Spokesperson shows how to give your media interviews a shot in the arm

We love it when we hear and see excellent interviews we can highlight in this media training blog.

There is always plenty that can be learnt from watching other spokespeople – one reason we encourage our delegates to observe each other during the TV and radio interviews on our courses.

The opportunity to watch those spokespeople who are at the top of their game should not be missed.

And a radio interview we recently heard was full of confidence, authority and examples of how not to get drawn into controversy.

It saw Kate Bingham, the former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, appear on Radio 4’s Today programme after it was announced a fourth covid vaccine could be approved in the UK in a matter of weeks.

The interview began with presenter Nick Robinson asking if she had a “smile on her face” following the news about the Novavax vaccine.

Now, you could rightly argue that is a pretty gentle opening question.

But as we have shown in this media training blog before, innocuous-looking questions often cause spokespeople the most trouble.

But not Ms Bingham. She had clearly prepared for a question like this and took the opportunity to add in an anecdote, which instantly brought a human element to the interview.

She said: “I have a massive smile on my face and when I heard the news last night, I’m afraid I broke the dry January rule and celebrated with a glass of wine.”

Suddenly, this spokesperson who has held the job of shaping the country’s vaccination efforts is someone we can relate to and warm to.

It is worth highlighting that it was this part of the interview that the programme’s social media team decided to use in its tweets and it was a line that was picked up by other journalists. 

From that strong opening, Ms Bingham spoke informatively and with clarity about the benefits of the Novavax vaccine.

“I think the fact we have seen efficacy against both the Kent variant and the South African variant is really important,” she said.

“And it is also likely to be effective against severe disease. So, I think it is a massively helpful set of results that is going to help save lives.”

Asked whether the fact a US vaccine had been developed and manufactured in the UK explained why its programme seems to be more advanced than the EU’s, Ms Bingham replied: “When we set up the vaccine task force in May, we were clearly a small player, a small country relative to the US or EU and Japan and were clearly at a disadvantage in terms of size and buying power.

“So, the way to address that was to be nimble and as cooperative and supportive as we possibly could be. There were two aspects to that. The first was to ensure we could run clinical trials quickly and at high standards and that is why we set up the NHS registry and we have a shade under 400,000 volunteers and I would like to say thank you to them because without those people and that registry we would not have this data as quickly.

“And it is notable we were able to recruit the entire UK phase three study before the US even started their phase three study.

“Our ability to get the clinical trials running and completed has been absolutely phenomenal.”

As the interview went on, Mr Robinson increasingly tried to get the businesswoman to comment on the vaccine row that has been building between the EU and AstraZeneca – a subject that certainly contained that ‘trouble’ element we always highlight on our media training courses.

Asked, whether the UK’s contract ensured it got the jabs before anyone else, Ms Bingham said: “I’m not going to get into the details of the contract.

“But one of the things the CEO of AZ did not mention was the fact we started scaling up the manufacturing for the Oxford vaccine from February. So, yes, we agreed terms with them in May, but actually, the work to scale up the manufacturing had started months before. And it is that early work that was done by the industry voluntarily – not based on contracts or requirements – that has made the difference on why we are so far ahead on manufacturing.”

Mr Robinson continued to attempt to draw her into this subject, asking several more questions. Each one was dealt with confidently – and without displaying any sense of annoyance

“That’s beyond my paygrade - that is a political discussion,” she said in response to a question asking how she would feel if she found out doses of the vaccine would be leaving the UK for the EU.

“I know we have basically got the supply in place. We have got a fabulous team that is making these vaccines and how the politicians solve this is for them, not me.”

Another part of the interview I liked, which came right at the end, saw Ms Bingham move the story forward by talking about how vaccines could be made more efficient in the future.

She said: “We need to improve the vaccine formats because, frankly, two injections delivered by healthcare professionals is not a good way of delivering vaccines.

"We need to get vaccine formats which are much more scalable and distributable, so, whether they are pills or patches or nose sprays, we need to find better ways of developing and delivering vaccines, and we'll do that in collaboration, just as we've been doing that over the last few months."

This was something that was seized upon by the newspaper, ensuring Ms Bingham’s interview reached a wider audience.

JAB HAPPY New Covid vaccines in pill, patch and nasal spray form will speed up rollout, says former jabs chief The Sun

Covid vaccine could be replaced with ‘nasal sprays or patches’, Kate Bingham suggests Evening Standard

Media interviews do tend to be easier when you are riding the crest of a wave. And, perhaps, we should expect Ms Bingham to perform well considering she has previously made headlines for reportedly paying a PR firm £670,000 to advise her.

But this interview was still filled with potential pitfalls which needed to be negotiated carefully and skilfully.

It would have been easy to get drawn into the controversy surrounding the EU, to appear self-congratulatory given her success, or explain the vaccine strategy in a way listeners would struggle to understand. And that opening question could have made her appear robotic and distant.

Instead, she delivered a performance as impressive as the country’s vaccine rollout so far.

As Mr Robinson said at the end of the interview, “Kate Bingham – pour yourself another glass.”

About to face the media? 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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