The best media interviews of 2016

Regular readers of this blog will have already seen our compilation of the worst interviews of 2016.

But what about those who nailed the art of talking to the media this year?

There were many media spokespeople who got it right in the past 12 months.

Some performed admirably while facing the full scrutiny of the media during a crisis media management situation while others made the most of opportunities to tell positive stories.

So here is our shortlist of the best interviews in 2016:


The teacher who got a gold star for managing huge media demand

For a few short days in September head teacher Matthew Tate seemed to become one of the most in demand media spokespeople in the country.

His school uniform clampdown went beyond the local newspaper coverage these types of stories generally generate and saw him face a range of national radio and television interrogations.

And he coped with this unexpected media attention admirably.

Whether he was appearing on radio or television he always appeared calm, composed and completely unfazed – even when interviewed alongside an angry parent.

As well as taking the opportunity to dispel rumours and inaccuracies, he had a clear message throughout – the majority of parents and children support his policy.

He carefully avoided the trap of repeating the negative language used by journalists, such as ‘showdown’, ‘hostility’ and ‘confrontational’ and when asked about comments comparing him to the ‘Gestapo’ he perfectly put those remarks into context.

Whatever your views on his uniform policy his media performance was impressive and a great example of why it is so important to engage with the media when you are in the spotlight.


The man who reassured a divided nation

Not strictly an interview, but few spokespeople would have wanted to have been in Mark Carney’s shoes the morning after the EU referendum.

As the country tried to digest news of a Brexit vote over the breakfast table, the Bank of England Governor took to the airwaves to try to ease concerns about economic consequences of the decision.

A man who had issued several stark warnings about the impact of leaving the EU in the build-up to the referendum, now had to appeal for calm amid shares and the pound plunging. And his audience was divided between those celebrating victory and others fearing an economic meltdown.

He bridged this giant chasm with a carefully crafted prepared statement, which had clearly been worked on for some considerable time in the event of an ‘out’ vote.

He started by acknowledging what we all know, regardless of which way we voted, that there will be a period of ‘uncertainty and adjustment’.

And then came the clear message of reassurance – ‘we are prepared for this’.

We were also told that the UK has a ‘resilient financial system’ which had been ‘consistently strengthened over the past seven years’.

It was also a speech which acknowledged the previous warning from the Bank of England about Brexit and showed how these had been used in its planning.

Mr Carney delivered his statement calmly with pauses for emphasis and although he would have been put under much more pressure if he had taken questions from journalists, it was an impressive performance in difficult circumstances.


The sport star who served up an ace way to manage a crisis

When Maria Sharapova announced she had failed a drugs test she delivered a master class in how to handle the early stages of a crisis media management situation.

The journalists who had gathered in a Los Angeles hotel for her press conference were expecting the highest earning female athlete in any sport to announce her retirement after a spate of injuries.

Instead she dropped the bombshell that she had tested positive for a banned substance – Meldonium - at the Australian Open earlier in the year.

By breaking her own bad news before there were any leaks or social media rumours, and just five days after she was charged with the offence, Sharapova took control of the story and set the narrative.

She fronted up, explained how the oversight happened and took responsibility for her actions. She appeared confident and composed and was open, honest and apologetic.

It was a carefully controlled press conference and journalists were caught on the back foot. One even admitted in a question that he had been taken by ‘surprise’ by the announcement.  

Although it can be tempting to simply read from a pre-prepared statement in a crisis situation, Sharapova took questions from the media which helped to enhance the image of openness and honesty.

Her personal brand of course was damaged by the story and some sponsorship deals were quickly ended. But the situation could have been so much worse if she had not taken control of the story.

Instead of headlines screaming ‘drugs cheat’, Sharapova’s announcement generated much more sensitive, understanding and factual initial coverage which focused on her ‘admission’.


The spokesperson who made the most of a short interview

Every now and again you hear or see an interview that sticks in your mind for all the right reasons.

I was really struck by an interview I heard back in September. It was a very short interview on Radio 5 Live and that in a way was part of its appeal.

Laura Bates was speaking about sexual harassment in schools, following the publication of a report from the Women and Equalities Select Committee, and what was impressive was that she did not wait to be asked the questions she wanted to answer – she made sure she got to her message across as early as possible and backed them up with statistics and examples.

Laura Bates 751px.jpg

The interview is unfortunately no longer available on the BBC iPlayer, but within the first few seconds we learnt that a third of teenage girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.

She used signposting and repetition to make it clear to the listener when they needed to pay particularly close attention to what she was saying, by introducing it with ‘the report states over and over again’.

And there was a clear message that a national strategy was needed to tackle this issue and that it should include compulsory sex education for primary school children.

But before parents of children of that age could become concerned Laura reassured her audience about the format this sex education could take. She also put it into context with excellent use of relatable examples – something we always talk about during our media training courses.

When the conversation moved on to secondary school children and their access to online pornography Ms Bates used everyday language to ensure the message was clear. We were told it was important these children were not left to learn from ‘pretty dodgy online sources’. Exactly the sort of language a concerned parent might use and perfect for a time when that audience might be cooking the dinner or washing the dishes.

Yes, Ms Bates was not asked particularly challenging questions in the interview, but there are a couple of reasons why that happened. She closed down some potentially negative angles in her responses, such as through her defence of teachers, stating it was important they were not ‘vilified’.

Perhaps, more importantly though, the content was so strong the presenter did not need raise the ante. An impressive performance.


The rowers who told an oarsome story

On our media training courses we often tell delegates to be themselves in interviews and to try to relax – Olympic rowers Paul and Gary O’Donovan certainly came across as being natural and at ease in front of the camera in Rio.

While their irreverent approach is clearly not suitable for all interview situations there was much to be admired about the way they approached the media interest and allowed their characters to come through.

Rather than deliver the clichés adopted by many sport stars, the brothers, who won Ireland’s first ever Olympic medal, appeared to see each question as an opportunity to deliver an off-the-cuff anecdote or example about the life of a competitor in Rio.

For instance, when they appeared on RTÉ they were asked to reflect on what had happened in the few hours since their medal winning triumph.

Paul said: “I had to do this doping control thing so I was there for an hour or two trying to take a pee in to a cup. After about 10 litres of water as well – I’m a bit full up now to be honest.”

His brother added: “He was busy there and I was running around having a great time, signing autographs and taking pictures.”

Humour in media interviews needs to be treated carefully, but sport provides more opportunities to use it than most and the O’Donovan brothers have been taking full advantage.

When approached for an interview by the BBC they quipped ‘we’ll have to be careful what we say to these lads’.

They even had an answer for their relaxed approach to media interviews. “We spent so long together the past year and people think in interviews we are a great craic. We are just excited that we have other people to talk to apart from ourselves,” Paul said.


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