Media training: The worst media interview blunders of 2018

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The worst media interview blunders of 2018

It’s that time of the year again.

The streets are full of Christmas shoppers, the festive party season is in full swing and the radio stations seem to play nothing but Mariah Carey.

And no countdown towards Christmas would be complete without the Media First guide to the interviews which, well, didn’t quite go to plan over the past 12 months.

There has been plenty to choose from. But we’ve been making a list and we’ve been checking it twice.

And we’ve narrowed it down to the six media interview blunders that really stuck in our minds in 2018.

 

Jeff Fairburn

It probably comes as little surprise to find the boss of Persimmon Homes on this list. After all, his interview disaster went viral and almost certainly played a significant part in him leaving his job.

The interview at a brick factory began to crumble when BBC Look North reporter Spencer Stokes asked whether he had any regrets about taking his £75m bonus payout.

It was a tough, but entirely predictable question. And it was one for which a response should have been prepared.

Yet 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. Ultimately, he ended up walking 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 1.17m views. And it added fuel to a fire that had been threatening to die out, resulting in a fresh flurry 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 - as he resigned just a few weeks later - quite possibly his job.

 

Mike Coupe

Who can forget the singing CEO?

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe was caught on camera singing ‘We’re in the money’ while waiting for a TV interview to discuss the supermarket’s plans to buy rivals Asda, boosting the company’s value by £860m.

In footage released by ITV, he sang: “We’re in the money, the sky is sunny, let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along.”

 

 

Mr Coupe subsequently released a statement saying that he had been singing the song to try to ‘compose’ himself ahead of his interview.

But not only was the song from the musical 42nd Street a very unfortunate choice, but it also broke one of the basic rules of media training – if there is a camera around, assume it is on.

The gaffe prompted negative headlines and amusing social media posts – ‘unexpected item in bragging area’ was my favourite - and it also had an impact on subsequent interviews. Channel 4 News forced him on to the defensive, for example, by asking whether he stood to personally make any money from the merger.

He replied: “I am a big shareholder in Sainsbury’s, my shareholding is a matter of public record, you can see how many shares I own.

“It is unfortunate I was caught singing, as I say I was relaxing at the time – this is an incredibly stressful day and maybe it was an unfortunate choice of song.”

 

 

Mark Goldring

Another boss who endured a torrid time in front of the media was Oxfam chief executive Mark Golding.

In the midst of the crisis which engulfed the charity at the start of the year, he gave an interview to The Guardian which backfired horrendously.

In fact he managed to pour more fuel on the crisis by claiming that the criticism it had received over the sex abuse scandal has been ‘out of proportion’ and suggesting the charity was being treated as if it had ‘murdered babies’.

Here’s the key quote: “The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do?

“We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability.

“I struggle to understand it. You think: ‘My God, there’s something going on there.’”

He also added that everything the charity had said during the crisis had been ‘manipulated’ and claimed that the charity had been ‘savaged’ and that people were ‘gunning for Oxfam’.

 

 

Trying to deflect attention by detailing the horrendous things you haven’t done is a frankly bizarre approach to managing a crisis.

Presenting yourself as the victim and blaming the people who have expressed concern about the way your organisation has acted is not an approach others should follow.

The ill-judged comments caused a fresh backlash.  A short time later it was announced he would stand down at the end of the year.

 

Gavin Williamson

At times it has felt like our politicians have almost been queuing up to deliver disastrous interviews.

Type ‘car crash interview’ into Google and you will find a pretty extensive list.

But there was one that stood out for me.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson suffered the humiliation of having his interview terminated by a presenter bemoaning his lack of a straight answer.

Mr Williamson was talking to Good Morning Britain about an anti-poaching scheme, when he was asked about some comments he had previously made on Russia in the aftermath of the Salisbury poisoning, by presenter Richard Madeley.

What followed was a series of exchanges where Mr Williamson chose to completely ignore the questions and instead tried to praise health workers who had treated the poisoning victims, about Britain being unified over the issue and how the country was working with global allies.

Eventually, Mr Madeley gave up saying: “Right, you’re not going to answer, are you? OK. All right, interview terminated because you won’t answer the question. It would be helpful if you answered a straight question with a straight answer.”

 

 

According to The Times, this was the first time a British interviewer had terminated an interview on the grounds that a cabinet minister had avoided a question.

And such was the fall out it formed a topic for debate on BBC Question Time where the panel was asked ‘should politicians who can’t answer a straight question have their interviews terminated?’

 

 

Gemma Collins

I’ll be honest, when I started writing this media training blog, I didn’t foresee a time when I would be writing about the media appearances of so called reality TV stars.

But Gemma Collins, who I understand is from something called The Only Way is Essex, produced one of the more memorable print interviews of the year. For all the wrong reasons. (Adam – are we meant to believe you don’t watch TOWIE? Ed)

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’ together with what is now one of my all-time favourite pull quotes, ‘has this girl been briefed?’.

The excruciating exchange certainly caught the attention of social media. 

 

 

We often find that delegates on our media training courses mistakenly feel that print interviews are 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.

Ms Collins, it seems, went out of her way to dispel those myths.

 

Steve Hedley

A review of the worst interviews of the year would not be complete without an entry from Steve Hedley.

The assistant general secretary of the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers), secured his usual spot in our annual round-up by going out of his way to insult the journalist.

Mr Hedley was appearing on Talk Radio to talk about a strike affecting many rail services when proceeding began to hit the buffers.

He started off by accusing presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer – who can be a divisive figure - of ‘talking nonsense on the radio’ and followed this up by asking if he could interrupt her ‘ignorant diatribe’.

And worse was to come as he accused her of ‘wholeheartedly supporting’ the government because she has a double barrel surname and a ‘right wing accent’.

When his subsequent plea to get the interview back on to the subject of the strike was ignored, Mr Hedley accused Ms Hartley-Brewer of having a fragile ego.

 

 

Great radio for the listeners. But the RMT should surely be asking itself what people can remember about the interview other than the insults.

And it must be able to find a spokesperson who can get its messages across without insulting journalists.  We are always here to help them with some much-needed media training.

 

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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