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What would you do if the media were waiting outside your front door?
This is a question which often comes up during our crisis media management training courses.
The doorstep, or ambush interview, as it is sometimes known, is one that often concerns spokespeople the most.
That is perfectly understandable as no-one really wants journalists to be gathered outside their home or office. And when they do it is rarely because they want to discuss some positive news.
It is an interview format which has tripped up many a media spokesperson.
Its latest victim is Deliveroo founder Will Shu.
Footage emerged this week of the CEO of the food delivery business desperately trying to evade a camera crew. They had wanted to talk to him about calls for the company to guarantee its riders the national living wage and a report claimed some of its employees were treated ‘very poorly’.
ITV Business Editor Joel Hills told viewers that the company had declined his channel's requests for an interview but that as it was filming Mr Shu left the company’s headquarters.
As he was approached, Mr Shu said ‘I’m really sorry, I’m late for an appointment. I’ve got to go’ before quickly getting into a waiting car.
When asked if he knew about the report, he said ‘I’ve got to go, thank you very much’, before shutting the car door.
It looked messy and evasive and you can watch it here.
So what could he have done differently?
Accept the interview request
The ITV report clearly states that the company turned down its requests for an interview. Perhaps it didn’t feel fully prepared to speak about the report.
But agreeing to interview requests is an effective way of preventing journalists resorting to a doorstep interview.
It would have been in a more controlled environment and would have given Mr Shu and his team a little time to prepare what they wanted to say and get on the front foot in this story.
One of the key things to remember in doorstep interviews is that journalists are only really looking for the spokesperson to say a few words in this scenario.
I’m sure Mr Hills did not expect the Deliveroo boss to deliver a lengthy statement when he saw him leave the office.
He was almost certainly looking for a brief sound bite and a promise to come back at a later point with something a bit more detailed.
Rather than getting into his car as fast as he possibly could, Mr Shu should have looked to have used some of the messages from his company’s statement.
Buy yourself some thinking time
Of course, when you are confronted by a camera crew and a reporter shouting questions it can be pretty daunting.
On our crisis media management courses we advise spokespeople in this situation to buy themselves a little bit of time to briefly consider what they are going to say. This could be through simply saying ‘good morning’, or even for asking directly for a few minutes to prepare before you answer a few quick questions.
Don’t show annoyance
It’s worth stating that Mr Shu was not rude to the reporting team. But equally, he was clearly not pleased to find them outside his office.
Hurriedly trying to find an escape route (his car) showed a degree of annoyance at the situation, which is not a good look when you are in the media spotlight.
There is a school of thought that doorstep interviews are a deliberate attempt to rattle spokespeople, to gain emotional responses and dramatic footage. It makes great TV but it can be very damaging. The key is to avoid taking the bait and deal with the situation calmly and with control.
Of course, Mr Shu is far from being the first spokesperson to get caught out by this type of interview.
Previous examples which stand out for all the wrong reasons include businessman Sir Philip Green threatening to throw camera equipment in the sea when he was approached by journalists on holiday in the Greek islands.
Former UKIP politician Godfrey Bloom took things a stage further and bashed Channel 4 reporter Michael Crick over the head with a conference guide.
And, soon after being elected Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, provided one of the longest doorstep disasters as he was confronted by reporters outside Westminster. He ignored repeated questions during a lengthy walk to a waiting car, only stopping to complain that ‘people were bothering him’.
Make sure your spokesperson doesn’t join the list.
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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