Engineering good media coverage: James Dyson’s interview on the Today programme
October 8, 2020

Sir James Dyson is one of the country’s most innovative engineers and successful entrepreneurs but how good is he at media interviews?  We provide media training courses for designers and engineers and for the retailers that sell their products and so we were particularly interested to hear him on the Today programme yesterday morning.

He was talking about the fact that a degree can now be awarded directly by the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology.  Previously the Institute could only award degrees in association with another institution.  A good news story but how likely was it that Nick Robinson would ask him about other, more controversial issues?  About as likely as night following day is the short answer.

We point out to people in our media coaching courses that as well as the subjects that they’ve agreed to talk about it’s always possible that the host of the programme might throw something else at them. Nick Robinson starts by asking what these qualifications offer that existing degrees and apprenticeships don’t offer.  It’s a standard journalist’s

“Tell me what’s new and different,”

question and Sir James picks up on it to good effect.

“We were very concerned that we are not producing enough engineers in Britain and Jo Johnson [then universities minister] who was bringing a new education act at the time said: ‘Why don’t you start your own university?’  It seemed like an obvious thing for us to do because we’ve always recruited graduates rather than experienced engineers and trained them up. It seemed that taking undergraduates was a natural step.”

This is a clear, succinct answer, setting up a problem and offering a solution.  It includes a subtle sell for the good work that the company does.  He goes on to add more, skilfully ignoring an interruption by Nick Robinson:

“We have a broad range of technologies at Dyson and so we are not short changing the students who come to us.  There are here 47 weeks of the year, not the 22 weeks at a normal university. The rest of the time they’re working, inventing new things at Dyson.”

Good answer but if he was really cheeky, he could, of course, keep talking and include some specific examples here.  Either way, it was a subtle but effective sell for the company.

Anyway, that’s enough advertising for Dyson, Nick Robinson decides.

“People said that it was announced last year that you were moving the company’s headquarters to Singapore, turning your back on Britain.  Did they get that wrong?”

“They got it completely wrong,” asserts Sir James.  “Two people went to Singapore as part of the titular head office move, to a part of the world where we manufacture, and we have a very large number of sales.  We thought that it was right that we should have engineers and designers where a huge number of our sales are happening and where the culture is very different.  It would be arrogant to think that we can design products in Britain for people in Asia.”

This is another great answer.  Sir James is very clear and confident and provides some persuasive arguments for the decision.  Again, he could bring it back to the university and the degrees that it’s offering.  He goes on to explain that the company is expanding in Britain.

“We’ve taken over Hullavington Airfield and we’re doing up the hangers there…we’re going to create products.  We are a British company.”

We always emphasise the importance of examples and case studies as evidence for any message or any proposition in our media training workshops and this works very well.  Here too, though, he could add some more detail, perhaps about exciting innovation and bring it back to the university.   This, he does, when Nick Robinson has another go at the same question.  Sir James is clearly slightly exasperated but he gets full marks for not losing his temper.

Having been defeated on this controversial subject Nick Robinson moves onto another – the government’s handling of Covid.

“What’s your verdict on what’s happening here?”

he asks.

“Have you had to make job losses purely because of the virus or because of the policy of the government?”

He goes on to make a reference to Dyson cutting jobs.

“We had to do something about it, so we took a decision to sell direct instead of selling through shops,” is the reply.  It’s clear and simple.  But Nick Robinson has another potential bear trap.  “If you could pick up the phone to the Chancellor,”

he asks.

“What advice would you give?”

Again the reply is simple and direct.

“We’ve got to recover our economy.  We’ve got to encourage entrepreneurship and wealth creation. That’s the way out of this – get entrepreneurs and business active again.”

There’s a lovely answer when he’s asked about his views that people would be better going into their offices rather than working from home.

“You need the interaction,”

he argues.

“You can’t train people if they’re at home.  When I come into work – and I’m 73 – I’m learning all the time.  We learn from each other.”

As we say in our media training courses, personal testament and introducing your own experience into a media interview is very powerful.  It certainly works well here.  Just finally, sorry to bang on, but Sir James could have bridged back to his key message about the university.  Overall, this interview was as powerful and effective as a Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Chat to Communicate Media

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