When he casually suggested during a media interview that a Scotch egg could count as a substantial meal the environment secretary, George Eustice could have had no idea of the debate he would unleash.
Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC at breakfast on Monday, Eustice claimed that the rules on serving substantial meals with alcohol are
“understood very much”
by pub landlords and restaurants. But what did he mean by “substantial?”
“I think a Scotch egg would probably count as a substantial meal if there were table service,”
he said. Does that make sense? Well, it certainly didn’t for many people.
During our media training courses we talk a lot about using examples and advise on how to bring them into media interviews in an effective, controlled way. Examples, case studies, stories and even little anecdotes do two things when you’re talking to a journalist. First, they illustrate a point and bring it to life. By using an example, you paint a picture for us – we can literally see what you mean. In normal conversation if someone asks you what something means or how something works, you’ll probably start your explanation with the phrase:
“For instance,…” or “Say…”
Normal conversation is what journalists want to hear during media interviews, of course.
When Nick Ferrari drilled down to ask George Eustace what constituted “a substantial meal”
he was only doing what journalists naturally do to help their audiences understand what’s being discussed. We like it granular, you see, and we like storytelling and picture painting.
As specialists in media training for law firms we recently trained a Partner who had worked on a major city takeover. He told the story of taking the offer from one party in an envelope, down the corridor to the other party. It gave us – and his audience when he did the interview in the real world – a wonderful sense of exactly what it was like to be working at the coal face of a major deal.
The second thing that an example or story does is to prove something. You might tell us that you offer excellent customer service, but anyone could say that. On the other hand, give us an example, tell us a story or provide us with a little proof point and you’ll be much more convincing. After all, the media is about “show” rather than “tell.”
So, what went wrong with George Eustace’s Scotch egg example? The answer is very simple – he clearly hadn’t planned it. Or, if he had, he hadn’t identified the follow up questions and the risks that might be involved.
As we stress in our media coaching, planning and preparation are key to any successful media interview. This applies to identifying and developing case studies and examples as it does for anything else. Doing your thinking during a media interview rather than beforehand, coming up with examples and stories while you’re talking is as risky as devising arguments or trying out a turn of phrase. It might work. But if you haven’t had the chance to sense check it with colleagues, to decide whether it fits with your branding and your corporate ethos then you’re taking a major risk. Very importantly, you also have to think about what other questions your example might prompt from the journalist and where you might be lead. If not, you could soon find yourself in trouble.
George Eustace should have had some more examples of what constitutes a “substantial meal” prepared in advance of his interview. If the concept really is well understood within the catering industry as he claims, then he should have some other anecdotes to prove this point.
“I was talking to a pub landlord yesterday…”
“The manager of a bar in my own constituency said to me…”
would work as simple, conversational stories to make his point. If pressed about particular details he could use a line about people using common sense and then repeat these examples.
Instead, columnists, commentators and social media have had endless fun with Scotch eggs and what constitutes a “substantial meal”.
Chat to Communicate Media
The advice we give participants in our media training courses is that they should introduce examples and case studies but rule one, book one of media training is to prepare for any media interview. That’s the best way to avoid getting (Scotch) egg on your face.