Every company spokesperson can learn from this costly media mistake

Imagine you are the boss of a premium car company.

And you are keen in your media interview to dispel the claim your vehicles are stolen more often than others.

Probably the worst thing you could do in this situation is repeat the negative language used by the media.

It is something we always highlight during our media training courses – it is a golden media training rule.

Yet, we continue to see spokespeople make the same mistake.

And we can add Adrian Mardell, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, to the list of those who have driven into the negative language trap.

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Speaking to journalists about the company’s financial results, he reportedly reacted “angrily” to reports the Range Rover Velar model was the most stolen car in the country.

“It is not Britain’s most stolen vehicle, as reported incorrectly,” he said.

Before adding he wanted to correct what he described as "misinformation" and a "myth" about thefts, in particular where Range Rovers were concerned.

Here’s how that response was reported by the media:

Our Range Rovers are not UK's most-stolen car, says Jaguar Land Rover BBC News

Jaguar Land Rover boss claims Range Rover isn’t the UK’s most stolen car in angry outburst Daily Express

Land Rovers are not UK's most stolen cars, chief executive says The National

Not a great collection of headlines for the poor comms professional to read when compiling the Jaguar Land Rover media report.

And it is a shame because it distracts from some strong content.

For example, partly funding a police crackdown on car thefts and increased security at UK ports ticks many newsworthy boxes.

But other than an article in The Telegraph, that doesn’t get much attention.

I regularly notice spokespeople repeating my negative language during the telephone interviews I carry out with delegates during our media training courses.

If I ask something like “This is very disappointing, isn’t it? Aren’t you disappointed?” or “You must be embarrassed”, the most common response is “I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing… I wouldn’t say it is embarrassing.”

Part of the reason for this is that we do it in everyday conversations.

Think about it.

If your partner accuses you of being lazy, for example, many people will respond by saying, “I’m not lazy”.

Now, we want media interviews to sound like natural conversations.

But when it comes to negative language, we need to move away from this natural, instinctive response and mentally edit what we want to say.

Repeating negative language gives journalists a neat soundbite or quote with you saying whether you are “disappointed”, “embarrassed” or, in this case, whether your expensive car is the most stolen.

You end up telling the story with the journalist’s words rather than your ones, and those words will almost always be used.

And that can reinforce the strength of the accusation and bring it to a much wider audience - I was one of many that I imagine were unaware of what the most stolen car was in the country until I saw the coverage of these remarks.

The impression grows. And people who hadn’t previously thought of Land Rovers as being particularly vulnerable now have a doubt in their minds about security.

So, what should media spokespeople do instead?

The car boss may be angry about the initial reports and the claims he believes are incorrect. And he might feel compelled to correct what he describes as “misinformation” and “myths” about his car and set the record straight.

But that can be done without repeating the “misinformation.” Rebuttal does not need to begin with repetition.

Highlight that thefts of Range Rovers have fallen by 27 per cent last year compared to 2022. Show that only 11 vehicles out of a total of 12,800 sold had been stolen, according to police data.

And then discuss the funding you are giving to police to tackle the issue.

That approach tackles the “misinformation”, helps move the story forward and creates a much more positive message.


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The good news for Mr Mardell is he is not the first - and won’t be the last - to find himself at the centre of stories caused by repeating negative language.

Volkswagen boss CEO Matthias Muller infamously said “We are not a criminal brand” during the company’s emissions crisis.

And Prince William declared “We are very much not a racist family” when asked about an interview given by Harry and Meghan.

But there are other areas where spokespeople need to be wary about negativity.

The first is when they introduce their own negatives.

It is often done to dispel an issue in the background that does not directly relate to the question asked.

For example, during a Cop26 press conference, Boris Johnson, the then Prime Minister, responded to a question about the sleaze scandal involving his party by saying: “I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt.

No one had asked if the UK was corrupt.

But his response spread the criticism to a much wider audience.

The other area is when spokespeople remind journalists – and their audience – about something that went wrong in the past. It might be something like a high-profile departure, a workplace accident, product recall or loss of profit. The journalist may ask about it at some point.

But they also may not. So, don’t bring it up and remind everyone about it, unless it is raised.

So, next time you are in the media spotlight, don’t let negative questions, comments or past incident put your performance in reverse.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 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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