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The joint MD of DLA Piper talks powerfully about social exclusion and provides useful insights for media interviews
September 16, 2020

We provide media training for a large number of law firms ranging from members of the magic circle to smaller, specialist organisations. That is why we’re always interested in media interviews with lawyers.

During our media coaching sessions for lawyers we help them to gain more control of media interviews, to get their messages across, to handle difficult questions and to use examples and case studies to illustrate their points and engage their audiences.

Sandra Wallace is joint managing director, UK and Europe of DLA Piper and therefore a very successful lawyer. But she was interviewed on the today programme yesterday in her capacity as co-interim chair of the government’s Social Mobility Commission. The Commission has just issued a new report which reveals that disadvantaged children earn around half as much in adulthood as those in areas with the highest levels of social mobility.

So how did Ms Wallace do? She starts with an energetic “good morning.” It sounds like a small point, but you need to add this extra energy and emphasis on key words and phrases during broadcast interviews. You might sound as if you’re exaggerating slightly ridiculously but through the speak or earphones it will come across as normal.

Nick Robinson then asks a standard first question. This kind of general, open question sometimes floors people and so it’s important as part of your preparation to have your “elevator pitch” or the one key message that you’d like your audience to take away already to go. This particular question is typical of what a journalist will always want to know, that is “what’s new?”

Ms Wallace responds opening question to this very well. “We’d previously done research on cold and hotspots and areas of deprivation that needed more focus but what this showed was that we’ve got 50 local authorities across England that offer very low levels of pay for people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she explains.

She then flags up what is important in the report and why we should care: “That’s a significant number and we’ve also learnt that there’s a big gap between those from poorer and more affluent backgrounds that again can affect someone’s life changes from a very early age into adulthood and into their working life.”

One small point here. She could use “you” and “your” instead of “those” and “someone.”  The second person just sounds more natural and conversational. Ms Wallace then expands on the report: “We can have authorities next door to each other where we can have very different pictures. This is the most in depth research we’ve done, where we can really pinpoint areas of deprivation and disadvantage much more closely…than we previously thought.”

This is great, especially the mention of “the most in depth,” as journalists love a superlative.  But it would just be good to get an example here.  Which authorities offer the most striking contrast? She could perhaps add a bit more detail to really drive home this important point.

She goes on: “In some of these very deprived areas there is not the level of professional services, opportunities available, work experience available and what is available is often not known about.” Again, a little example or even a human anecdote would help to bring this point to life.

Ms Wallace introduces the idea of education as “one of the critical factors” and she’s right to take the initiative and to bring up what she sees as important. If this is a key message, then she could repeat and expand on it. She could even flag it up with a phrase such as “What really struck us,” or “What’s so important here is…”

But it’s Nick Robinson who introduces what we would say is one of the most interesting, powerful and memorable aspects of this interview. “One of the reasons you were picked for this job is because of your own family experience,” he explains to the audience.

Ms Wallace picks this up very well. “For me, coming from an area [like] Lee Bank in Birmingham where I still live out of personal choice to show people that you can stay in an area that might not have the best reputation for being the highest paid.”

Personal experience or testimony is so strong and powerful in any communication, especially a media interview or presentation. This answer adds an important personal element that complements her obvious knowledge and authority.

She goes onto expand on it: “From my personal experience it was living in a family of six, not taking free school meals because my mother refused to have them,” she says. “But finding with a very difficult background, very poor educational expectations and low-income jobs were the expectation and it took a long time to break that cycle. There are still may people not able to do that. There are examples of one or two people who do that, but this report shows that there are still significant areas of deprivation that aren’t being touched.”

Again, a little example or case study would be great here but what Ms Wallace does very well is to sum up her key point. As we explain in our media training courses for lawyers and other professionals, when you feel that the interview is coming to a conclusion, just repeat your main message. That way the journalist is more likely to take it away with them and use it. Overall, this was an impressive interview on a very important subject.

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