Live broadcast interviews can reduce even the most articulate spokespeople to gibbering wrecks as they struggle to respond to the dreaded unexpected question.
For the PROs who put clients in front of the TV camera, securing the interview is only the first hurdle – much harder is getting across the intended message.
PRWeek joined a selection of PR professionals and their clients as they prepared for tricky TV interviews. Below, they describe their experience.
'PLUGGING' A PRODUCT
Nick Coppack, head of marketing agency Bray Leino London, says it has become acceptable for talkshow guests to plug their latest venture or product. For the past two months he has been promoting wine critic Robert Joseph’s Wine Travel Guide to the World, and has pitched the book to most of the mainstream broadcast channels.
Coppack argues that if PROs have more than just a product to sell, a programme maker’s ears prick up: ‘Joseph was the founder of Wine International magazine, and was wine correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph until 2001. Joseph is more than just a bloke with a book, and we have worked at developing angles.’
At the start of the campaign, Coppack secured a slot for Joseph on UK TV food and drink programme Great Food Live. He reveals he was confident in his ability to sell-in the book launch to other television and radio broadcasters.
He says: ‘I decided to come up with two slants: the first was a business story. Joseph predicts that many popular European vineyards will not survive unless they adopt “wine tourism”. I talked to CNN, Bloomberg and the BBC’s Working Lunch about this. I was confident they would go for it because it was a little off the wall and not a dry business story. The second angle was a lighter travel story. The book has obscure content which gives it wide appeal.
Wine Travel Guide: perfect for food telly
‘The lighter angle was the one I sold in to Great Food Live. Here, Joseph selected three wines for the show and linked them to his book.’
Coppack accompanied Joseph – as he would any spokesperson – to the UK TV studio, and watched the show being filmed. ‘It would be irresponsible for any PRO to send someone to a live TV interview without support on set,’ he says. ‘After all, the agreement has been hammered out behind the scenes between the PRO and the production team. If Great Food Live suddenly asked if Joseph could cook an omelette instead of choosing wine, I would step in to save the client from any embarrassment.’
The interview: Great Food Live...
Joseph before ‘I was reasonably confident that I’d be able to mention the book because I chose wines from wacky countries such as India and Mexico to make the link natural. The worst thing would be to get carried away – having a nice chat, then realising that you didn’t fulfil your objectives.’
Joseph after ‘It went well. The book was flashed on screen and I managed to tell stories around the wines and link them neatly with the book. I mentioned the title twice, and the presenter showed pictures from the book. The interviewer didn’t throw me any difficult questions. It went as I would have liked.’
THE EXPERT COMMENTATOR - CASE STUDY 1
Clem Chambers is CEO of stocks and investment website ADVFN.com .He makes frequent appearances as an investment expert on the BBC, CNBC Europe, Sky and CNN to comment on stock-related issues such as company results and IPOs.
PRWeek spoke to Chambers and his in-house PR team as he prepared for a Sky News interview last month.
ADVFN PR manager Francesca De Franco says: ‘Chambers now has a regular slot on Sky, talking up to three times a month.’ She adds that this was only achieved by her persistence in putting him forward for comment.
‘It wasn’t initially easy to get Chambers on Sky’s radar,’ De Franco says. ‘I approached the channel eight times, suggesting he could comment on various subjects, before it clicked. Then, once Sky was confident about his performance, they started calling me to book him in advance.’
Usually, De Franco receives a call in the morning of the interview to ensure Chambers is still available. Then a Sky News researcher calls again a couple of hours before the broadcast to confirm topics to be discussed, based on breaking news that day. De Franco alerts Chambers of the subject matter and sends him background research, including the news story itself, historical news relating to the topic and market details such as share price and stock chart.
She agrees that spokespeople should be accompanied on set, not only to coach, but to look out for errors (she once corrected her company name after seeing it on an autocue) and to take notes for use in press releases.
The biggest challenge is the fast turnaround often required in broadcast interviews. Even though these Sky News slots are booked well in advance, there is little time for preparation.
The interview: Sky News...
Chambers before ‘When I first started making broadcast appearances there was a degree of nervousness. The part of broadcast interviews I used to worry about most was the equipment. If you’re not familiar with the earpieces, it’s hard to turn the sound up and you can get horrible feedback. But once you’ve done it two or three times you can relax and be natural.
‘Now I feel a rush of excitement beforehand. Doing interviews has become automatic. The important thing is that you smile and respond. It’s actually quite repetitive: with my area of expertise being the stock market, the broadcast coverage fits a template. Companies are generally having a bad time, a good time, taking each other over or getting out of UK manufacturing.
‘The secret is to forget about the camera and address the interviewer. At Sky, I’m sat right next to the presenter, so I talk to him as I would to anyone in a normal conversation. At the BBC it’s a bit more complicated because they tend to use remote studios, which means you’ve often got to look at a camera and imagine who you’re speaking to.
‘But, while the formats might differ, I find the presenters are professional.’
Chambers after ‘The interview went well, and I still take them seriously. I just tell myself that I know the answers, so all I need to do is relax. Once I mentioned a “dead cat bounce” (a falling share that will bounce back). The interviewer had to say that Sky wasn’t advocating cruelty to pets.’
THE EXPERT COMMENTATOR - CASE STUDY 2
Jill Stevens, director of consumer affairs at credit referencing and marketing analysis company Experian, has been its official consumer spokesperson for ten years. She makes about 35 television appearances a year, on the BBC, GMTV and Sky, among others. Her most recent appearance was on BBC2’s Working Lunch, in which she discussed credit referencing.
|Experian corporate PR manager James Taylor proactively arranges half of Stevens’ broadcast opportunities. ‘It’s quite important that we’re not seen to be ducking opportunities, so even if they’re tricky slots, such as talking about the marketing of credit cards to vulnerable people, we tend to do them,’ he says.|
In his previous role at agency Bite Communications, Taylor helped to cultivate spokespeople, from clients such as Toshiba, as expert commentators. He argues that his role is to remind clients that although they may be experts, most television viewers are not, and it is their job to make the subject as accessible as possible.
Taylor says: ‘My main gripe is clients who are not specific and cannot make points very clearly without jargon. If someone just catches some of the broadcast, it’s important they still have some idea of what is being talked about.
The journalist wants the interviewees to perform well, but clients can get stuck if they have more than two or three key messages. We do mock-interviews and analyse clients’ performance afterwards.’
Stevens(top): coached by Taylor
The interview: Working Lunch...
Stevens before ‘It can still be nerve-racking. I am sometimes asked questions that will shed negativity on the lending community and our clients – for instance: “Don’t you think that this lender should not have lent money to that particular person?” I normally need to defend this type of accusation by stressing that there is still a lot of information available to lenders to check whether or not a person is creditworthy. Then I’ll try and go on to explain just how the credit-reporting process works.
‘It would really be dangerous for me to comment on an individual. I won’t get angry and I won’t get defensive. I will always try to remain friendly and calm and explain my answer.’
Stevens after ‘I thought the interview went well. There were no questions that I couldn’t handle. I got a little stressed ahead of time because I knew I needed to make the complicated point that credit-reference agencies do not make lending decisions or have a blacklist.
‘Having been a journalist for 29 years I often have the advantage of understanding the media environment. But I had a huge amount to learn when I started being a spokesperson. I guess I have found that answering the questions is a very different skill to asking them.’
Gemma Craven, head of technology and digital media at Midnight Communications, recently secured two CNBC Europe interviews for her client, search engine marketing firm Greenlight.
Cowen(top) and Craven: Hand-
Given that Greenlight was a small, relatively unknown company operating in a niche market, Craven knew she had to tap into wider issues to get broadcasters’ attention. She spotted the first opportunity when speculation mounted last September that Yahoo! was preparing to buy trendy networking website facebook.com.
The story broke first in the US, but Craven knew UK journalists would be following it up in the afternoon. She quickly sourced a comment from Greenlight CEO Warren Cowen, which she sent out to national and trade contacts.
Craven says: ‘Cowen has very strong opinions and is a good public speaker. He’s an ideal spokesperson for proactive pitches such as this. I would hesitate to do this kind of story with someone who didn’t have such attributes.’
The story was picked up by The Guardian and, on the back of this, Greenlight was approached by CNBC Europe to contribute to its Morning Exchange programme. Craven accompanied her client to the studio and debriefed him on his performance.Craven’s advice for seizing opportunistic slots is to keep an eye on big media stories: ‘The faster you are to jump on a breaking story, the better. And be persistent.’
The interviews: Morning Exchange...
Cowen before ‘I was a little nervous before I went on to comment on Facebook. I did as much reading up on what had happened as possible, trying to guess the angles that the journalist might take and develop my own agenda.
‘The temptation is to try and plug yourself and talk about your discipline, and forget you are commenting on a wider issue. But you’ve got to restrain yourself and understand the salient themes.’
Cowen after ‘It went well and I had a thorough debrief. I’d be disappointed if my PR agency didn’t tell me how to improve my performance. After this interview, for example, Midnight told me not to wave my hands around so much.
‘Opportunistic PR really helps our profile. Even if clients don’t see the coverage, I can say I was on CNBC and there is a lot of brand equity from that. You can also put the footage on your website. I would say the most important thing when doing this type of interview is to make sure you have an opinion and don’t just sit on the fence.
‘As long as you understand how your company fits into the wider picture, it’s easy to determine what your contribution and angle needs to be. In the end, I was very happy with the interviews.’
'THE GOOD CAUSE'
Charities often turn to broadcasters as a cheaper alternative to direct mail or advertising. Suzanne Johns, managing director of Approach PR, has been responsible for promoting the National Eczema Society (NES) for five years, and has found case studies vital to achieving coverage.
However, journalists often request examples of children who, although having severe eczema that is visible on screen, are also photogenic.
For last year’s National Eczema Week (16-23 September), Johns focused on the story of Sue Evans and her four-year-old daughter Lucy, who has eczema.
Johns contacted GMTV, a key programme for the charity. Presenter Fiona Phillips, a patron of the NES, has a son with eczema and promised to mention Eczema Week during the interview with Evans.
GMTV only confirmed the day before broadcast that Evans would appear, so Johns put the mother through mock-interviews and went over key messages. Johns says: ‘It’s a very difficult balance managing a member of the public.
Evans and family: forgot to mention
Not only are they nervous, but there is also the task they have to perform – keeping to the official NES message. On set, I emphasised the benefit of mentioning NES.’
The interview: GMTV...
Johns after ‘No matter how much planning and preparation you do, when it comes to broadcast opportunities there are certain elements that are completely out of a PRO’s control,’ says a disappointed Johns. Although the interview went ahead, neither Evans nor Phillips mentioned NES.
Johns adds: ‘There’s nothing further we could have done to have made sure someone said the society’s name. Every single duck was lined up to have that mention.’ However, GMTV ran contact details on its website homepage and, despite the lack of a name check, calls to NES increased after the interview.
Evans after ‘It happened all of a sudden and was nerve-racking. Approach PR was a godsend. Suzanne was constantly in contact with me, she was almost like a counsellor.
‘The reason I didn’t mention NES is because I wasn’t asked a question about it directly. Suzanne couldn’t have done anything else to help me prepare. If I could, I would have said everything we’d talked about, but it’s quite difficult when you’re being led by someone who is on the telly every morning.
‘GMTV wanted me to talk about how I deal with my daughter’s condition, and I do gabble on about eczema, so that took up a lot of time. If I went on the programme again I would have a better idea of what to do. I would stress that there is help out there.
‘In fact, doing GMTV had a knock-on effect. I did an interview with Scotland Today and felt more confident. I felt I led them more and I mentioned NES.’
It is notoriously difficult for sponsors to get coverage, as broadcasters increasingly want to distance themselves from blatant plugs. Nevertheless, Siemens pulled off a coup last year when it announced its six-year £3.2m sponsorship of the GB rowing team, securing four two-minute slots on BBC Breakfast, and many of the broadcaster’s other shows.
Team GB: its performance director
Siemens media relations manager Anne Keogh pitched the idea of BBC Breakfast correspondent Declan Curry reporting the story as a business news item from the GB team’s training lake in Caversham.
Keogh says: ‘The BBC production team like to get Declan out and about to lift the business coverage and make it more engaging. They loved the idea because there was plenty of visual action promised. Rowers train from 6am onwards, and there is a beautiful sunrise over the lake.’
Keogh positioned Siemens’ sponsorship as a way for the BBC to link business news to the 2012 Olympics. However, she had to be careful that it was the broadcaster – and not a Siemens staffer – who made this link on air as the brand is not an official Olympic sponsor.
She proposed that an on-location broadcast should take place on the day the GB team would announce its World Rowing Championships line-up. The Siemens sponsorship was a secondary theme. To persuade BBC Breakfast that an interview with a Siemens spokesperson would be worthwhile, Keogh pointed out the significance of a German brand sponsoring the GB team. In the end, the coverage included interviews with four-time gold medallist Matthew Pinsent, Siemens UK CEO Alan Wood, and director of corporate development Kevin Tutton.
The interview: various BBC shows...
Keogh after ‘We didn’t really push the sponsorship. You have to give the production team a story that they can create themselves. That makes them more enthusiastic,’ she says.
Keogh adds that businesses need to ‘think beyond their immediate marketing story to make it broadly interesting’ when trying to secure broadcast opportunities such as this.
She says a bonus was that, in addition to the planned coverage, GB performance director David Tanner made positive mentions of Siemens when he talked at length about how the company’s technology would help the team improve.
THE BROADCAST SPECIALIST'S VIEW
Howard KOSKY, managing director of markettiers4dc, gives his verdict on the broadcast strategies (from above):
‘The product plugger’
The verdict Most broadcasters are aware of brands but awareness doesn’t necessarily mean outright acceptance, so PROs should always endeavour to find ways in which the brand can be incorporated naturally without being out of place for either the producer or the viewer.
Devising plenty of natural links to the ‘product’, as Robert Joseph did, in advance of the interview is a must. This takes away the need for the presenter to ask a direct question.
The expert commentator – 1
The verdict Having a spokesperson who enjoys the experience and respects the broadcaster is certainly a big asset. Persistence is everything with broadcast and Francesca De Franco provides a perfect example with her continued approaches to broadcasters.
Although I too respect the judgment of the researcher, I would have been inclined to follow up with a phone call on at least a few occasions as personal enthusiasm can be more persuasive than professional wording. In comparison with other case studies here though, Clem Chambers’ role is perhaps made slightly easier by the lack of pressure to ‘promote’ a brand. His remit is to strengthen his position as a credible expert, which, for a talented individual is perhaps easier than having to answer a question while delivering a handful of key messages.
The expert commentator – 2
The verdict James Taylor makes the vital distinction between knowledge and understanding, which is vital when selecting a spokesperson as they must know their topic and be able to adapt their language to suit varied audiences – of GMTV and CNBC, for example.
Rightly or wrongly, a significant amount of credibility is based on likeability, and so Jill Stevens is right to not allow herself to be baited or riled. It is wise, however, to be seen to tackle negative issues that surround an industry. And for every one of these interviews, Taylor and Stevens were aware that they should seek balance.
The verdict I appreciated Gemma Craven’s approach of offering a controversial comment as this can be an excellent way to create debate, illustrating both sides of the story and simultaneously raising the spokesperson’s profile.
Accompanying your client to interview and debriefing them afterwards all serves to improve your knowledge of the broadcast environment, and your trust and respect of each other.
Honest but constructive debriefs are crucial and, in many cases, asking a regular spokesperson to watch the interview back and critique themselves gives you a useful opening gambit without appearing too critical.
‘The good cause’
The verdict I imagine that most people reading this will have a degree of empathy with Suzanne Johns. Using a case study is often a worthwhile angle for broadcasters, but inexperience does of course have its risks.
There are a few additional approaches I would suggest in this instance. Knowing that Evans’s daily routine was to be discussed, there was an opportunity to mention that during an average day she uses the society website for support.
Secondly, it is advisable to give an inexperienced spokesperson a taste of a studio environment as part of their media training. The less they have to ‘phase them’, the more chance they have to focus on the message.
Finally, although the interview didn’t produce the mention the client wanted, GMTV has a phenomenal website that is visited by 500,000 people every month. Get on to the editor and ensure that anyone who ventures to the site to find out more sees a link to the society portal.
The verdict Anne Keogh’s choice of an outside broadcast made sense for a TV audience. TV must always consider the visual attractiveness of a story alongside its content, which is why a bit of clever staging can push you up the planning list.
Thinking beyond the immediate sponsorship is crucial, and sometimes a willingness to be controversial can help to swing the vote your way.
More importantly though, Keogh not only recognised the need to let the production teams film the story their own way, but she also created a very specific news hook.