Media training for CEOs is a speciality of ours at Communicate Media. We work with the media relations teams and PR consultancies of a wide range of businesses, large and small, as well as other organisations, to prepare their CEOs for media interviews. These could be profile pieces in the weekend newspapers or trade publications as well as interviews that they need to do because something has happened that requires comment and explanation from the organisation’s leader since no one else is sufficiently senior.
Centrica CEO on BBC Breakfast
We’ve delivered media training for CEOs appearing on the Today programme and other outlets. So we were interested to see how Chris O’Shea, CEO of Centrica, performed on the BBC’s Breakfast programme on Friday. First of all, like the programme’s presenters, we congratulate him on having the courage to go on and face a wide range of questions, some posed by unhappy customers.
The peg for the interview was the public consultation on standing energy charges and the fees that apply. These have been controversial because, it’s claimed, they hit people from lower-income households the hardest. However, we’re very much aware that when we develop our media interview coaching programmes for CEOs, they face a particular kind of media interview. Whatever the agreed subject of the interview, journalists will want to ask them about strategy and the big picture as well as talking in detail. They’ll also be invited to comment on their predecessors, the company share price, market conditions, politics and regulation and just about everything else.
In this case, the first question was about abolishing standing charges – a salient issue. “We called for them to be scrapped in June 2023,” said O’Shea. This was a good answer – clear, punchy and relevant to the audience. He explained that prices are set by Ofgem. When they’re dealing with difficult issues, such as pricing, in this case, we recommend CEOs and other spokespeople make mention of third parties, such as regulators and trade bodies, as a way of distancing themselves from controversy. It also allows them to make clear that this question is industry-wide and doesn’t only affect them.
O’Shea answered the inevitable question about profits well. We very much focus on audiences in our media training for CEOs and others. This general consumer audience will take a different view of how much money Centrica makes than a business journalist would. O’Shea put amounts in context in a way that was easy for a non-financial audience to understand. He also explained the company’s relationship with the country’s gas infrastructure and its particular role in a way that would resonate with viewers of Breakfast.
Naturally, the issue of salary and remuneration came up. Again, this would be handled very differently in the FT or on Ian King Live. O’Shea explained that his total remuneration was £4.5m. We applaud his directness, but the problem was that he left it there – this allowed presenter Charlie Stayt to come back at him on the issue. Instead, he should have put it into context.
He did well to point out that a remuneration committee sets this – there’s that third party thing again – but he should have introduced this point without waiting to be asked and explained to this general audience what a remuneration committee is. His comment that “I can’t justify” sounded negative and slightly perverse – why make it then? The Guardian and The Times were among other outlets that picked up on this. The inevitable additional coverage and comment that comes off the back of almost any interview you do as a CEO is another issue that we discuss during our media coaching for CEOs.
Naga Munchetty’s question about a Which survey was another classic question for a company boss during the role-play interviews in our media training for CEOs. We’ll throw this one at our course participants. Again, O’Shea answered this well by deconstructing the headline figure in a way that was easily understandable and didn’t sound as if he was making an excuse. His comment, “We do need to do better,” worked well here.
The enquiry from an individual customer about their specific case is another ambush question for CEOs doing media interviews. O’Shea did what we would always recommend which is express interest or even sympathy, explain that you can’t comment on these individual cases. Still, you can offer to have colleagues take it up if the journalist would mind passing on the customer’s contact details.
Our Thoughts on This Interview
Three final points: First, O’Shea talked a lot about “customers,” whereas we would recommend referring to “you” and “me” as this is more natural and conversational and sounds more inclusive. After all, O’Shea is a gas user as well as a CEO. Second, he sometimes went into too much detail – broadcast interviews are all about the big picture. Third, sorry to be personal, but we have to do this in our media training courses for CEOs; it’s that twirly moustache. It’s great, and we love it – but not for a TV interview when he’s trying to appear authoritative and sound like an ordinary bloke.
Overall, though, this was a good performance and, to echo Charlie Stayt, well done, Mr O’Shea for coming on the programme.
PR consultants and media relations teams like that when they commission us to provide media training for CEOs; the trainers are working journalists (operating under strict NDAs) and professional media trainers with years of experience. They also appreciate the ability to speak to the person who will deliver the course rather than a salesperson, as this ensures that the training that they commission is what their CEO receives. Another plus point is that we’re flexible and adaptable (we know that CEOs often have to cancel at the last minute or even arrange a course at short notice) and, thanks to our trainers’ years of experience, our courses are intensive – perfect for time-poor high flyers.
Media Training London
Please get in touch – we’d love to talk to you about providing media training courses for your CEO.