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Media interviews: For goodness sake get your facts right!

Michael Taylor, Account Manager
4th May 2017

This week, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott participated in what was, quite possibly, the worst media performance that I have ever heard. Her interview with Nick Ferrari on London’s LBC radio made for very difficult listening, whatever your political affiliation. Put simply, it was absolutely cringe-worthy and I’m sure I wasn’t the only listener left open-mouthed and flabbergasted by her performance.


Far from its intended aim of unveiling Labour’s policy to recruit 10,000 additional police officers, the conversation descended to the tortuously stumbling, misinformed car crash of an interview that has grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons.


If Dianne Abbott were a member of the public, we might feel sympathetic – media interviews can cause understandable anxiety, even among more seasoned performers, and we can probably all identify moments when we’ve frozen as words, facts and figures escape us.


But for a practiced politician who acts as the spokesperson for her party’s election campaign, and holds aspirations to be Home Secretary, the lack of preparation that was evident from this interview is, frankly, unforgivable.


Abbott herself was quick to counter media criticism by claiming that the interview was her sixth or seventh of the day – may I suggest that if practice makes perfect, one might expect her understanding of the policy and the facts and figures involved to have improved with retelling!


If a veteran front bench MP like Abbott can fall flat on her face, then her experience offers many valuable lessons for the rest of us when preparing clients for media interviews:

  • Get your facts right! Nothing undermines credibility like an interviewee who appears not to know what they are talking about. If you can’t learn the key information by heart then prepare a key facts sheet or summary and, more importantly, use it!
  • Preparation is key: Before your interview practice with a friend or colleague. Plan for difficult questions and prepare answers to them. A comprehensive Q&A document forms a good basis for preparing for any media interview.
  • Get your key messages across: Define what you want to achieve out of the interview, boil down your key messages into simple sound bites and make sure you get these points across in the interview. If you can, repetition of your key points will help to reinforce your message.
  • If you don’t know the answer, don’t just make it up. I really shouldn’t need to explain why this is a bad idea!
  • Media training: From time to time, spokespeople within your organisation may be called upon to give interviews to the media. Plan ahead by engaging the services of a media training agency to prepare your spokespeople for media work. Quantum provides media training to organisations in the public and private sector, and the feedback we receive shows that organisations and their employees (particularly the designated spokespeople) really value this support and preparation.

A media interview is a valuable opportunity to tell your story, but it is imperative that the interviewee doesn’t become the story themselves! Contact Quantum PR to discuss our media training services and ensure you make the headlines for all the right reasons.

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