Posted by Anna Fazakerley ● 14-Nov-2018 12:25:56

Owning Opportunities: Media training and interview prowess

We often conduct media training for our clients and this week we finished a series of workshops with one client. During these sessions it’s helpful to show examples of interview best practice, as well as the times where spokespeople don’t quite hit their key messages…

Here are 3 examples from the past few weeks which demonstrate the good, bad and the ugly of media engagements.

Recently we saw the director of regulation at the UK Oil & Gas Authority being interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4. While he doesn’t crash and burn completely, it’s fair to say he could have done with some more polish. See what you think, click the image below to view: 

Tom Wheeler


On the one hand he’s very calm; he seems unflappable in the face of questioning. He’s also very good at pivoting to his talking points - a vital skill for anyone speaking to the media especially on television, where there is nowhere to hide and no chance to revise your wording.

On the other however, he doesn’t seem to be aware of what’s on his website which makes him seem distant and disinterested in the issue he’s being questioned on (I will caveat that by saying that no spokesperson should be expected to know every single word on their website). Finally, he is representing the UK Oil & Gas Industry on national television and claims he isn’t an expert on the issues he’s being questioned on. This translates to me as a viewer that he’s not qualified to be in that position. 

At the other end of the spectrum is this interview with the beleaguered ex-CEO of Persimmon who got caught between a rock and a hard place when pushed to answer questions about his bonus as ‘it’s been covered already’. Someone off camera asks to not go into the issue. While it’s definitely the PR person’s job to moderate an interview, it’s got to be done in a way which gets good results for both the interviewer and interviewee.

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A better way to handle that question would be to say the issue had been covered at length already, the bonus had been reduced, reiterate that he was going to give a substantial portion of it to charity and then move swiftly on to talk about his key topic. One way to do that would be to ask the question you want to answer, for example, ‘this factory is doing really well, as brick production has gone up, have more jobs been created? and then answer it yourself, instead of waiting for the journalist to ask something ‘nicer’. Which, given the context, was never going to happen.

Finally, a great example is this interview with Dr. Pam Venning, who was at the time the Head of Medical Services, for the London 2017 Organising Committee World Para Athletics & IAAF World Championships last summer.

She’s defending a decision about an athlete competing and does so in a professional and calm manner in the face of a barrage of disagreements. She keeps her cool and defends her position with grace.

It’s easy to sit on this side of the media training fence and pick holes in other people’s performance so we will endeavour to share more examples of both good and bad interviews and why they are so. Obviously, research and knowledge of your key topics are extremely important. However, the best thing you can do to improve is practice, then review and practice some more.

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Topics: b2b public relations, earned media, press relations