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There is a common view that print interviews are the easiest format for a spokesperson.
We find this a lot on our media training courses. Delegates often talk about their fear of appearing in front of cameras and microphones, but rarely show concern about talking to journalists for printed articles.
Yet print interviews need the same level of skill and preparation, otherwise they can go horribly wrong.
Take an interview in yesterday’s Sunday Times Magazine. What should have been a promotional profile piece, turned into a very awkward, bizarre exchange.
In fact, it has been described by one social media user as one of the ‘great awkward interviews of our time’.
Oof, just read Chrissy Iley's interview with Vanessa Paradis in today's @TheSTMagazine and boy, that's going down as one of the great awkward interviews of our time!— Hugh R Wright (@HRWright) December 9, 2018
It happened when singer Vanessa Paradis was interviewed about her new album.
It is an interview which starts badly – Ms Paradis arrived late – and ends prematurely as the journalist struggles to get what she wants from the encounter.
“The interview is clearly going nowhere, so we'll call it a day,” the reporter Chrissy Iley reports.
Now, clearly there is a difference between a celebrity being interviewed and a spokesperson for an organisation, but there are clear lessons that all interviewees can learn from this uncomfortable encounter.
One of the key reasons this interview seems to go off track is because Ms Paradis appears reluctant to really say very much.
Ms Iley wrote: “I’m already exhausted because the interview is not really a conversation. She sounds like she’s reading from an Autocue.”
We tell delegates on our media training courses that the best interviews, whether they are for print or broadcast, are those which sound like natural conversations.
All too often we see and hear interviews where spokespeople stick rigidly to pre-approved lines or look like they are just regurgitating a press release. Not only does this make the conversation sound artificial and disjointed, but it can also make the audience switch off or stop reading.
The key for spokespeople is to put those lines and messages into their own voice to bring them to life.
This interview degenerated further when the reporter started to ask questions about Ms Paradis’ daughter.
The singer responded by saying, “I don’t want to do an interview about my daughter” and then adding “It’s just you’re digging into personal things.”
All interviewees will inevitably face questions on a subject they don’t really want to discuss at some point.
The key with these is to not show any annoyance, and instead to use media training techniques like bridging to move the conversation to the topic they want to talk about – in this example a new album.
But instead, it is her annoyance and frustration that becomes the focus of the interview. First a PR adviser intervenes and tells the journalist “we need to keep the interview focused on the album."
And then Ms Paradis accuses her of having a 'weird demeanour'. Asked if she wanted to start the interview again, the singer said 'no' before reportedly telling her entourage: “She may be having a bad day. I don’t want to be responsible for that. It’s super-aggressive. She wants to go and she’s just waiting for us to tell her.”
Compelling reading, but surely not for the reasons Ms Paradis would have hoped. On our media training courses we stress the importance of spokespeople maintaining their composure and not showing frustration at the direction an interview has taken.
Fascinating, insightful interview with Vanessa Paradis by @ChrissyIley in today's Times - poor woman (Chrissy not Nessa)— Victoria Trott (@trottaround) December 9, 2018
Gosh, what an unpleasant meeting with @VChantalParadis for @ChrissyIley of @TheSTMagazine and what a strange way to encourage us to buy her new record, watch new film or whatever is the self serving reason for seeking publicity. Manners, civility cost nothing. So, no Thank You. https://t.co/ub8CB3XlAY— Elaine Singleton (@EMPSingleton) December 9, 2018
Conflict makes for strong stories – the interview headline accuses Ms Paradis of being ‘uppity’ - and it is a key component of what makes something newsworthy. But it also causes messages to be lost.
Additionally, in print, angry comments are often reported without any mention of the provocation that triggered that response.
A few, fairly dry questions later, and this interview came to a rapid close as the journalist concluded that it was 'clearly going nowhere'.
And with that, the opportunity that an interview presents was lost.
In Ms Paradis’ defence, there is a case that the journalists seemed annoyed from the start that the interview had to take place in Paris when they had both been in LA a few days earlier. There are a couple of references to having travelled 6,000 miles. Additionally she seems frustrated that the singer didn’t remember her from an interview 10 years ago.
But overall, the interview reminds me of the famous quote, “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”
And that’s why a print interview should never be regarded as being easy.
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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