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media interview traps

Media interview traps – how to avoid two of them

Media interview traps are relatively easy for journalists to set and for interviewees to fall headlong in to. At The Media Coach, we try to keep you safe by identifying the most common ones and giving you tips and techniques to avoid them. So it’s useful to look at two examples of interview traps which happened in recent days: being indiscreet near a microphone – even when you think you are not being recorded – and the journalist trying to get you to go ‘off message’ to create juicy headlines. The first trap resulted in days of embarrassing, negative publicity while the second was neatly avoided.

media interview traps

There are some well known media traps but people, even professionals, regularly get caught by them.

Media interview trap 1: Cameras are always on and microphones are always ‘hot’

During every media training session we drill into people the need to be very careful around microphones and cameras before and after an interview; in fact, whenever you are in a TV or radio studio. But familiarity can breed contempt and this week we saw even one of the UK’s most experienced journalists, BBC presenter John Humphrys, get caught out when he made controversial comments in a studio without realising he was being recorded.

He wasn’t on air at the time and was just chatting with a colleague before recording an interview when he made what he has since insisted were “jokey” comments about one of the biggest media stories in the previous week; Carrie Gracie’s resignation from the post of the BBC’s China editor because men in other editor posts were paid considerably more than she was.

The story about the lack of equal pay at the BBC had been running for several days and probably would have been winding down, but with the leaking of the recording, it is now right back up the news agenda.

One of John Humphry’s BBC colleagues, Jane Garvey, summed up the incident nicely when she tweeted:

media interview traps

Media interview trap 2: going off message/just reacting to the journalist’s questions

Also in recent days, experienced media performer, Stanley Johnson, (father of Foreign Secretary, Boris) deftly demonstrated how to avoid another common media interview trap, which I call the “while I’ve got you here, can I just ask you about…” question.

Mr Johnson was appearing on a phone in on Radio 5live’s Emma Barnett show after the UK Government announced proposals to curb plastic waste in the environment. After giving his view on the proposals, and mentioning Boris, Emma Barnett, seized the opportunity to go slightly off-topic with Stanley Johnson in search of a potentially juicy headline by revisiting the very public falling out between his son and the now Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, during the last Conservative leadership contest. ( You can click here for the full interview which starts at 1 hour 24 minutes and 55 seconds and will be available for the next three weeks.)

media interview traps

Stanley Johnson refused to be drawn when asked about the relationship between Michael Gove and his son Boris Johnson.

When asked to respond to the comments from his daughter Rachel that Mr Gove had stabbed her brother Boris “in the front and the back”, Stanley Johnson neatly spotted the potential for negative headlines which could overshadow his environmental agenda. He simply took the sting out of the topic by refusing to get drawn in and saying “I don’t think it’s a good idea to distract from talking about the environment” before going back to his key messages on his intended topic.

This is an effective example of the bridging technique which we teach during Media Coach training sessions to ensure interviewees can avoid being drawn off-topic and ending up with headlines they never intended.

Finally, to avoid both traps, the two cases illustrate the need to take media encounters seriously, focus and remain disciplined at all times.

Photo 1: Pixabay
Photo 2: Creative Commons

 

 

misspeak Michael Gove

So easy to misspeak: case study from Michael Gove

It is so easy to misspeak in public, especially if you are trying to be funny.

Last weekend, it was Michael Gove who caused widespread offence by joking about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

misspeak Michael Gove

Michael Gove MP has apologised for his gaffe

 

Wrong time to trivialise allegations against Weinstein

In a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview, he likened being interviewed by John Humphrys as going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom – “you just hope you emerge with your dignity intact”.

First I have to say I am not offended by Michael Gove’s joke. It was meant as a joke and tells you nothing about his attitude to women. I could easily join the #MeToo campaign. Others’ experience of this may be in the film or music business, mine was in the grubby hotel kitchens in Great Yarmouth. My experience is that chefs are just as bad as movie moguls.

But while I am not offended, I do recognise it was a daft thing to say and absolutely bound to cause an uproar.

Off-the-cuff remarks can be bad news

When it comes to off-the-cuff remarks in public, it is very easy to get it wrong. Being a little bit risqué will often get a laugh but can also easily offend. And when others are trying to move the dial on what is acceptable behaviour they are going to be quick to condemn those who can be criticised for not getting with the programme.

Back in August, I wrote about three subjects to avoid if you want to stay out of the headlines and any overtly sexist views was one of them. Gove was using Weinstein as an analogy rather than in any way endorsing his right to any sort of behaviour and the line “leave with your dignity intact” is elegant and funny. The problem is that Gove appears to be trivializing what Weinstein and perhaps others have done. If he had thought about it, crafted it, rehearsed it he would definitely have dropped the line. But it was almost certainly an off-the-cuff comment.

In this case, Michael Gove will undoubtedly bounce back. He was quick to apologise and there is an element of fake outrage about this.

But it does beautifully illustrate why spokespeople need training and they also need to rehearse. My Mum has often been heard to say, “I don’t understand why these clever, important people need you to advise them what to say”. And the truth is my one of my key roles is to ensure that my clients ‘risk assess’ the thoughts, arguments and comments they are likely to deploy in the public arena – thereby avoiding embarrassment or damage to the share price.

So many clever people initially find it extraordinary that PR people want to know what they are going to say, how they are going to say it and want to check how the argument is going to land. The smarter ones realise very quickly that an hour or two of preparation, scrutiny and rehearsal can allow everyone to breathe more easily.

If you would like our help in preparing for some external communication – whether it is in the media or somewhere else, please do give us a call to discuss. Join the group of senior leaders who would never be without us.

Photo used under Wikimedia Commons licence

communication style leadership

Communication style: Tory leadership race

Communication style will be a crucial factor in the Tory leadership race. The five candidates all threw their hats in the ring this week as the political meltdown following the Brexit vote continued to dominate UK headlines.

MPs will be voting today (5th July) with the results announced at 7pm.  The next round of voting will take place on Thursday 7th.  In this post, I am going to give a quick analysis of the communication style of each of the candidates.

 

tory leadership 2016

There are five contenders in the Tory leadership race

 Communication style: Theresa May

Theresa May, as I write the front runner, launched her bid with an excellent speech. Why do I think it was good:

  • It was statesman-like and extremely reassuring.
  • It went to extraordinary lengths to be inclusive.
  • It gave clear answers to the hot topic question. No invoking of Article 50 until the negotiating position is clear. No general election until 2020, and no change in the status of EU nationals in the UK.
  • The best line for me ‘I am the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major, public service is what we do’.
  • The speech was clear, structured and well paced.

What I would change:

  • After the hyperbole of the referendum campaigns, Theresa May’s lack of ‘showiness’ may be seen as a real virtue but if she wins it will not be long before people claim she is ‘boring’. She will not go down as one of the world’s great orators because she chooses not to let her passion show.
  • One of the perception-dangers of being a very senior woman is that you can come across as being schoolmarmish. The launch speech mostly avoided this but in general, May is a bit austere and preachy.
  • May doesn’t tell stories. Inserting anecdotes about ‘Joe who I met last week in Sunderland’ has become a standard part of political speeches but is often done really badly. May chooses to avoid this.


Theresa May’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom gave a detailed interview to Andrew Marr before launching her campaign on Monday. She is a confident and authoritative speaker although with less gravitas than Theresa May.

Why her communication style is good:

  • She comes across as honest and straight forward.
  • She has a more positive vision and seems less tired than Theresa May.
  • She has warmth as well as some authority.
  • She is likeable and mostly in control.

What I would change:

  • In the Andrew Marr interview, her naiveté showed. In particular, she was bounced into promising to publish her tax returns even though she had clearly never considered this before the interview. (She later said she would only do this if she gets into the last two in the race.) This may seem like a small thing but you can’t have a Prime Minister that makes up policy in response to a tough question.
  • Although compared to the general population she has authority, she has less than Theresa May and Liam Fox.
  • She is, as a communicator, ‘lighter-weight’ than Theresa May and other female leaders such as Angela Merkel. Her voice is higher and more feminine. This shouldn’t matter but it might.

Andrea Leadsom’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Michael Gove

Michael Gove as a former journalist is a good communicator and he does, as do the others, articulate an argument well, particularly when on prepared ground. He also knows that he lacks some of the standard oratory skills. He said himself  ‘whatever charisma is, I don’t have it.”

  • Gove does show passion although his oration skills don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
  • His launch speech was full of vision for a strong and proud Britain.
  • There is a strong sense of ‘grit’, a feeling that he is prepared to fight for what he believes is right.

What I would change:

  • Gove to me has an irritating voice and is also unfortunate looking. Both could be improved with a bit of effort.
  • When reading from his script in the launch speech, the sentences are too long, making it harder for him to make sense of it as he reads it.
  • He comes across as someone who has absolute conviction in his own view rather than someone who will lead a team of people with different views.


Michael Gove’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Stephen Crabb

Stephen Crabb is an outsider in this contest and many think he is mostly marking his card for the future.

What I like:

  • His communication style is less formal than the other candidates, he has a sense of Blair about him although this is somewhat reduced when giving a formal speech.
  • He has natural warmth and a slight regional (Welsh) accent, always a plus if you want to come across as a man of the people.
  • He uses lots of personal anecdotes.

What I would change:

  • He needs to let his natural warmth show when making or reading a speech. Not so easily done but just takes practice.

Stephen Crabb’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Liam Fox

Liam Fox is an experienced senior politician. He has gravitas. Like Stephen Crabbe he is much better (more appealing to normal people) in an interview than in his formal launch speech.

What I like:

  • Fox is blessed with a deep and statesman-like voice, more obvious in conversation or interview than in his launch speech.
  • He has gravitas.
  • His launch speech demonstrated his grasp of the international picture in a way the others did not.

What I would change:

  • I would want to see him inject his natural warmth into his formal speeches.
  • He would find it easier to read his speeches if he made his sentences shorter.
  • Sadly he comes across as another ‘grey man’ of politics. He is neither young, a woman or nerdy and this may count against him.

Liam Fox’s leadership launch transcript

 

EU Referendum; Reflections on the campaign

Brexit referendum: reflections on the campaign

The Brexit referendum campaign will be studied for decades to come for what it tells us about political campaigning in the social media age. There are so many themes and lessons worth exploring from the Brexit referendum that it is a bit overwhelming. The establishment versus the radicals, the young versus the old, the use of language, the missuses of facts and numbers, the lack of positive vision from either side…I could go on. The one that rises to the top today for me is a phenomenon that has been dubbed the ‘post-truth era.

Brexit referendum: post-truth era

In many ways I am a spin-doctor. I help people make clear, understandable, convincing arguments. And I believe in a complicated world, when often the experts in corporations and organisations have lost the ability to speak in plain English, mine is a useful role. But one of the absolute tenets is ‘don’t lie’. (Another is, by the way, don’t personally attack your opponents, stick to the argument.)

What I saw in the referendum was one side putting time and money and thought into clear reasoned honest arguments and the other dismissing every reasoned argument with a flourish. Nick Cohen in the Guardian wrote this weekend a scathing piece about the attitude to truth of the two ex-journalists who led the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. I have in the past been impressed with Boris Johnson as a communicator but my admiration waned after he was called before the Treasury select committee in March this year and so much of what he had said during the Brexit campaign was revealed as half-truths by the ‘dry as dust’ chairman Andrew Tyrie.

Brexit referendum: the lies

One lie that stands at the centre of the Brexit campaign was that £350m a week was being sent to the EU. It was disproved repeatedly but it was still being used right up to the end.

The bigger lie, the one that will define the next few years in British politics, is the one about immigration. The Brexit campaign has been fuelled by the public’s desire to ‘take back control of our borders’ and this Newsnight interview with MEP Daniel Hannan shows just how unlikely the ‘leave’ voting public are to get what they think they voted for.

 

The Remain side have been accused of lying too, particularly about their warnings of the economic consequences of ‘what could happen’. I did not agree with everything they said but I can’t find one outright lie that I can point to.

However, perhaps the most sinister exchange of the whole campaign came in a Michael Gove interview with Faisal Islam on Sky News. It was put to Gove that “the leaders of the US, India, China, Australia, every single one of our allies, the Bank of England, the IFS, IMF, the CBI, five former NATO secretary generals and the chief executive of the NHS” were all against Britain’s exit. The response was: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”.

Encouraged by such talk, we now have a large proportion of the population who feel they are lied to all the time and are therefore disinclined to believe anything the establishment or mainstream politicians tell them.

Add to this the power of social media where any piece of information that strikes a chord will be repeated and recycled. To quote Jim Murphy in the New Statesman last year ‘in these emotion-fuelled insurgencies, peer-to-peer social media is increasingly the broadcaster of choice’.

And this is the nightmare vision of the post-truth era – outlined in a 2004 book by Ralph Keyes: The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. The summary states: ‘post truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness, it erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization.’ Keyes wrote in 2004 ‘We are perilously close to the point’. I think we can safely say in the UK, in 2016, that point arrived.

 

 

How to survive a TV debate, Michael Gove

How to survive a TV debate 2: Gove the fearless

Students of how to survive a TV debate would learn rather different lessons from watching Michael Gove, a leading spokesperson for the UK’s EU Leave campaign, compared to the first debate in the series with Prime Minister David Cameron.

You can watch the full one hour debate here.

How to survive a TV debate: good humour and grace under fire

This was another polished performance, full of good humour and an ability to handle aggressive questioning with toughness, but also good grace and prepared lines. But where the Prime Minister apparently answered questions, Michael Gove sought to move the debate onto different grounds. This is what you do when you have less facts and less third-party endorsements than the opposition. Gove rarely responded directly to questions whilst waiting for the opportunity to land his message: he went from question to message in a heartbeat.

Here is an example.
How many independent economic authorities share your dream of Britain outside the EU? Can you name a single one?
If you are talking about the economic authorities that have already weighed into the debate, they are people who have been wrong in the past and who didn’t predict the global crash in 2008…I prefer to take the views of business people …

Michael Gove repeatedly landed his messages. Here are the ones I spotted with links to other commentators who saw what I did.

How to survive a TV debate: deploy metaphors

One of the best lines of the debate came from a member of the audience. He argued ‘You are asking us to vote for a divorce and sort out the financial settlement afterwards. That makes no sense to me, you negotiate before (you leave). And with respect Mr Gove, you are like a First World War general, waiving the flag, saying ‘over the top men’. But you have no idea what is going on on the front line or what the casualty rate will be’. Gove listened to this patiently and then answered respectfully and skillfully moving the conversation on to his message about putting faith in the British people.

Gove had good metaphors of his own. He suggested that the UK, ‘rather than being a difficult lodger in a house we didn’t design could be a friendly neighbour in a home we could call our own’.

As we have noted many times before in our blogs, metaphors are mighty powerful weapons of war.

What was missing from a spin doctors point of view were the numbers and the everyday examples. Where was the fan-belt maker from Bolton and the car exporters from Sunderland?

How to survive a TV debate: rhetorical flourish

There were however, some clever rhetorical flourishes. Gove challenged us all to name the five presidents of Europe. He asserted that none of us could. ‘The European Union’, he said, ‘is not a democracy, no one is elected, no one can name the presidents and none of us can sack them’. He went on: ‘The most powerful symbol of our democracy is the removal van that arrives outside 10 Downing Street every five or ten years’. Examples of prepared, powerful, clever, rhetoric.

Interestingly, while the questions from the audience were just as tough as in the previous programme, overall the audience were much more supportive of Michael Gove than they were of the Prime Minister. While the set piece interview for Gove was more manic, with more interruptions and more heated, the discussion with the audience was much friendlier and more respectful.