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It is one of the most basic media interview rules – making sure you have turned your mobile phone off before you appear on television or radio.
So it was surprising to hear a mobile make no less than three interruptions during a disastrous Newsnight interview on Monday.
What is even more astonishing is that this rookie error was made by a man who is regarded as an expert in reputation management and is often referred to as Britain’s first ‘King of Spin’.
The interview, which has to be seen to be believed, saw Lord Timothy Bell invited on to the programme after his former PR firm, Bell Pottinger, was expelled from a trade body for a controversial South African campaign.
The first telephone interruption came as presenter Kirsty Wark was asking just her third question and after an apology, Lord Bell, seemingly forgetting he was live on television, bizarrely tried to show the presenter something on the screen of his mobile.
The mobile caused another unwelcome distraction a short time later when a text alert went off, but worse was to follow when just four minutes into the interview Mr Bell received yet another call.
This caused Ms Wark to quip ‘You are a popular man tonight, obviously’ while Lord Bell mumbled something under his breath and struggled to silence the phone.
Lord Bell's phone has gone off for a third time mid #Newsnight interview.— Shelley Phelps (@shelleylphelps) September 4, 2017
We’ll probably never know who was so desperate to get hold of Lord Bell, but we can only hope it was someone attempting to offer him some much needed media training, as the mobile was not his only problem during this difficult interview.
The company he founded was in a crisis media management situation, but Lord Bell was not prepared to take any responsibility.
His standard line was ‘It’s nothing to do with me’.
Here are a couple of notable exchanges:
Wark: Is this curtains for Bell Pottinger?
Lord Bell: It is, but it’s nothing to do with me.”
Wark: For somebody who is such a senior figure in the industry, you ran the company, it does not strike anyone as possible that you could be innocent in all of this?
Lord Bell: Well, I am sorry but I am. I do not care if you believe it or not, the fact is that is the situation.
Instead of accepting any responsibility, Lord Bell opted to blame others, particularly the chief executive, saying ‘of course he is to blame, of course he should have resigned’.
He also adopted an increasingly antagonistic tone in response to difficult questions, at one point telling Ms Wark ‘you can attack me all you like but it is not going to work’.
Rather than criticising the reporter, which is never a good move, Lord Bell would have been much better served by providing more detailed responses.
His often short answers, something we always tell delegates on our media training courses to avoid, allowed Ms Wark to ask more and more questions and ramp up the pressure – when she was not being interrupted by a mobile phone.
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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