This week the Today programme featured an interview on the subject of Sir Lenny Henry’s open letter to the black community, calling on them to get vaccinated.
April 1, 2021

In the letter, which is signed by film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, author Malorie Blackman and radio DJ Trevor Nelson, Sir Henry acknowledges the

“legitimate worries and concerns” that people have, adding: “We know change needs to happen and that it’s hard to trust some institutions and authorities.”

Today asked two guests to talk about the issue – BAFTA award-winning director Amma Asante who has directed a short film about the issue and Dr Joseph Omofuma, a GP from Rochdale who’s also the clinical lead for the Caribbean and African Health Network working in Greater Manchester and beyond.

So how did they do and look at this campaign as a whole what can we learn in terms of media training skills and interview management? We were particularly interested because as media trainers and communications professionals we’re all about the audience and we like the idea of using the black community to talk to the black community.

Aristotle argued that you need to consider three factors when trying to communicate – the ethos, the pathos and the logos.

Many organisations forget the first two and jump to the third

The ethos is about who you are.  The fact is that if we don’t like you, we won’t agree with what you’re saying, however cogent your arguments might be.  Even if you’re simply not one of us we’re likely to be sceptical.  In our media training and presentation training, we always encourage people to think about how they’re going to connect with the audience through empathy or authority or, ideally, a mix of both.

You then need to create some emotion – fear, excitement, joy, enthusiasm or even, as in this case, love.

A mix works best.  This will help your message stick with your audience.

As Maya Angelou put it so beautifully:

People will forget what you said

People will forget what you did

But people will never forget how you made them feel

Now psychology backs this up.

Only when you’ve ticked the ethos and pathos boxes can you get to the logos – the logic of your argument, the facts that you want to convey.  We’ve heard a lot of facts and science on the subject of coronavirus and vaccination but this campaign and Amma Asante film certainly tick those essential ethos and pathos boxes very effectively.

“It was very important to create a tone that was intimate and personal although we knew that we’d be speaking to many people,” she told Martha Kearney.  “I asked contributors to

address individuals rather than a vast group as if each was addressing their own family member.”

We always advise our media training participants during radio interviews to imagine that they’re talking to just one person – their mum or their best friend, perhaps.

Picking up on this point (and demonstrating how you, as the interviewee, can lead the interview) Martha Kearney asked whether she had her own family in mind?  “One hundred per cent,” said Amma Asante.

“I had in mind what it would take for my mother to stop when this came on the TV what she was doing and listen to it.”

In his first answer Dr Omofuma concisely drove home the message:

“When people see familiar faces and those that they identify with, the message comes closer to home.”

Journalists always want to know about what’s happening on the ground in simple, practical, human terms and so Martha Kearney then asked Dr Omofuma about what he says to the people that he sees in his surgery and his church.

“What we say to them is that you know us and so you can trust us,”

he explained, spelling out his key message again in simple terms.  He then went on to flag it up.  Signposting an important point during a media interview is a good thing whether you’re doing TV or radio or talking to a print journalist.

“This is what’s really brilliant about the film that Ama and Sir Henry have done – you’re seeing familiar faces, people that you can actually identify with and hopefully that helps to bring the message closer to home. One of the things we’ve done as a group in the Caribbean and African Health Network is to educate pastors and then send the pastors to go to their congregations – not just pastors but a imams and other religious leaders.”

As well as repeating his point Dr Omofuma includes a promotion of the Network. We always advise people in our media training workshops to mention their organisation once or perhaps twice during a radio interview.

Amma Asante’s final answer was the kind of positive, upbeat message complete with a call to action that works so well to round off any interview:

“That’s why it’s so important for you to get the information that you need so that you can make an informed decision and protect yourself and your family.”

The one thing that we would recommend both speakers to do would be to include some little anecdotes.  While respecting patient confidentiality could Dr Omofuma mention a conversation that he’s had or could Amma Asante talk about what a friend or family member told her when she mentioned the film?

Stories, anecdotes and examples are the meat and drink of media interviews and effective campaigns.

Overall, though, these were great interviews in support of a very important and well thought out campaign.

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