There’s one publication that produces a shiver down the spine of participants in our media training courses
“I’d be a bit nervous about being interviewed by the Daily Mail,”
they often tell us. Certainly, the paper that prides itself on being the voice of Middle England can be fierce and it’s prone to taking a negative line but we usually reassure our participants by showing how they can develop more control over a media interview.
This month’s GQ magazine has an interview with Geordie Greig, the man who took over editorship of the Mail from the legendary and terrifying Paul Dacre in 2018. So, with the tables turned and journalist as interviewee how does the suave Old Etonian perform?
First off, he’s chosen a good moment to grant an interview. His paper has just overtaken The Sun as the bestselling newspaper in the UK. When we work with the Comms teams and press officers of organisations and prepare their CEOs and other business leaders for profile interviews, we make a very important point. Even if it’s a general profile piece, you still need to think about your overall message and the headline that you’d like to see in the final product. We advise the same for any interview.
We provide media training for law firms and last year we worked with the managing partner of a magic circle firm who was doing a big interview with a legal title. We helped him to hone his personal narrative and his message about where he wanted to take the business. We identified some specific examples to back up these points – and hey presto the finished piece reflected almost exactly what he wanted it to say.
Greig has prepared for a difficult question – his reference in a previous media interview, this time with the FT, that the gentler tone that he has fostered at the paper has encouraged a host of new advertisers. It was a positive message but it drew a typically robust repost from Dacre.
“Wary from the FT debacle,”
writes Matt Kelly, the author of the GQ interview,
“Greig initially agreed to a brief call with me, off the record. In the event, our conversation went on the record and ran long overtime.”
What does “off the record” mean? Again, it’s something that we explore – along with the risks it involves – in our media training workshops. Either way, clearing the air and defining terms is a good idea. Greig then adopts another positive tactic, one that we recommend in our media training courses.
According to Matt Kelly, he then “deploys an old interviewee’s trick, establishing tone and topic before I even get a word in:
‘Would it be helpful if I spieled away for a while?’
And so away he spiels, enthusiasm rising with every sentence.” Greig sets out his stall and takes the initiative – again something that we always advise in media interviews.
“Isn’t talking too much a risk?”
one woman asked in a recent course. It’s an understandable concern but, in fact, the opposite is true – at least if you’ve prepared this spiel first. And, as we say, preparation is key to doing a good media interview.
In fact, giving short answers that force the interviewer to come back with more questions, possibly difficult ones, and allows them to steer the interview is more risky.
Greig introduces a key message and makes his point clearly.
“Jonathan [Rothermere, the Daily Mail’s owner] is passionate about newspapers and the business of newspapers,”
“He’s very serious about it and understands the way to win is investing in the quality of products.”
There’s a strong statement which has clearly been prepared:
“My aim is to make the Mail a force for good, a badge of great journalism, crusading, entertaining, informative. Every day I feel this on the newsroom floor – a renewed sense of pride and positivity for what we can achieve.”
Identifying your key message, your soundbite introducing it early, and repeating it a few times is essential during a media interview.
Greig makes no obvious mistakes, then. However, as is so often the case when we analyse media interviews, even very proficient ones like this one, what is missing is some examples, anecdotes and little stories. He could tell us how he felt walking into the newsroom of the Mail or the Mail on Sunday, where he previously worked, for the first time. What about his first foray into journalism?
Andrew Marr, for instance, tells a lovely story of how when he was a junior reporter his editor had a particular way of indicating that he wasn’t happy with a story. Having read it over the budding hack’s shoulders he’d then rip it out of the typewriter, tear it to shreds and sprinkle over the unfortunate writer. As well as entertaining the audience, stories both illustrate and prove a point. They also contain an element of emotion that makes them more memorable.
There’s one example about Mail Force, the Mail’s action to source PPE for the NHS.
“Jonathan texted me and said, ‘Why don’t we actually get the PPE?’ I said, ‘Yes. Brilliant idea.’ In less than a fortnight we set up a charity and we had 80,000 cheques from readers, £10m. Great success,”
It’s a decent little story but anecdotes with more drama, surprise and humour would be good.
Overall, though, Greig delivers the polished performance that you’d expect of a shrewd, experienced, ambitious journalist – and this interview offers some useful lessons for others doing media interviews. You can, of course, learn more and put them into practice in our media training courses.
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