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We wrote recently about a media interview where a spokesperson gave a great example of how to handle a hostile interview.
This week we have seen an example of the complete opposite - a spokesperson showing frustration and anger at a fairly innocuous line of questioning.
It came during a press conference and it resulted in negative headlines and social media posts.
It's an example from football, but bear with us if you are not a fan as there are clear lessons for all media spokespeople.
It happened when Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino carried out a post-match press conference on Tuesday (18/7).
Asked if he 'regretted' the absence of two high-profile players from his team he responded somewhat unexpectedly by accusing reporters of ‘disrespect’.
He said: “Wow, what a question, such an easy question? [It's] easy to talk about the players that aren't here. I think we need to talk about football. Because, you know I think you force me to say something that is not good.
"You disrespect the players that showed better qualities than the opponent. Why disrespect the players that aren't on the pitch?
"You can blame me and say, 'Gaffer, you were so, so rubbish in your selection of the starting XI'. But please don't disrespect the players who were playing, because it's my decision. Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld - we have 25 players.
"And you believe that and sometimes you behave like you ask me with your question, that you can play only 11, and the other 13 or 14 players are rubbish, are s**t."
It was, in short, quite a rant in response to a relatively straightforward question – coaches in all forms of sport are regularly asked to explain player absences.
And it was a response which gave sports journalists some easy headlines:
Mauricio Pochettino in ‘my players are not s***’ rant after Tottenham’s Champions League defeat Daily Mirror
Pochettino angry at media ‘disrespect’ after Champions League loss BBC Sport
Angry Pochettino takes frustrations out on media Yorkshire Post
Pochettino: why are you disrespecting my players?The Times
Of course, Pochettino is far from the first football manager or media spokesperson to take frustration and annoyance out on journalists. But it has been quite a week for the Spurs manager with the media.
Asked in a pre-match press conference about leaving the same two players out, he claimed it was a ‘technical decision’ and told the reporters to ‘find it in the dictionary’ to understand what that means.
And then there was a bizarre ‘cows and trains’ analogy, which left most people feeling puzzled.
Together these responses help to create a narrative in the media that all is not well with the manager and his team.
Pochettino loses his cool in the press conference, demands more “respect”. Even more alarmingly, he thinks Spurs were good tonight. https://t.co/eGdNlRgkJk— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) September 18, 2018
Not a great sign when a manager starts blaming reporters rather than accepting responsibility: https://t.co/AHTaVl0y15— jamie jackson (@JamieJackson___) September 19, 2018
On our media training courses, we stress the importance of spokespeople not showing any frustration or anger when they face questions they don’t like.
Conflict makes for strong stories and good watching – it is a key component of what makes something newsworthy – but it causes messages to be completely lost.
Additionally, angry comments are often reported without any mention of the provocation that triggered the response.
Taking an aggressive approach to answering questions can also make spokespeople appear defensive. It suggests the spokesperson has something to hide and in this example you could easily conclude that Pochettino was feeling very defensive about his team selection.
Showing this sort of defensiveness enables journalists to find their mark and it often leads to them pursuing that particular line of questioning.
The best approach is to ignore the bait and to remain calm, confident, clear and focused on the message you want to get across. And, of course, don’t go looking for an argument.
Preparation is also crucial and it is something we cannot stress enough on our media training courses.
Spokespeople must try to anticipate the negative and challenging questions they are likely to face in a media interview.
In this particular scenario, having lost the game, it is hard to understand why Pochettino and the club’s media team didn’t anticipate there would be more questions about the players he had left out and plan a way those questions could be answered without criticising the media.
If, despite good preparation, a question still catches you off-guard, create a little thinking time for yourself by using a phrase like ‘good question’, so that you can quickly plan how you are going to respond and retain your composure.
There’s a famous expression, often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain, which says ‘never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel’. Pochettino could do with sticking that quote on his media interview tactics board.
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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