media Training when what they need is News Management training. Typically, such calls come from entrepreneurs, CEOs of smaller organisations or people who have come from some other professional background, but now have PR or media in their title and are not quite sure what the job entails.  I usually try and point these people in the direction of a professional PR person or agency.

Established PR people see Media Training as having broadly two uses: Firstly, the preparation for new spokespeople as they step into a senior business role that may require them to speak to the media. Secondly, something that is available to top up that basic training and help individuals prepare for a particular launch or issue or interview. (The Media Coach team also offer something different than this, which is Facilitated Message Building, related to but not the same as Media Training.)

In the case of ‘the Brexit Deal’, news management is the job of Robbie Gibb, the PM’s Communications Chief. I wrote about his appointment here last year and have been waiting for his behind-the-scenes role to become more public. Now maybe the time.

I quote here from Monday’s POLITICO London playbook, written by Jack Blanchard, which drops into my inbox every morning.

Blitz Spirit: Theresa May returns to the Commons today to face another extended mauling from MPs over her newly minted Brexit deal. 

….

It marks the start of the next phase of the big No. 10 PR blitz to try to sell this Brexit deal to MPs and the wider public, which has already seen the PM endure two three-hour stints in the Commons, two live radio phone-ins, two press conferences, two speeches, two jaunts to Brussels and sit-down interviews with Sky News and Remoaner bible the Daily Mail.

Team sports: Before this afternoon’s expected Commons marathon, May will first convene a rare Monday morning Cabinet meeting to brief her senior ministers on yesterday’s summit. The meeting is expected to include a presentation from May’s director of comms Robbie Gibb on how to sell the deal on the airwaves over the next two weeks.

It is Robbie Gibbs who will be the guiding hand behind this frenzy of activity from Number 10 and he won’t just be coordinating the PM’s media appearances but that of all the loyal cabinet members too. It’s a big job.

No Hard Sell

From a PR perspective, the one thing you can guarantee is that most outlets will say yes to having face time with the PM. No one is having to do a hard sell to get the boss in front of the cameras on this one.

 

Corbyn photo from Flickr – Credit Gary Knight used under creative comms licence.

May feature photo from Flickr – Credit DonkeyHotey used under creative comms licence.

 

Top Tips for Surviving Aggressive Interviews

10 Tips for Handling Aggressive Interviews

Aggressive interviews are relatively rare and mostly reserved for politicians. But because we all witness them on television from time to time, spokespeople are always aware that there is a chance things can turn nasty.

In practice, the tricks journalists use in aggressive interviews are small in number and well known.  And the most aggressive interviewers all have their own, well documented style.  Here is my list of this country’s most aggressive interviewers. I would be delighted to hear if you have others you’d like to add.

Top Tips for Surviving Aggressive Interviews

If you think you or your spokesperson could be facing aggressive interviews, here is a checklist of things to do or think about.

1. Rehearse your messages
As with all interviews, there is a need for rehearsed, thought through messages. Always ensure there is something credible to say.

2. Tough questions
Once you have your messages, work out what the tough questions are likely to be. Politicians and CEOs are in a much more difficult position than most because they can often be legitimately asked about a very wide range of subjects. For most others, the scope is more limited and anything outside the scope can be ‘closed down’ by simply explaining you are not the right person to answer the question.

3. Work out the answers!
Now you have worked out the tough questions, work out the answers but keep them as short as possible. These are called ‘reactive lines’ and are different to your messages. You don’t offer a reactive line unless asked the question.

4. Don’t lie
The hardest ‘reactive lines’ to sort out are the ones where you can’t tell the truth and you can’t lie. In my experience, there is always a way but it can take a few minutes to work it out, which is why you don’t want to be doing it in the interview.  However tempting it is, never ever lie.

5. Beware the ‘rabbit-punch’
Beware the ‘rabbit punch’ question: a tough destabilising first question, often unexpectedly personal. It’s a technique that was often used by the now retired UK journalist, Jeremy Paxman. A couple of his classics: to politician and former cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe ‘Were you a little in love with Michael Howard?’ To the Iranian ambassador ‘Sir, your country is lying to us isn’t it’. To deal with this you need to respond briefly and, if appropriate, with wit and then move on to saying something credible and relevant.

Top Tips for Surviving Aggressive Interviews

Now retired, Jeremy Paxman perfected the ‘rabbit-punch’ question

6. Slow down
If the questions get tough, slow down your answers, it will give you more thinking time.

7. Avoid jargon
Do not start using jargon and technical language; you will immediately lose the sympathy of the audience.

8. Be reasonable
Stay reasonable, even if the journalist isn’t, and be humble.

9. Say sorry
If you have made a mistake admit it and say sorry.

10. Don’t say ‘you’re wrong’
Don’t fight with the journalist. It’s better not to say ‘you’ at all i.e. don’t say, ‘you are wrong’, ‘I don’t know where you got that number from’, ‘you guys are all the same’, etc. If you make it personal, the journalist is likely to increase their aggression. Your job is to stay reasonable and professional. In this Sky News interview from June 2015, Kay Burley is very aggressive and also resorts to that classic question, ‘if nothing was wrong before, why are you fixing it’. Note that Nick Varney, the CEO of Merlin Entertainment, the owners of Alton Towers, never loses his cool despite a lot of provocation.

[This Alton Towers interview definitely falls into the category of a ‘crisis interview’ and my colleague Catherine Cross has written more about handling these in a previous blog.]

A final thought … nowadays it is not just the journalists who get to be aggressive. If you haven’t seen President Trump’s handling of questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta last week you really should!

A version of this post was published in July 2015

media training

Media Training: The ‘Justify Your Bonus’ Question

Media training sessions quickly flush out the questions that senior executives are most nervous about hearing from journalists. And ‘how do you justify your bonus?’ is up there in the top three.

This recent example of the Persimmon CEO, Jeff Fairburn failing to handle such a classic and predictable tough question is both funny and shocking. (Many thanks to those of you that drew my attention to this. I love that you all think of me when you see a bad interview!)

You clearly hear on the video a woman, probably his PR minder, stepping in to say her boss cannot be asked the question! Some have criticised her for jumping in.

Sympathy for PR

media training

BBC’s Spencer Stokes asked CEO Jeff Fairburn about his £75m bonus.

I have more sympathy. Her boss was failing to handle the ‘can you justify your bonus?‘ question from Spencer Stokes the Business and Transport Correspondent for BBC Look North.

Those of us who work in PR know full well that if something goes wrong in an interview, senior people love to blame the PR person. There is a certain type of business leader who believes if they pay enough for PR they can control the media. Fortunately, this is not the case.

But, I fear that had our hapless PR person not jumped in, she might well have lost her job. As it is, it was probably a very bad day for her and I, for one, am not going to blame someone for looking to demonstrate support (or attempt to control) in such circumstances. She may well have known that on many measures it was an inappropriate thing to do – but for her personally, it was perhaps better than the alternatives.

The fault here lies in the lack of preparation. Anyone in the public eye, with a large salary or bonus, can expect this question. It feels both uncomfortable and intrusive to be asked about remuneration but given that the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to generate headlines, these questions are not going to stop anytime soon.

What he should have said?

The trick is to practise a non-committal answer. I would suggest something like this:

‘The bonus is a matter of public record, it is set by the remuneration committee and agreed by shareholders. I am not going to comment on it.’

The speaker can then move on to something they want to say or simply leave it at that, understanding full well that the question will return. When it does, the answer should be the same but still delivered politely.

People who are infuriated by those in power not answering the question will hate this solution but there really is no alternative. If the speaker tries to justify any level of bonus by, for example, talking about ‘market rate for the job’, ‘the global marketplace’ or ‘the value I have delivered to shareholders’ he or she is going to open up a whole debate with the journalist that will likely include a bunch of quotes that make the speaker sound arrogant, unsympathetic to the poor or out of touch. The story will immediately grow ‘legs’ as we say in the business and be picked up and picked over by a whole bunch of other news outlets and commentators.

The answer should be as unremarkable and dull as possible

The best that can happen if someone senior is asked about a bonus or pay, is that the answer is unremarkable and unnewsworthy. That is why the way to deal with this question is to politely close it down with something that sounds as credible but dull as possible.

The lesson is clear: business leaders facing the media must do the preparation and get some media training so they can roleplay these things. They need time to discuss and understand the options and the wording so if that dreaded question comes they know what to say.

Above all don’t wait for, or expect your PR person to rescue you (at least not on TV or radio). And don’t get snarky with the journalist afterwards. It makes you look bad.

The Daily Mail article on this subject can be found here and the article from the Independent can be found here.