Media Interviews: Whatever you do, don’t do this

media_training_micsBy Rosanna Moseley

It’s always good to know what you should do in a crisis and how you should communicate. However, it’s potentially even more important to know what not to do.

When you see those toe-curling, mortifying interviews (you know, the ones where you want the interviewee to run away as fast as their legs can take them), it’s no wonder that many business leaders avoid contact with the media at all costs. However, nothing will be as effective at maintaining your company image than a clear, confident, considered interview in a time of crisis. Our post last week highlighted how a leader can bring a human face to an organisation in crisis, and the most effective way to do this is through a TV interview.

Below are some examples of the worst big name interviews with tips on how not to follow in their ill-advised footsteps. Watch and learn:

Acting BBC General Director, Tim Davie, on Sky News 

  • Be clear in your message – In this interview Mr. Davie’s point of view is unclear. He doesn’t seem to have a key message or messages. During a crisis, you can be sure that the interview will focus on key issues and the relevant questions will be pointed. He would have benefitted from a strong structure such as:
      • This is what I’m saying
      • This is why I’m saying it
      • These are my supporting arguments
  • Be aware of your body language – Research suggests that between 60-70% of all meaning is derived from nonverbal behavior. By consistently looking off camera and smirking, Mr. Davie appears evasive and disingenuous. Instead:
      • Maintain eye contact
      • Maintain focus – don’t let others distract you from the interviewer and his questions

Former BP CEO, Tony Hayward

  • Be empathetic – Mr. Hayward does say ‘sorry’, however his following statement gives the impression that he’s sorry for the hassle it’s causing him, rather than the livelihoods and ecosystems wrecked by the disaster.
      • Be sorry and mean it; sincerity and admission of failings (where appropriate) can generate respect and support.
  • Have more than one trained spokesperson – no one can perform effectively for hours/ days on end. When people get tired, blunders are more likely to occur and those dreaded “I want my life back” remarks slip out.
      • Deputise a team of well-trained, well-informed subject matter exerts to act as spokespeople when you cannot
  • Don’t be flippant! Having a joke will not relieve the pressure or cheer people up; it will do quite the opposite and aggravate the situation. The spokesperson is representing the organisation and one remark can misrepresent the entire workforce and distract attention from the work that it actually being done to manage the incident.
      • Judge the severity of the situation – sometimes humour can work – but if in any doubt, avoid.

Research in Motion CEO, Mike Lazaridis

  • Know your interviewer – according to commentators, this interview it is indicative of business reporting in the USA where CEOs perceive interviews to be a form of advertising because journalists and news channels that ask probing questions are not given access to the senior people. Therefore, CEOs are rarely asked difficult questions and it explains Mr. Lazaridis’ melodramatic reaction.
      • Press officers/ publicists should research the journalist and their organisation to gain some insight into how the interview might be conducted.
  • Don’t victimise yourself – Mr. Lazaridis flips this interview giving the impression that he is the one being wronged and treated unfairly. Instead he should
      • Identify and empathise with the issues affecting his customers and
      • Provide an overview of the actions being taken to manage the situation

British Dental Association CEO, Peter Ward 

  • Don’t flip out – Reacting in this way will never end well. In fact, I would go as far as saying it could limit your career. It’s in the journalist’s interests to try to provoke you into saying something controversial.
      • Remain calm. Breathe… and hold your ground
      • Stay on message
  • Do not break out of ‘spokesperson mode’ – Don’t start referring to the pre-established parameters of the interview i.e. “you never said you would ask that question”. It makes you look defensive.
  • Don’t get defensive – the interview is about your organisation not your personal conduct. Getting emotional and accusing the interviewer of a personal attack will make you look out of control, unprepared and afraid.

Media interviews are challenging at any time, and never more so than during a crisis. Journalists and their public will always look for a villain and a victim in a crisis – and neither one makes for an effective spokesperson. Following our advice above and the 8 1/2 Cs of Crisis Communications, plus thorough training and preparation will help avoid the pitfalls that can cause  organisations to plunge into even deeper crises.

About rosannamoseley

Social media buff and Steelhenge Project Manager. Currently gaining a diploma in Crisis Communications from the CIPR.

3 thoughts on “Media Interviews: Whatever you do, don’t do this

  1. I’ve forwarded this to my former colleagues in the SW Army press office. Brilliant examples of how even senior experienced members of staff can lose the plot without proper training. Good follow-up advice given too.

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