As the Ukraine tragedy unfolds here in the UK, there’s been considerable discussion about what action should be taken against the Russian oligarchs who live in the country. From a media training perspective, this is quite an interesting angle on a story that, quite understandably, is dominating the news.
Why is the oligarch element of the Ukraine conflict so interesting? First, it’s about fairness. As we’ve said before, this is a key aspect of any good media story. People cheating the system, getting something that they’re entitled to or being bullied by a large organisation – it’s all about what’s fair or, more interestingly, what isn’t. There’s also a human element here, as we learn about these wealthy men and what they own. This story is particularly appropriate for the UK media as it’s happening in Britain, and relevance to the audience is a key element of any successful media story.
Leading Britain’s Conversation – Nick Ferrari and lawyer, Russell Conway
As the leading media training company for lawyers, we were interested to hear an interview that LBC’s Nick Ferrari carried out with a lawyer this morning to explore the issue – in this case, Russell Conway, a senior partner at Oliver Fisher, and a specialist in property law.
It was a good performance. So, what did he do right? The first thing he did was; he took the initiative during the interview and was on the front foot from the very start. As we explained during our media coaching sessions for law firms, lawyers are experienced and trained in giving a comprehensive answer to a question and leaving it at that.
Although this might be a great way to communicate with clients, regulators, and others, you need to take a very different approach during a media interview. Journalists want you to talk around the subject, adding as many insights and examples as you can. As long as your answers are roughly connected with their questions, they’ll be happy. Mr Conway takes the initiative here, and his answers are just about the right length.
“How easy is it to carry out these sanctions?” asks Nick Ferrari jumping in with a typical journalist’s question, which is very much based on the practical aspects of the issue.
“It’s a lot easier than people are making out,” says Mr Conway. He then goes on to give several examples of relevant legislation, such as the Criminal Finances Act. – Journalists are always looking for examples and proof points. – Mr Conway could then develop his example by briefly citing a case where this – or any other law, has been applied.
What is essential to a good media interview?
Mr Conway uses the first person, which is essential. “We” sounds natural and engaging and, in this instance, implies action and adds to a sense of dynamism. There’s a practical, positive sense of “let’s get this thing done.” This style might not appeal to all lawyers, but works perfectly for LBC.
Thinking of his audience, Mr Conway goes on to issue a call to action, which might not go down well with serious legal publications, perhaps but would work with his listeners in this case. “There’s a huge difference between just freezing the property, which doesn’t mean to say that we could use it and confiscating it, which means we can sell it and use the proceeds to help Ukrainian refugees or indeed house them,” he explains. You might disagree with Mr Conway’s proposal, but considering a clear call to action is vital for lawyers doing media interviews.
“The amount actually taken from Russian oligarchs is zero,” points out Ferrari in his next question. This could be difficult, but Mr Conway puts the situation into context to explain why this is. “My guess is that with the events in Eastern Europe over the last week, they are going to up their game,” he concludes, again keeping the tone upbeat and avoiding any suggestion that lawyers aren’t effective or simply aren’t interested in these cases.
He takes the initiative here again and provides us with an interesting insight. “Using the current legislation is not enough, he argues, because of the linkage to criminal activity,” he says. “Many of these people are far removed from real criminals. What the government must do is introduce new legislation with cross-party support. All of this can be done in days, not weeks. Remember, these properties can be sold in 30 seconds.”
Again, we get a call to action. We always advise participants in our media training courses for lawyers to hint at an action that the audience can take. They needn’t go into too much detail – there isn’t time, and besides, the aim is to encourage those audience members interested in getting in touch and instructing them. Phrases such as, “What we’re telling clients is…” or “Clients are asking us…” help to demonstrate not only that you’re knowledgeable but that you’re at the coal face, working on this issue at a practical level day-to-day.
How to overcome challenging questions during a media interview
Ferrari offers a final, challenging question: “Won’t there be a queue of lawyers a mile-long seeking to defend me if I happened to be an oligarch and I have my £40 million mansion seized?”
Mr Conway says in reply: “You can only dispute the legislation if there is a weakness or hole in the legislation. Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t want to be going to court in the circumstances.” Personal testimony is always powerful and usually convincing, so this works well. He then adds a little proof point – something that we always recommend. “I was just reading yesterday in the Law Society Gazette, the trade magazine, that lots of solicitors are saying that they weren’t really interested in acting in these circumstances,” he says.
Could Mr Conway have just come to back his key messages about what the government and lawyers can do to sanction oligarchs? In our media interview training, we certainly recommend that lawyers repeat their key messages towards the end of the exchange, so, yes, perhaps he could have. Generally, though, this is a good answer to round off a good interview.
How to get better at Media Interviews
Media interviews can be challenging and overwhelming, which is why our media training courses are detailed (to the extent that you and your firm require) to ensure you know what to expect, how to reply to the journalist and, subsequently secure an overall successful interview.
DONATE TO UKRAINE – #StandWithUkraine
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