As a B2B PR agency, we understand the importance of well-prepared, confident spokespeople when it comes to dealing with journalists and broadcasters. Your spokesperson needs to understand what the media requires of them and media interview etiquette, or things can quickly go off the rails.

Even people who are subject matter experts sometimes freeze when they’re put in front of a camera, while some people have the opposite problem and ramble when they get nervous. Worst-case, a spokesperson could accidentally reveal trade secrets or even insult the journalist. Any of these scenarios can be embarrassing, both for the individual and for the company that they’re representing, but it’s an avoidable problem.

Spokesperson training gives spokespeople the skills that they need to stay calm and on message when they appear in public. It involves anticipating questions, practicing answers, and becoming comfortable in a studio environment.

Here are three examples of terrible interviews – and lessons learnt from each.

1: Crumbling under pressure

When Jeff Fairburn, the ex-CEO of Persimmon was asked about his £75m bonus on camera, it was pretty obvious he hadn’t prepared. So much so, his PR advisor can be heard trying to jump in. It’s painful to watch and gives a terrible impression of the company.

Lessons learnt…

  • Ask the right questions – this awkward situation could have easily been prevented with the right preparation. Think about the most awkward questions you could be asked and prepare answers
  • Practice answer, bridge, control – Politicians are great at this, and spokespeople need to copy their model technique: answer (“That’s a great question…”), bridge (“…however I think we need to focus on the real issue here…”, and control (…proceeds to give answer they want to give)

2: Refusing to answer questions

Maria Sharapova’s post-match press conference is a perfect example of how not to respond when a journalist asks an awkward question. When Sharapova was asked a question she disliked, she insulted the first journalist and then promptly ignored another.

Lessons learnt…

  • Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – these questions should have been anticipated and answers prepared
  • A simple one line answer would have moved the press conference on. Refusing to answer a question and being rude to a journalist draws more attention to an issue, not less

3: Having no idea about what your message is

Prince Andrew’s BBC interview about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein is a masterclass in how not to do it. He failed to express any sympathy for Epstein’s victims and instead danced around questions about their friendship.

Lessons learnt…

  • Proactivity is not always the best approach – Prince Andrew is believed to have been a driving force in the decision to take part in the Emily Maitlis interview
  • PR people should be trusted to advise on a proactive/reactive approach
  • Use common sense – positioning a relationship with a paedophile as being beneficial to your personal career goals is not wise
  • Be a human being – show sincere remorse if appropriate
  • Consider stakeholder impact – businesses, universities and charities have disassociated themselves with the prince since the interview
  • Prince Andrew was apparently considering doing a second interview as he felt he didn’t get across all of his points – that’s because people panic when they’re put in front of a camera – essential that when you’re training your spokespeople you make it as real as possible with real journalists and real cameras, lights and sound equipment (radio mics, booms etc.) set up and recording.
  • Media training professionals can review footage with your spokespeople to assess performance, spot tells, improve general performance and advise on answering technique
  • Once again, consider the questions that could be asked and prepare messaging in advance

When the cameras stop rolling…

If you take anything from this blog, remember:

  • Spokesperson training shouldn’t be overlooked
  • Get as close to the real thing as possible with tame journos, blazing hot lighting, cameras etc.
  • Prepare for difficult questions in advance
  • Practice, practice, practice: answer, bridge, control
  • Don’t dismiss brand journalism (in all its forms: filmed interview, written Q&A, Instagram statement etc.) – prepare the message yourself, stay in control of the message

Your spokespeople are the face of your company so it’s important that they feel confident and able when talking with media in different formats. If you want to find out more about media training, get in touch!