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Hopefully you will have already seen our compilation of the worst interviews of 2017.
But what about those who performed admirably when talking to the media this year?
There have been many media spokespeople who we think have done a pretty good job in the past 12 months.
But a few really stood out. Here are our selections:
The perfect opening response
On our media training courses we tell delegates about the importance of trying to exert some control in a media interview.
This can be done through techniques like bridging and by the spokesperson getting straight to examples in their initial answers rather than waiting to be asked.
Dr Clare Gerada, a GP and former chair of the Royal College of GPs, gave the perfect example of how to do this when she appeared on Channel 4 to discuss NHS proposals to reduce prescriptions. Click on the image below to watch the interview.
Faced with a potentially tricky first question which suggested the plans would mean the most vulnerable in society would have to pay for their medication, Dr Gerada briefly acknowledged the point by saying ‘I think we will have to have a safety net’, before name-checking her own organisation (something many spokespeople forget to do).
She then steered the conversation, while sounding completely natural, back to her message about why it is important to look at this funding question, and added credibility to it by instantly using a powerful example which the majority of the audience would be able to relate to.
She said: “I’ve just gone online and I’ve seen the cost for a month of an anti-histamine for hay fever, which many of my patients will be asking for a prescription for. For a month’s treatment it is less than a pound if you buy it yourself.
“If I provide you with a prescription, when all costs are taken into account, it will cost the state about £40 and it will take up an appointment with me or one of my staff, so we have to make some sensible decisions.”
Such was the strength of this opening answer that presenter Alex Thomson was moved to remark that she had set-out her argument ‘very clearly’ – not something which happens very often in interviews.
And it set the tone for the rest of the interview, which included personal anecdotes and further examples.
And all of this was achieved through a down-the-line interview – a format many spokespeople find alien and uncomfortable.
Doctor produces a medal-winning performance
The Athletics World Championships proved the unlikely venue for a particularly challenging interview in the summer.
It came after Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was barred from competing in the 400m final because the sport’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), believed he had been showing symptoms of the norovirus.
As the story unfurled during the evening’s coverage, Dr Pam Venning, head of medical services at IAAF, appeared to defend the decision not to let him compete.
Now we are not suggesting that presenter Gaby Logan delivered a Jeremy Paxman style grilling, but it was challenging in its own way as it was effectively an interview by committee.
As well as facing questions from the main presenter, Ms Venning was also interrogated by pundits, and former athletes Denise Lewis, Paula Radcliffe and Michael Johnson who all held the same view and struggled to contain their disappointment that a star attraction and realistic medal hope had not been allowed to run.
In this daunting situation many spokespeople would have struggled, but Ms Venning’s performance seemed to win over public opinion at a time when the IAAF appeared to be rapidly hurtling towards a PR disaster.
Really poor from @BBCSport tonight. Extremely well handled by Pam Venning. Medical care - and a doctor's word - must come first.— Matt Robson (@MattRobson10) August 8, 2017
Well done Pam Venning for maintaining dignity in the barrage of ridiculous questioning of your medical integrity #Makwala— Joanna Percy (@PercyJoanna) August 9, 2017
Interview on BBC with Pam Venning was helpful but uncomfortable to watch. Pam did very well against 4 panelists with same view #London2017— windymiller (@windiemiele) August 9, 2017
Importantly she repeatedly showed compassion for the barred runner while presenting a clear explanation as to why the decision had been taken.
She said: “We feel very sorry for the athletes who have to be withdrawn from competition, but the issue is we have a responsibility to all the athletes and we need to make sure they are all protected.”
Crucially, she did not get drawn into speculation. When asked about another athlete who had collapsed but had been allowed to continue to compete, she said she was unaware of the case. Similarly, when asked about whether the decision would prevent other teams from reporting sickness among their athletes, she replied ‘we have had great cooperation from all the teams who have presented athletes who are sick’.
In crisis media management interviews like this one, it is imperative spokespeople do not provide short answers, as they can sound defensive. Ms Venning’s responses were detailed and often went beyond answering what was asked and moved back to her main message – that she, and the IAAF, had a responsibility to all athletes.
But perhaps most important of all, she was able to maintain her composure despite the group grilling and the somewhat repetitive nature of the questions posed by the pundits. In a hostile interview, it is crucial spokespeople don’t get rattled or show anger at the questions. The audience is more likely to be sympathetic if they remain calm and composed. Getting into an argument with the journalists – or the wider panel in this case – will not help a spokesperson fight their corner.
CEO shows how to handle a doorstep interview
We’ve seen many times over the years how the dreaded doorstep interview can trip up even the most experienced of media spokespeople.
Previous examples have included spokespeople refusing to acknowledge the reporter’s presence; completely ignoring all questions and even pushing cameras away.
The resulting footage can make crisis media management situations much worse. So we were pleased when we saw a spokesperson deal pretty well with this challenging interview format earlier this year.
It came when Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was approached by a Sky News journalist at his offices as the story broke that the company was cancelling 50 flights a day.
Don’t get us wrong, Mr O’Leary made several gaffes in the handling of this crisis, but he handled this doorstep interview well.
"It is clearly a mess" admits Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary as 50 flights a day will have to be cancelled over the next six weeks pic.twitter.com/HpwwDKpEee— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 18, 2017
Crucially, he didn’t run away from the journalist – something we have seen all too often – and he quickly apologised to customers for the disruption.
He followed this up by trying to put the situation in some context before highlighting some of the action his company has taken to resolve the situation.
What we also liked is that he clearly had an exit strategy in mind after answering a couple of questions, telling the reporter there would be a ‘full press briefing’ later that afternoon. But he couldn’t quite make the clean break required, continuing to answer further questions while backing away from the reporter and even turning back to shout a response across the office to one last question.
That slightly messy end aside, it was definitely one of the better doorstep interviews we have seen. Mr O’Leary came across as polite, courteous and even helpful and he also appeared honest, using his own language like ‘messed up’ rather than corporate lines.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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