Palantir and the NHS – what tech company comms people can learn from his interview on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
October 30, 2023

As the leading provider of Media Training for technology firms, we were really interested to watch Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies, on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg yesterday morning.

We don’t know what kind of deal was negotiated between his public relations team and the program for his appearance, but we imagine that he would feel more comfortable talking about the AI Safety Summit in London than Palantir’s work with the NHS.

What were our thoughts?

In our Media Training courses for tech companies, we look at what makes a media story and where journalists are coming from. This makes it easier for tech firm spokespeople to prepare for media interviews. In this case, the topical or newsworthy element would have been the forthcoming AI summit, but the trouble aspect of a good media story – which we look at in depth in our media training workshops – was the NHS angle.

Karp put in a good performance and made some valuable points. He had the passion and delivery that comes across well during media interviews. But there are also opportunities for those working in Communications for tech firms to learn from what he said, how he said it – and what didn’t work so well.

Interview Delivery

Before we look at the content, let’s look at the delivery. In our Media Training workshops for tech firms, we advise people doing broadcast interviews to sit up straight. This gives them confidence and helps with vocal skills. However, Karp, who is a tall guy, took this to the extreme and looked almost threatening as he towered over presenter Victoria Derbyshire.

During a TV interview, the camera may be on you while you’re being asked a question. It’s, therefore, essential to consider your facial expressions and to show good active listening. Nodding can be risky as you might find yourself appearing to agree with a negative assertion put forward by your interviewer, but a gentle smile and a look of interest works well.

His dark blue pullover got a tick from us, but the crazy hair was distracting and with a medium which is based very much on immediate impressions and, let’s face it, stereotypes, it gave him something of the air of a mad professor. This might work well for an interview with the FT or a tech outlet, but when you’re seeking to reassure a general audience about your relationship with the NHS, it’s not appropriate.

He did well to say at the start of the interview, “We’ve been in this business for 20 years,” as this added to the authority and experience of the company. He was also clear in his message about data privacy when he said: “I don’t have access to your data; I cannot sell it on.” This is a crucial point, and he did well to state it so clearly, but he could have been more reassuring and human when doing so.

Later, he began an answer with the words: “When you go to the doctor now you have a pile of paper…”. In our Media Training courses for tech firm executives and the other senior spokespeople that we train, we recommend that they give ordinary, everyday examples and paint pictures for the audience. This is true even when looking at big issues and policy decisions.

As was the case here, this kind of picture painting means that we can literally see what you mean. Unfortunately, in this case, Karp didn’t get to finish sharing the image and the familiar experience with his audience. He tried again a bit later when he said: “You can show people for the first time that the hospital bed is available, why it’s available, and if it’s not available, why it’s not available. You don’t have to fill in bits of paper at the doctor.”

This was a good start at picture painting, but he couldn’t go on to finish his point because he was interrupted by Derbyshire.

What to do when interrupted during a media interview

In our media coaching courses, we offer advice when you’re being interrupted by the interviewer. We recommend you pause and say something such as “Can I just finish the point,” before going on to do just that in a polite and friendly but firm manner. If you’re repeatedly interrupted, then the chances are that the audience’s sympathy will move from the interviewer to you as the bullied interviewee. Karp should have done this here.

He went on to address the key issue of the interview, but when he talked about patient data being “sold by the UK government, but not by me.” The danger here is that by repeating Derbyshire’s allegation, he’s fixing it in the audience’s mind. Don’t repeat a negative, is what we tell people on our media training courses for tech executives.

More generally, rather than simply trying to answer her repeated assertions, Karp should have taken the initiative and spelt out the situation, reassuring his audience and addressing the underlying concerns about privacy and companies making money out of the health service, which was implied in this question about selling data.

Again, Karp tried to do what we would advise – to paint a picture of the practical benefits to the audience. “The way to address people’s concern is to show that this is going to be much better for your life. It’s going to improve health outcomes,” he said. But we would want to see him paint a more detailed picture. What does this mean in practice? What are these “health outcomes”?

The importance of keeping points relatable and relevant

Later in the interview, Karp talked about the US – something he was more comfortable with. The problem here is, of course, that the viewers are not in America; they’re in the UK. Not only that but for this British audience, talking about American healthcare has little or no positive value – we love our NHS and are of the opinion that it’s infinitely better than the American system.

When he was finally given the opportunity to talk about the benefits of AI to the healthcare system, Karp’s answer was again too vague and broad: “Better health care at the point of need…your life expectancy goes up, your happiness goes up.” Being a journalist and looking for that trouble factor, Derbyshire asks about risk. “The technology develops so that it’s a danger to us all,” Karp told her. If you’re seeking to reassure people about technology benefitting the health service, we would advise you not to get drawn into this difficult, negative issue.

This was a valiant performance in difficult circumstances. However, we would say that Karp should have painted more simple, vivid, everyday pictures of the benefits technology can bring to each of us when we visit our local GP or go to the hospital. Something along the lines of “Just imagine you go to the doctor, sit down in front of them and…” Or “Just imagine you go into hospital for a minor operation and immediately the receptionist has access to all your information. You don’t have to go through details for the fifth time or fill in any forms; you just get your treatment quickly and efficiently, and then, when you go back to your GP in a few days’ time, all your information there waiting on the screen.”

You can probably write your own script here, but the point is that you’re painting pictures of the practical benefits to your audience. The other thing that we discuss in our Media Training courses for tech firms when we work closely with their comms teams is who among the leadership would be best placed to do an interview. Karp is passionate about his work and the benefits that it can bring to healthcare. That’s great. Also, as the founder and CEO of Palantir, he’s well-placed to act as a spokesperson for the company.

On the other hand, we would suggest that in this particular interview, a British person speaking to British audiences about the British healthcare system would sound more relevant and sympathetic. Similarly, somebody who has the same passion but also conveys a more gentle, human approach and style of communication would be more appropriate.

Media Training for Tech Companies

There are tremendous opportunities for technology firms to talk to the media, and given that all of our media trainers are also working journalists (operating under strict NDAs), they know exactly what news websites and broadcasters want to hear from tech firms. As the leading provider of Media Training for tech firms, we ensure that when those opportunities arise, tech leaders make the most of them to gain positive coverage.

Book your course with our experienced team today. Call 07958 239 892 or email Alternatively, fill in this contact form.

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