On the face of this should not have been the most challenging of media interviews.
It was an opportunity to talk about a new initiative which will see £40,000 worth of food donated to the homeless.
But it actually resulted in one listener describing the spokesperson as ‘the most unpleasant person I‘ve heard on the radio’.
Sir Ian Botham's appearance on Radio 5 Live on Monday, which you can listen to here (2hr39secs), turned into a master class on how not to do a radio interview and resulted in a string of damaging headlines.
Here are some examples:
Listeners slam Ian Botham after ‘car crash’ BBC Radio 5 Live interview Huff Post
Radio 5 Live listeners slam ‘arrogant’ Sir Ian Botham Daily Mail
And the reaction was not much better on social media:
Extraordinary interview with Ian Botham on 5 Live this morning. Possibly the most unpleasant person I've ever heard on the radio.— Ben Powell (@Benpowelluk) July 31, 2017
@bbc5live does "Sir" Ian Botham not know how to conduct himself on air? Seems if he doesn't like what you're asking him, he talks over you?— Ricky Miles (@RickyMiles2908) July 31, 2017
This interview with Ian Botham is so cringeworthy, it's as is he's never had a two-way conversation before 🙇 So defensive!— Ms S Midnight Stars (@fluffmitten) July 31, 2017
Sir Botham on Radio 5 live.. Talk about defensive, cornered like an animal. Ironic really 😂— Jen (@SweetOxen) July 31, 2017
Ian Botham crashing his car on 5Live right now.— Jamie Potter (@jamiepotter) July 31, 2017
Massive car crash of an interview with Sir Ian Botham on 5 live live. Should have been a good news story ish.— tim macgillivray (@timmac1961) July 31, 2017
So why did the interview go so badly wrong?
The former cricketer appeared on the station to talk about his plans to give away meals made from pheasants and partridges shot on his estate to help feed the poor.
But he seemed completely unprepared for the reporter, Rachel Burden, asking any negative questions about shooting.
As soon as she raised the issue, Sir Ian began talking over her and even accused her of ‘having an agenda’.
Sir Ian’s interview began to fall apart in response to just the third question where he was asked what would happen to these birds if they were not being donated to charity.
The Sky Sports pundit initially began to answer the question, revealing that many of them would have gone to Europe, but then broke off mid-sentence, as if unsure about where the interview was going, to bring in statistics from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about the number of people who go hungry.
And from that point the interview became increasingly awkward as Sir Ian continually spoke over the reporter as she raised points he did not like. At one point this led her to say ‘I’ll finish and then you go, can we work it like that’ and later she stressed ‘can I just finish Mr Botham, otherwise people don’t know what we are talking about’.
As the interview went along Sir Ian took an increasingly hostile approach. Faced with a question about the welfare of the birds he said he couldn’t see why Ms Burden had a ‘problem’ with his plans. And he repeatedly asked her what her ‘solution’ was to food poverty.
He said: “Do me a favour and let’s talk about what we are talking about. I’ve come on here to promote something we feel is giving back to people who are in a far worse position than you and me. Now if you have a better solution I am willing to listen to it. Do you have a better solution?”
Towards the end it looked like Sir Ian might get the interview back on track. When fellow presenter Nicky Campbell asked a question about species in decline and game hunting, Sir Ian stressed his opposition, before actually bridging nicely back to his main point. But he then undid the good work somewhat by adding ‘I don’t understand how that can be negative.'
And unfortunately he was not finished there. When Ms Burden asked if she could pose a question about ‘the cricket’, Sir Ian, somewhat bitterly, said 'Er, no I am not here to talk about cricket,' before adding 'you came with an agenda'.
Then given an open invitation to promote the venture, he simply said: “What are you doing for those 14m people?”
And finally, when Ms Burden said ‘It’s not for me to agree or disagree’ with whether Sir Ian’s plans were making an effort to tackle food poverty, he said, ‘Ha ha no, but you can be very opinionated can’t you – thank you very much’.
For an experienced spokesperson, and someone who works in broadcasting, it was a strange performance and one which completely missed the target. It was as if he naively expected to be allowed to talk about his initiative without the reporter asking him any negative questions or questions about wider issues. As Ms Burden said during this exchange ‘it’s imperative’ for reporters ‘to talk about broad issues’ and no journalist is going to let a spokesperson simply voice a press release on their radio or television programme.
On our media training courses we stress the importance of spokespeople remaining calm and not showing their frustration at a line of questioning. Becoming angry sounds defensive and suggests there is something to hide. And the audience is much more likely to be sympathetic if a spokesperson retains their composure. The key is to answer, or a at least acknowledge, the question, and then use media training techniques like bridging to steer the conversation back to what you want to discuss.
If Sir Ian had done that he would not have found himself looking at such a negative response to his interview performance and may have actually got more coverage for his initiative.
If a spokesperson has a bad experience with a journalist in an interview, it is best not to take to social media to continue to vent your frustration as Sir Ian did as he branded Ms Burden ‘pathetic’.
Still waiting to hear what your going to do regarding 14million people who don't get a meal per day !!! # Pathetic https://t.co/zrskAao2Yx— Ian Botham (@BeefyBotham) July 31, 2017
That tweet capped a performance which left Sir Ian on a very sticky wicket.
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