It’s often the worst interviews that we most remember. Theresa May insisting, “The choice is clear: strong and stable leadership with me, or a coalition of chaos under Jeremy Corbyn.” Tony Hayward, BP CEO, just a few days after eleven people had died on the Deepwater Horizon: “There’s no-one wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” Or United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, who, when a passenger was violently dragged off an overbooked flight, tried to blame the passenger: “one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused…and became more and more disruptive and belligerent…our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.”
It’s easy to criticise these interviews. But no-one goes into an interview thinking it is going to go badly. Clever media operators were part of the teams behind all of these examples, and everyone thought they were going to go well. So it’s worth thinking about why these interviews went wrong and what we can learn from them. Here are my top 5 media training tips.
1. Messaging is not marketing
Marketing slogans are designed to be as short as possible, read rather than said, and memorable rather than precise. Messaging on the other hand should be memorable and precise, said and read, as short as necessary but no shorter.
Great marketing slogans from Just Do It to I’m Loving It are great because they are memorable but not precise, and are therefore open to a range of interpretations.
Strong and stable leadership, on the other hand, is trying to have it both ways. It is short enough to be a slogan, whilst precise enough to be messaging. But this creates a problem. We instinctively understand that slogans are not to be taken at face value. So reducing your messaging to a slogan automatically devalues it. If your audience feels you are selling to them, they’ll trust you less. So when it comes to media interviews, stop selling and start communicating.
2. Credibility is everything
Strong and stable leadership could easily be measured against reality – where it was found distinctly lacking. In the United Airlines example, the CEO said they had been polite and the passenger was belligerent. However, these claims were directly contradicted by video footage shared widely on social media, which showed a meek passenger violently dragged away by an aggressive security guard.
If there is a discrepancy between what you are saying, and what your audience can see for themselves – well, in that case, you lose. Make sure what you say is credible. If it isn’t, don’t waste your time saying it.
3. Audiences and Outcomes
Media Interviews are a business tool to achieve business objectives. When considering whether or not to seek media interviews, there are two questions that need to be answered. Who is our audience and what outcome do you want? Once you know the answers to those baseline questions, then you can decide whether / what media is the way to reach those audiences and achieve those outcomes.
Oscar Munoz’s interview hadn’t fully considered the answers to these two questions. His comments were made in an internal letter to staff. They were calibrated for that audience. But, internal is external. When that messaging hit the public there was an outcry.
4. Stick to your knitting
Now we come to the third (and most difficult) question. What do you have to tell your audience in order to achieve the desired outcome (ensuring of course that what you have to say is true and credible)?
Media interviews are about disciplined delivery of messages. Let that discipline slip, and you’re into uncharted territory. When Tony Hayward told a journalist I’d like my life back, that was undisciplined freelancing. He was under huge pressure and in that context the slip is of course totally understandable. But we can still learn from this – prepare what you want to say in advance. Don’t make it up in the heat of an interview.
5. Answer the questions and deliver the messages
At Media Zoo we use sophisticated and effective tools to help spokespeople go into any interview with real clarity about what they want to say and why they want to say it. We also ensure they have the skills needed to deliver those messages – no matter how tough the interview. And we always prepare our spokespeople to both answer the question and deliver the message. That’s the only way to ensure you have credibility.
About Siôn Taylor:
Sion Taylor is an extremely experienced media trainer and strategic messaging consultant. Sion has assisted some of the world’s biggest brands in preparing spokespeople for high-profile media interviews and crisis situations. Prior to Media Zoo he worked as investigative journalist on programmes including Watchdog, UK's Worst and Don't Get Done Get Dom.
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