How authenticity helped this businesswoman turn a sickening act into something positive

When Maggie Ogunbanwo's family home and business was the target of a hate crime, growing her profile couldn’t have been further from her mind.

Yet a few months on, and the horrific incident has led to her business booming.

And she believes that engaging with the media about her experience has been instrumental in turning an abhorrent event into something that captured the attention and hearts of a huge audience.

“Talking to the media took what had happened to a much wider audience and made people aware of what we had experienced,” Maggie said about finding a swastika painted on the garage of her home.  

“That was important because I wanted people to know how we felt about what had happened.

“I had posted about the incident on social media and it was picked up by a local journalist. And from there the interest in the story just grew and grew.

“We spoke to everyone – national newspaper journalists, radio, BBC, ITV, everyone.”

 

Maggie brings a taste of Africa to North Wales through her business - Maggie’s Exotic Foods – which she runs from her home - a former pub -in Penygroes, Gwynedd.

What stood out in all the subsequent coverage was Maggie’s openness and honesty. Her quotes sounded human and natural, like she was having a conversation with the reporters she spoke to.

“Some people told me to be careful about talking to the media,” she said. “And I was a little cautious, particularly around any questions that looked to get me to criticise the police.

“But ultimately I am me and I only know how to be me. I am open and talkative and I think people connected with that. They connected with me as a person.

“I’ve had so many letters and cards sent to me and so many more followers on social media.”

Not only did people connect with Maggie, but telling her story generated huge publicity for her business and orders took off.

Maggie said: “We have had so many orders. It really didn’t cross my mind at the time that this could help the business. I wasn’t thinking about my business, I just wanted people to know what had happened to us.

“But actually, someone trying to cause us harm did us a lot of good.”

Maggie, who has lived in Wales for 12 years, believes that previous experience of talking to the media in Wales about food helped prepare her for her time in the spotlight.

“I think the fact I had previously engaged with the media helped me,” she said. “I had an idea of what to expect. But the level of interest still took me by surprise.”

So, is there anything she thinks others can learn from her experience?

“Be yourself,” she said. “Of course, you do need to be a little cautious, but if you are yourself people will be able to connect with you.”

This is something we discuss a lot during our media training courses. You’ll often hear our current working journalist tutors talking about the importance of authenticity.

But is there more to authenticity than being yourself?

Well, that is crucial, but let’s add a little bit more to that. Here is what we mean when we talk about authenticity on our media training courses:

 

Authentic spokespeople self-edit

Being an authentic spokesperson is not about saying whatever comes to mind and completely being yourself.

Authentic spokespeople monitor and choose their words carefully – as Maggie did when discussing the police investigation - because they are sensitive to the impact they have on others.

They are attuned to their audience, are aware of boundaries and know what will motivate people to take positive action and what will cause them to switch-off.

 

Authentic spokespeople put messages in their own words

The more natural a message sounds the more likely the audience is to feel that the spokesperson genuinely believes what they are saying.

To achieve this, it is crucial that - while spokespeople should still prepare thoroughly - they don’t memorise their briefing and messages so that they sound like they are regurgitating a press release or statement.

Spokespeople should feel empowered to put messages into their own words (within corporate guidelines). Not only does this approach help bring messages to life and give them authenticity but it will also increase the spokesperson’s confidence and make them more comfortable with what they are saying.

 

Authentic spokespeople are human

To be an authentic media spokesperson, you need to be able to express feelings and show emotions and vulnerabilities.

We are not talking about tear-filled Oscar-style acceptance speeches and, of course, some subjects lend themselves to this style of delivery much more naturally.

But it could be as simple as admitting mistakes, sharing what keeps you up at night, what makes you nervous or what makes you excited – although you should avoid the clichéd ‘excited to announce’.

In a crisis media management situation, it is about showing you care about those who have been affected.

While displaying emotion in an interview may feel uncomfortable and perhaps make spokespeople feel self-conscious, it can be compelling and engaging for the audience.

 

Authentic spokespeople draw on personal experience

If you’ve been on one of our media training courses you know we stress the importance of examples to support messages. As one of our tutors once said ‘messages without examples are just rhetoric’.

The most powerful examples are those which are personal to the spokesperson and that connect with the audience and take them on a journey.

Personal stories and anecdotes help make the brand relevant, provide a human side to the organisation and help spokespeople grow in confidence.

 

Authentic spokespeople are honest

Authentic spokespeople are confident, sincere and honest. But the key thing is that the honesty is subtle and not announced.

Using phrases like ‘I’m going to be honest with you’ or ‘to be honest’ will undermine your credibility and suggest to the audience that you haven’t been truthful during the rest of the interview.

 

Authentic spokespeople banish the jargon

Language is a key part of being an authentic media spokesperson.

Sometimes spokespeople opt for words and phrases which they feel may make them come across as more intelligent or they rely on industry jargon and acronyms.

The problem with both these approaches is that they can alienate the audience, sound hollow and affect credibility.

To be an authentic spokesperson you need to be able to create a natural-sounding conversation using the language you would use if you were talking to a friend in a coffee shop or pub.

 

Not only has Maggie managed to turn a horrible experience into something positive, but she has also produced a powerful example of the importance of authenticity.

 

Get your media interview homework off to the best start by downloading your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.

 

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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