Corona Virus Interview Blog
March 10, 2020

Unless you’ve been hiding under a stone on the planet Mars (where at least you’d be safe from infection), you’ll have heard that the country is braced for a rapidly increasing number of cases of Coronavirus.  As providers of media training courses, crisis communications courses and advisers on corporate message development and testing we’re always interested in how spokespeople and the media treat such issues.

Reporting on the virus has been tricky for the media.  As our media trainers are also working journalists, they’ve been involved in deciding how the various outlets that they contribute to should report on the spread of Coronavirus and provide practical information about it without spreading panic.

The Today programme had an interesting “one-plus-two” interview on Friday morning.  The “one”, that is the interviewer, was Justin Webb and the “two”, in other words the guests, were Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, who gave a macro view of the situation and a GP, Dr Pippa Oakeshott, who talked about her experience on the ground, responding to advice from the department of health and dealing with patients.

How did they do and what can their performances tell us about others involved in promoting messages, doing media interviews and working in corporate communications?

Hopson is an experienced media performer and his energy and conviction came across well during this interview.  He talked about “building capacity,” which sounds rather corporate.  A phrase such as “making sure that we can cope”, might be more appropriate.  We also had the word “cohort” which isn’t exactly the kind of pub or coffee shop language that works best in media interviews and especially on the radio.

Hopson’s first answer probably was a bit long but it’s worth noting that Justin Webb didn’t interrupt him.  This suggests that what he said was good.  We always advise people to use the first question – almost whatever it is – to set out your stall and take control of the interview.  Very often the journalist, who might well have done minimal research will be glad of this.   Generally, taking the initiative during media interviews is important.

He then dived straight into three strong, visual examples.  Coming to an example, a case study or even a simple anecdote straight away, without waiting to be asked, is something that we strongly recommend during our media training courses.

We particularly liked Hopson’s comment about “A hospital that I was in last week…” as this was immediate and topical – something that journalists always like.  It was also personal.  Personal experience and testament is very powerful.  It made it clear in this case that the speaker is not in his ivory tower, removed from the action.  We also liked the way that Hopson mentioned that experts are advising people to ring 111.  Practical advice is always good in a media interview as it ticks the “What’s In It For Me?” Box by making it directly relevant to the audience.

If Hopson’s key message and the main takeaway for his audience following this interview was reassurance, then this certainly came across.  Media interviews are usually about selling something, such as a new product or service; commenting on something, which might be an incident, a campaign or a new regulation or they’re about defending yourself because you’ve made a mistake or done something unpopular.   We deliver a lot of media training for law firms and for them commenting on a judgement or a piece of legislation is frequently a reason for doing media interviews.  Reassurance can, though, come into any type of interview.

Generally, Hopson’s language was good.  He used the second person which is good during when talking to journalists but especially on radio.  As we point out during our media training courses “you” sounds more natural and engaging than “they” or “them.”   He also flags up a key message with the phrase “What we find really interesting…”  This signals to the audience that they’re going to hear something that will interest them, a little nugget of information or a fascinating insight.  His reference to deep cleaning ambulances before they’re sent out on a new job was a nice little example to demonstrate how difficult the virus is to manage at the moment.

Finally, Hopson’s message about the comment by the World Health Organisation that the UK is one of the best places to be during these difficult times promotes the NHS but does so by including an independent, third party source.  We advise people to do this, especially during defensive or crisis media interviews.

Dr Pippa Oakeshott, the south London GP invited to give the perspective of those handling the virus on the ground, didn’t sound quite as polished and energetic as Chris Hopson, but then why should she?   This isn’t the point.  She did, though, sound knowledgeable and caring.  As we say during our media training courses, what you should be aiming for, especially with the broadcast media, is warm authority.  We expect people to know what they’re talking about, but we also like to like them.

Again, Dr Oakeshott brought in early a good example of the lady that had come in to see her three weeks ago.  She told a lovely human story and, as listeners, we could literally see what she was talking about.   As they say, the best pictures are on radio.

Her comment about identifying “simple guidelines for GPs,” was great because it meant that Justin Webb was bound to talk to her about these guidelines.  This shows how you can seed the next question for the interviewer and gain more control of the interview.

As with Chris Hopson’s contribution there’s a message here of reassurance backed up with a memorable statistic – four out of five of us will not be seriously ill.  Statistics are easier to give during print media interviews as we can see them on the page (emailing them on to the journalist after the interview is a good way of ensuring that they’re reproduced accurately).  So, with a broadcast one or two simple figures work better than a whole slew of percentages, for instance.

Again, Dr Oakeshott’s message was about reassurance and she stuck to this even when Justin Webb puts her under some pressure.  At a time when the public needs reassurance and practical advice it’s good to hear a sensible, informative interview like this one.

Chat to Communicate Media

If you’d like to talk more about how to do a good radio interview, or indeed an effective interview for any media outlet then get in touch by giving us a call on 0800 1777080 or emailing us or to find out more about our media training, crisis communications and presentation courses.

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