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Have you ever wondered just how damaging a truly bad media interview performance can be?
Well, today’s news headlines may have the answer.
Just a few weeks after walking away from an interview when he was questioned about his pay, it has been announced that Persimmon Homes CEO Jeff Fairburn is to leave his role.
The company said he has been asked to go because the outrage over his £75m bonus pay-out had become a ‘distraction’ and had damaged the firm’s reputation.
In a statement, the company said: “The board believes that the distraction around his remuneration from the 2012 LTIP (long-term incentive) scheme continues to have a negative impact on the reputation of the business and consequently on Jeff's ability to continue in his role."
Mr Fairburn added that he had hoped that his plans to set up a charitable trust would have helped the company put the issue ‘behind it’, but that it was clear it was in Persimmon's ‘best interests’ for him to go.
His resignation was not caused solely by his interview flop. It is important to point out that the company’s shareholders had branded the pay-out ‘grossly excessive’ back in April, and the bonus was also attacked by politicians, charities and corporate governance experts.
But perhaps the timing of the announcement is not a coincidence. When he walked away from an interview with the BBC, it reignited the furore surrounding the issue and gave it fresh impetus.
It was an interview which everyone was talking about. It went viral. And judging by some of the tweets today, some of those involved in the interview are among those who believe there is a link to his departure.
CEO Jeff Fairburn to leave York based Persimmon Homes after walking out of interview with me when I asked him about his £75m bonus. @BBCLookNorth— Spencer Stokes (@spencerstokestv) November 7, 2018
He walked away from a BBC interview last week - now he's walking away from his job. The boss of house builder Persimmon, Jeff Fairburn, is leaving after a row over his £75m pay award. https://t.co/0A6WXMHvr4— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) November 7, 2018
Let’s remind ourselves of what happened. The interview at a brick factory began to crumble when BBC Look North reporter Spencer Stokes asked whether he had any regrets about taking the payout.
It was a tough, yet entirely predictable, question. However, both Mr Fairburn and his PR adviser, who could be heard off camera trying to intervene, were caught out.
Mr Fairburn was unable or unwilling to tackle the ‘can you justify your bonus’ question. He walked away from the camera, muttering that it had been ‘unfortunate’ that he had been asked the question.
A clip of the interview was shared on Twitter and has now had 1.15 m views. And, as we pointed out in this media training blog at the time, it also resulted in a wide range of negative media headlines.
The immediate fallout from this interview would not have been anywhere near as dramatic had Mr Fairburn been brave and tackled the question. Responding with a straightforward, routine reply, like the one we outlined in our original blog, would have removed the sense of newsworthiness from the issue. And no-one would have been interested in the clip.
Basic media training skills and a better understanding of the media could have saved him a lot of embarrassment and quite possibly his job.
Of course, Mr Fariburn is not the first high-profile boss to have his reputation damaged by a disastrous media interview.
Former BP CEO Tony Hayward was vilified in the media after telling an American TV crew ‘I’d like my life back’ during the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Not long after, he was out of a job.
The key point for other media spokespeople to take from this is that Mr Fairburn’s interview was a major foot-in-mouth moment on an issue that had already created a lot of negativity for the company.
They should not be put off - it is rare for a media interview to be directly career limiting like this. In fact, media spokespeople - who have had the right media training - tend to climb the corporate ladder faster than those who don’t give interviews.
Why? Because they are brave, ambitious and willing to speak out.
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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