Media training: How a simple question tripped up a CEO

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How a simple question tripped up a CEO

Sometimes it can be the simplest or most predictable of questions which can trip a spokesperson up in a media interview.

We have written before in this media training blog about awkward interviews where politicians have been caught out by something as simple as not knowing the price of milk or bread.

Or more recently, questions that ask them to do some basic maths live on air.

Those questions are to an extent designed to embarrass, but sometimes even more basic, elementary questions can lead to a spokesperson stumbling.

Take, for example, the coverage of a large company which announced its rebrand this week.

 

 

The company formerly known as Weight Watchers gained a lot of media attention after announcing it was slimming its name down to just WW, as part of a move away from weight loss to a greater focus on wellness.

The problem is that it has been unable to explain exactly what its new name - which ironically becomes 'double u double u' when said aloud -  actually means.

Its chief executive Mindy Grossman has denied that it stands for Weight Watchers or ‘Wellness that Works’, which has become its new strapline.

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But we are still in the dark about what it does mean, other than, somewhat cryptically, that it is ‘a marque’ which represents the company’s ‘history’ and where it is ‘going forward’.

And this has led to the same line coming up repeatedly in that coverage: ‘The chief executive was unable to explain what the letters WW actually stood for’.

I’ve read it on the BBC website, The Daily Telegraph and The Times and it has made the headlines in online versions of the story from The Sun and The Mirror.  

 

Weight Watchers drops ‘weight’ from the name (but boss can’t explain what ‘WW’ stands for)The Sun

WeightWatchers reveals new name without the word ‘weight’ –but bosses can’t say what it means The Mirror

 

And it was a similar story on social media:

 

 

I would imagine that these were not the sort of headlines the diet giant probably hoped for. And this raises the question why it put itself in a situation where its boss couldn’t explain what its new name means.

If it was an oversight, it was a pretty big one, which has naturally taken some of the focus away from the move to the company becoming more of a wellness brand.

If the company wasn’t going to volunteer what the new name meant then it was fairly obvious that this would be something journalists would probe.

Maybe the new two letter name doesn’t actually mean anything, but in that case it may have been helpful to be upfront about why it has chosen one which is harder to say and uses twice as many syllables as the original.

 

 

Either way, it should have been prepared for ahead of the launch.

When our sister company was created with the name Thirty Seven, we spent a long time honing the story behind why we had chosen that particular name to ensure that we could explain it clearly. In fact, we delayed the launch until we were happy it was right.

The lack of preparation around explaining WW is surprising. Perhaps the company over prepared for the potentially more complex negative questions and wider issues that could be brought into interviews and the focus slipped away from the simple ones. This is where media training with current working journalists would be hugely beneficial. They would start with the obvious 'why' question and then eventually move on to the more difficult ones.

Ms Grossman seems, overall, like a pretty assured and experienced media operator in the interviews I have seen on US TV about the rebrand – albeit in the face of some pretty gentle questioning. And Oprah Winfrey is a company shareholder with more than a bit of media experience – surely someone to lean on for a bit of advice and media training.

That makes this particular slip up that bit harder to understand – just like the new name.

Rebranding can be tricky, particularly with a longstanding name, and there is a risk of alienating or confusing customers.

Those risks just get bigger if the boss can’t explain to the media what the rebrand means.

 

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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.

 

Click here to find out more about our bespoke journalist-led media training courses. Or book a place on our next media training open course

 

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