The BRICS man comments on the Budget – how did he do?
March 4, 2021

Among the army of commentators invited by the media to give their views on yesterday’s budget was Jim O’Neill.  The former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and former Conservative government minister is one of the country’s foremost economists and the man behind the phrase “the BRICs”.

His economic credentials are impressive but how did he perform on the PM programme yesterday?  Many of the organisations that we provide media training for work in finance and so we were particularly interested in his performance.

Lord O’Neill has the kind of relaxed, conversational style that journalists like and that works particularly well with broadcast interviews. He spoke at the right pace and seemed to be thinking about Evan Davis’s questions rather than just trotting out his key messages.  We also work with politicians and those leading campaigns and we’re very firm on this.

Davis begins with a question about a base for the Treasury in Darlington.  O’Neill has an answer but then adds:

“I hope will get into the overall view [of the Budget].”

Our advice would be – don’t just hope.  Instead, bridge across to the subject and start talking about it.  Often during the first role play press interviews that we carry out with participants in our media training courses, they say to us:

“You didn’t give me a chance to talk about my key messages.”

The fact is that very often journalists won’t, mainly because they don’t know or care what your key messages are.  It’s your opportunity as an interviewee to introduce them yourself.  If they’re relevant and newsworthy (another issue that we explore in our media coaching sessions) then the journalist will pick up on them and talk about them.

Discussing this Treasury move, O’Neill says:

“I don’t think it’s as important as some other things that I hope will still come down the road for more genuine levelling up.”

What are these things?  What would he like to see the government do?  He could take control of the interview by proactively introducing them if he thinks that they’re important.

When he’s asked about his overall view of the Budget, O’Neill says:

“I’m broadly impressed. If we have time, I’d like to get into deeper things.”

The truth is that you probably won’t have time, so just get those deeper things in, anyway.  We advise our people in our media training courses to take control of the interview as soon as possible and be proactive in introducing their messages.  Remember – in a media interview time is short.

“I personally think that this crisis has given us an opportunity to completely rethink how the government approaches accounting, spending and taxation,”

he goes on to say.  Journalists really like it when interviewees use a phrase such as “I personally” as it sounds natural, authentic and spontaneous.  On the other hand, the PR people and in-house comms teams that we work very closely within our media interview coaching sessions are often unnerved by it.  After all, in most cases you’re not there to speak personally, you’re a spokesperson for your organisation.

One of the things that we recommend in our media training workshops is to sound as if you’re speaking personally and spontaneously but actually to ensure that what you say complies with your organisation’s line on the issue.

At one point O’Neill mentions

“some kind of very sophisticated version of Gordon Brown’s old golden rule.”

It’s an interesting thought – but would a general audience understand this golden rule?  Probably not.  Explaining technical terms to an audience that isn’t necessarily familiar with them is essential when doing a good media interview.

Just one other thought.  When people ask:

“What’s media training?”

We explain that 90 per cent of it is storytelling.  O’Neill has the authority and is great on the big picture.  However, as vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, for instance, he could surely add some references to what businesses have been telling him.  Case studies, examples and even simple anecdotes are gold to journalists.

As we say, in our media training courses, once you’re telling a story the journalist will almost certainly shut up and let you tell it.  That way, you have more control of the interview and you’re more likely to get your messages across.   A note, perhaps, for next year’s budget, Lord O’Neill.

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