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We have a library of media interviews which we use during our media training courses to illustrate particular points.
It contains both examples of good interviews and those that are often referred to in the social media world as ‘car crash interviews’.
And there is one interview which seems to always strike more of chord with our media training participants than any other, probably because it's such a standout example of the perils of ignoring a journalist’s question.
It happened almost five years ago to the day and we thought we would mark that anniversary by revisiting this disastrous interview.
The infamous exchange happened on BBC Breakfast and featured the then boss of BlackBerry as his company prepared to unveil its latest phone.
In reality it should not have been that testing an interview. But such was Stephen Bates’ desperation to avoid negative questions that it quickly crumbled into a memorably embarrassing encounter.
The first question set the tone. It was a fairly predictable question asking why the launch has been delayed twice. The response was full of evasive corporate nonsense.
Mr Bates said: “We’ve been embarking on a complete redesign, re-engineer and reinvention of what is BlackBerry…”
This very quickly became a pattern. Business reporter Steph McGovern would pursue her line of questioning on the delayed launch and Mr Bates would completely ignore it and instead focus on how ‘excited’ he was.
The interview is best encapsulated by the following exchange:
McGovern: You still haven’t told me what went wrong.
Bates: This is a phenomenal market. We are brave, we are out there, we are pushing it. We’ve transitioned and are supporting a business in the consumer world and the business world and what is important is ensuring we deliver a great, unique experience to those 79 million customers out there and all the other BlackBerry users that we think we'll get.
McGovern: Ok Stephen. We might never know what went wrong, but anyway, thanks very much for your time.
So if you bear to hear the question again, what went wrong (with the interview) and what should Mr Bates have done differently?
It is actually very simple. Instead of completely ignoring the question he just didn’t want to answer, Mr Bates need to address it right at the start, put it to bed, and then use the media training technique called bridging to move the conversation on to the areas he wanted to focus on. Radio 5 Live Breakfast presenter Nicky Campbell, who carried out an equally damaging interview with Mr Bates, that same day, later alluded to this in tweets.
@dcarvill he should have answered briefly and then grabbed the agenda. the classic ABC approach. Answer -Bridge - Control— Nicky Campbell (@NickyAACampbell) January 30, 2013
Spokespeople should remember that journalists ask the questions they think their audience want answered. Many BlackBerry customers would have wanted to know why this latest phone had been delayed. It should also have been a very obvious question to anticipate when Mr Bates and his comms team prepared for the interview.
The other main issue with evading questions is that it creates a completely unnatural conversation. This interview felt completely contrived as if Mr Bates was simply reading from a press release. This problem was compounded by Mr Bates littering his responses with jargon and corporate speak. Examples included ‘delivering a solution’, ‘unique user experience’, and ‘transitioning’ among others.
Mr Bates also completely ignored the ‘who cares’ test with his messaging. No-one outside of BlackBerry would care whether it was an ‘exciting day’ for the company or that it had been through ‘major changes’. This sort of content is just meaningless corporate noise.
Finally, as we have already suggested this BBC breakfast interview was not his only media appearance that day. It seems unlikely that he went from studio to studio without any comms people from BlackBerry in tow so why were they not advising him on what had happened in his interviews up to that point and what he should do in the ones to follow. We always advise that if a spokesperson has a full day of interviews they should factor in a brief review between each one.
This should have been a golden opportunity for BlackBerry to talk about its new product while the nation enjoyed its breakfast. Instead, Mr Bates produced a performance which went down in media training folklore – one that we continue to talk about five years on.
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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