How much can you learn from an interview about a decision to replace travel-sized tubes of shampoo and conditioners in hotels with larger bottles?
Well, while we often discuss interviews that maybe haven’t gone to plan in this media training blog, one on this subject caught our attention for the right reasons.
It came when Marriott Hotels CEO Arne Sorenson appeared on CNN to discuss the attempt to reduce plastic waste.
Here’s what you can learn from his performance.
Storytelling and anecdotes
On our media training courses, we regularly talk about the importance of examples in media interviews.
The best examples are those which are personal to the spokesperson. It might feel daunting to share extracts from your life during a media interview, but it can stimulate emotions in an audience and persuade them to give money, take action, support an idea or buy a product.
Mr Sorenson used a personal anecdote in this interview about his mother when asked how he would stop people stealing the larger bottles of toiletries.
After suggesting they may be fixed to the wall, he said: “When we moved my mother about a decade ago from her townhouse to an independent living arrangement, I found in a very large draw in her bathroom - a full draw of unopened hotel soap.
“It won’t surprise you to know they were mostly Marriott branded bars of soap, but this depression-era woman had collected soap from every place she stayed at and basically never used them.
“We know lots of people take the toiletries from hotels and I don’t think really this is that big a deal for them – I think most of them will think this is much more sustainable and makes more sense.”
It is a story that is relatable and helps show a human side to the organisation and the spokesperson and moved the conversation away from a potentially negative angle.
One of the things which stood out about this interview was its conversational tone.
At times it felt like you were listening to a conversation between two friends rather than an interview.
Yes, spokespeople can expect to face some tougher questions than were posed here, but it is important they still try to strike a conversational tone.
Journalists and audiences do not like spokespeople who sound like they have memorised approved lines or are regurgitating press releases and statements. That approach doesn’t add anything to a story.
The more natural a message sounds, the more likely the audience is to feel that the spokesperson genuinely believes what they are saying.
And it can also increase the chances that the journalist will want to interview the spokesperson again in the future.
This was an interview on US television about sustainability, yet towards the end Mr Sorenson still found himself facing a question about Brexit.
The journalist Richard Quest asked a question about trade, which included the suggestion that Brexit ‘must be causing the UK division conniptions’.
When this sort of question is being asked during a media interview in other countries it shows how likely it is that a spokesperson in the UK will face this similar questioning, no matter what subject they set out to discuss.
It is something we have been including in interviews on our media training courses for some time as a ‘while you are here’ type question about the impact of leaving the EU or the preparations that are being made.
The key when it is asked in this context is to avoid saying anything which detracts from the message you want to get across – in this case, the banning of mini plastic toiletry bottles.
Spokespeople must be prepared for questions to be asked on Brexit and know how to respond without it becoming the focus of the story.
Not only has this sustainability story created positive PR with headlines across the world, but this subsequent interview is one other spokespeople can learn from.
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.