Saying to a reporter ‘haven’t you got anything else to ask about?’ is not an approach we recommend spokespeople take at the end of a media interview.
It is the sort of disdainful comment which will infuriate reporters and lead to comms managers burying their head in their hands.
It is particularly unwise if the spokesperson has not checked whether the interview is still being recorded, as you can be almost certain that clip will be used in the report, detracting from the key message, or at the very least shared on social media.
And that is exactly what happened to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn this week.
The tense exchange came at the end of a somewhat awkward interview with Vincent McAviney from radio station LBC at the launch of the party’s local government election campaign.
Asked about his future as leader and what success would look like at the elections in May in light of poor poll ratings, Mr Corbyn said: “We are campaigning to win these elections. I am proud to lead this party and I was elected to lead this party and that is the duty I am fulfilling and carry on doing that, thank you very much.”
With the interview seemingly at an end, My Corbyn can then be heard saying ‘haven’t you got anything else to ask me?’
Mr McAviney replied: “You’re the leader of a party, why can I not ask you about it?”
He can then be heard being told, somewhat too late, to ‘stop recording’.
It was a strange, messy response to a question My Corbyn may not like but surely should have expected and handled much better.
Asked JC what would be a successful local election result under his leadership, his response "Haven't you got anything else to ask about?" https://t.co/kEhu7Ha8SQ— Vincent McAviney (@Vinny_LBC) April 4, 2017
On our media training courses we talk about how these unguarded comments are often made at the start and end of interviews and detract from the messages the spokesperson and their organisation were hoping to get across.
So what other phrases should spokespeople avoid in their media interviews? Here’s our shortlist:
This isn’t newsworthy – This is a similar one to the phrase used by Mr Corbyn and shows frustration at the line of questioning. But it is not the spokesperson's job to tell journalists what they should be reporting on. They should instead focus on getting their message across by using media training techniques like bridging.
No comment – This should not be said to a journalist under any circumstance. It suggests you have something to hide and will encourage the journalist to follow this line of questioning. Again, use the bridging technique to move the conversation on from a negative or unhelpful question posed by the interviewer.
Ask me about this – Again, it is frowned upon to try to tell the reporter how to do their job. There are much more subtle techniques which can use during the interview to gain control, such as signposting, to make it obvious to the reporter what they should be asking next.
Can you not just use our press release – A press release is used to get a journalist’s attention. Now that you have got it make the most of it and take advantage of the opportunity to get your key messages across to the people listening, watching or reading the interview.
Off the record – As tempting as it may be to try to offer a reporter some background by way of an off the record briefing, it is important to remember the phrase means different things to different people. So if you are not comfortable having something attributed to you, don’t say it at all.
Have you read my book / research paper - It’s possible that they may have skimmed some of it, or maybe a broadcast assistant or producer has taken a look and helped come up with some questions for the journalist / presenter. But the chances are they won’t have actually read it all. They simply do not have the time.
Can you not just use our statement – A statement is a useful tool in the initial stages of handling press interest and can buy some time. Asking a journalist to use a statement instead of an interview, however, is denying your organisation the opportunity to get its message across to the public, which can be crucial in a crisis media management situation. The best you can hope for with a statement is a couple of lines at the end of a much longer piece.
Can I see the questions in advance? – Journalists are often asked this and the answer is always ‘no’. In some cases they may let you know roughly what the first question is likely to be, but that is as far as it goes. They don’t want you to appear to be over rehearsed. Concentrate on crafting the messages you want to deliver in the interview rather than obsessing about what you may be asked.
Can I see your article before you publish it – This is arguably the most annoying question you could ask a journalist. Not only does it portray a complete lack of trust but it is also completely pointless - no reporter with any credibility is ever going to agree to this. The reporter is not writing a press release for you. While you can control what you say to a journalist, you cannot ultimately expect to have any control what they do with those words.
Stop filming / recording – this serves only to create memorable TV and radio for the wrong reasons, as Mr Corbyn just found out. It sounds very defensive and there are much better ways for a spokesperson to deal with a question they do not like.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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