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One media spokesperson endured a particularly torrid time in front of the cameras this week.
His interview began with him being unwittingly caught eating the foam from the top of his cappuccino before he went live.
And it ended with the presenters turning to Amazon’s Alexa device for an answer to a question which had been avoided around 15 times.
So, we simply could not ignore it in this media training blog.
It happened when Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to discuss NHS plans to use Alexa to answer people’s health questions.
Before the down-the-line interview began, viewers were shown footage of Mr Hancock scooping the foam from his drink – just two months after he had been captured eating a waffle ahead of an interview on the same programme.
The politician replied by saying: “It is the best bit of a coffee. The froth at the top. I can’t believe you have recorded that.”
We all know Health Sec Matt Hancock loves a waffle but it turns out he's also really into the foam on a cappuccino too.... (via @GMB)— Natasha Clark (@NatashaC) July 10, 2019
"It's the best bit of a cappuccino, the froth on the top!" pic.twitter.com/a0mNMf3Cav
While that may have been a light-hearted, if not a little distracting and unflattering start to the interview, Mr Hancock quickly found himself under pressure.
Although he was booked to talk about the tie-up between Amazon and the NHS, the interview became dominated by the question of whether Britain should sack its Ambassador to the US to salvage relations with Donald Trump.
In fact, ‘dominated’ doesn’t do it justice – the whole interview fell apart on the question of whether the Ambassador should stay or go. And if we asked Alexa to provide an example of a ‘car crash interview’ this would be right up there.
I’ve seen various counts of the number of times the question was asked, but by my calculations it was posed a staggering 15 times.
Each time it was asked, it was met with vague, meaningless waffle, which was at times contradictory – he managed to say that he both respects the right of diplomats to speak freely but also that the special relationship with the US shouldn’t be scuppered by one person.
As the question count mounted, Mr Hancock became increasingly agitated.
At one point he told presenter Piers Morgan: “Maybe Piers you should listen to my answer which is that the relationship is incredibly important.”
A little later he said: “I’m actually on here to talk about making sure we can get better health advice.”
The awkward exchange – which included the minister reverting to blowing raspberries - also saw Mr Morgan say: “You keep telling me I’m not listening to your answer, but every time I listen you don’t answer.” And, “You can’t get frustrated with me – you’re the one not answering the straight question.”
Mr Morgan and co-presenter Susanna Reid eventually turned to Alexa for a response – but it couldn’t answer the question either.
It was in short a bit of a disaster which was picked up by social media and covered in the newspapers.
Piers Morgan loses it after asking Hancock same question 16 times –‘stay or go’ Daily Express
Tory Matt Hancock refuses to answer Piers Morgan 15 times in car crash interview Mirror
Matt Hancock scoops cappuccino froth in to his mouth seconds before TV interview Metro
Matt Hancock is having car crash interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, it’s really painful.
— Bob Turney (@bobturney) July 10, 2019
Not answering questions put to you, is neither a satisfactory response, nor is it providing any clarity... both of which Matt Hancock claims he is doing on @GMB. Absolute car-crash of an interview and exposes the complete vacuum of any sense surrounding Brexit.— Tim Gough (@Tim_Gough) July 10, 2019
Matt Hancock having an absolute total mare on GMB trying to have it both ways over Boris Johnson. Refuses over and over and over to say whether UK Ambassador should stay or go. Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid resort to asking Alexa 😱— Dan Bloom (@danbloom1) July 10, 2019
So what can be learnt from this?
Don’t trust the camera
Well, the interview broke one of the most basic rules of media training – if there is a camera around, always assume it is on.
This is a mistake that many spokespeople seem to make, particularly with down-the-line interviews when they are waiting for their slot to begin.
You will remember last year, for example, Mike Coupe, the Sainsbury’s CEO, was caught on camera singing ‘We’re in the money’ as he waited for his interview to begin.
And Mr Hancock, as we mentioned earlier, has previous. In May he was seen eating a high-calorie waffle ahead of an interview. That gaffe then saw him face questions about whether it was a suitable breakfast option.
The second key lesson is that trying to ignore or evade the question asked is a flawed technique. The audience is not daft and will realise you are trying to avoid answering the question that has been asked.
And it is likely to infuriate the reporter – they may simply resort to asking the question repeatedly so it becomes the sole focus of the interview, or they may seek to embarrass the spokesperson by highlighting that their question is being ignored.
On our media training courses, we tell delegates they must address the tough questions. Preparation is key – you can often anticipate the difficult questions and work out how you can respond to them without detracting from the key message you want to get across.
Yes, Mr Hancock was on the programme to talk about the Alexa deal, but, as someone who has done many interviews before, he should have known that other big issues would be brought into the interview.
One of the most striking things about the interview is that in 10 minutes of television – a long time for a TV interview – he didn’t get to talk about the NHS / Amazon relationship at all.
In fact, the closest we got was the question being asked to Alexa and the somewhat desperate, “I’m actually on here to talk about making sure we can get better health advice,” plea.
Why? Because he had no control of the interview. He spent all his time answering questions about Boris Johnson and Brexit and trying to avoid questions about the ambassador and made no attempt to steer the conversation and get to the topic he wanted to discuss.
Had he addressed the ambassador question and tried to move the conversation on he would have then had the opportunity to discuss his subject.
Perhaps it’s time Mr Hancock asked Alexa to find him some media training.
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.
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