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I didn’t think I’d ever reach the point where I used an interview between a reality TV star and a gossip magazine to make a media training point.
But a disastrous interview last week, which went viral as soon as it hit the newsstands, made me reconsider that position.
On our media training courses, we often find that delegates expect the print interviews to be the easiest format they will face.
And you can understand that thinking as they are carried out in the least alien environment – there are no microphones, TV cameras and studios for spokespeople to get their heads around.
There is also sometimes a misguided belief that they will have a say over what the finished article looks like.
So step forward Gemma Collins, from The Only Way is Essex, to dispel these views.
Her interview with Now magazine was planned to promote her new book, but instead turned into a PR disaster.
It went spectacularly off the rails when Ms Collins realised that the journalist had not read the book in question and subsequently refused to really answer any questions.
Unfortunately for Ms Collins, the magazine decided it would still run the non-interview, resulting in the unflattering headline ‘I can’t talk unless you’ve read my book’ and what is now one of my all-time favourite pull quotes ‘has this girl been briefed?’.
Here are a couple of extracts:
Reporter: “And what kind of advice do you have in there (the book)?
Ms Collins: “Erm… have they given you any stuff from the book? Then you would know… It’s going to be hard to do this if you don’t know.
Reporter: What is the best advice you give in the book?
Ms Collins: Well, if you read it, you would know, so… I think wait until you get a copy and then you’ll be able to embrace the book. It’s hard to do an interview if you haven’t done any research on the book or been sent it.
Reporter: (when asked by the PR adviser if she had any other questions): They weren’t about the book specifically.
Ms Collins: OK, so this was meant to be about the book. Basically, any of the interviews have to be about the book; anything else isn’t relevant.
An excruciating exchange which looks even worse in print. Here’s what the social media world made of it:
Still cannot believe the audacity of Gemma Collins telling a journo to read her book otherwise she couldn’t do an interview. She didn’t even write the book! 🤨— Georgia Coan (@georgia_coan) June 26, 2018
So what can we learn from this farce?
Everything you say to a journalist is on the record
You would imagine that Ms Collins probably felt the magazine would not cover the book on this occasion and would instead publish something at a later date when they had been sent the publication. That certainly seems to have been her intention as you read through the exchange.
She almost certainly would not have expected the exchange to be printed in full.
But, as we tell delegates on our media training courses, spokespeople should assume that everything they say to a journalist can be attributed to them.
Ultimately, if a spokesperson finds themselves in the position of complaining about the coverage of something they said ‘off the record’, the damage has already been done.
Spokespeople are the experts
Spokespeople will often find themselves in a situation where they are being interviewed by a journalist who is not particularly knowledgeable about the subject or perhaps hasn’t done a huge amount of research.
One of the current working journalist tutors on our media training courses says that reporters make great dinner party guests because they know a bit about a lot of subjects, but that for many of those topics there is little depth.
But this limited knowledge or research should not prevent spokespeople from answering their questions. The spokespeople are the experts, that is why they are being interviewed.
In this particular example, Ms Collins was being asked pretty open questions about a book we are led to believe she wrote, so she should have been able to answer them regardless of whether the reporter had read the book.
A journalist I know recently had a similar experience with another author during a radio interview. What should have been a long-for interview was reduced to around just two minutes when the author took offence at the journalist admitting she had not read the book, ruining a great promotional opportunity.
A follow-up article on the interview from Now magazine described Ms Collins as ‘blunt’ and ‘rude’ and said she ‘made the whole chat extremely awkward'.
You have to wonder whether the resulting article would have been different had she simply been more polite.
We always stress on our media training courses the importance of spokespeople being calm and composed and not showing journalists that they are irritated or frustrated by the direction an interview has taken, or by a particular line of questioning.
Even if Ms Collins did not like the questions she was being asked, she could have used them as prompts to the messages she presumably wanted to get across about her book.
Taking control of an interview and steering the conversation is a great way for spokespeople to deal with questions they don’t like or are reluctant to answer.
Spokespeople don’t just have to answer - or not answer in this case - the questions that are put to them.
A disastrous interview it may have been, but Ms Collins just seemed happy with the attention.
Guys 💫💫 thank you for making me trend on Twitter today what a laugh a ✌🏻😘😘😘😘😘😘😘😘😘😘✌🏻😘— Gemma Collins (@missgemcollins) June 26, 2018
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