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With less than a month to go until the snap general election, it’s no surprise the airwaves and column inches are increasingly filled with politicians.
And as the countdown gets closer to polling day, the intensity of the coverage is only going to increase.
So what does this mean for media spokespeople and wider media interviews?
You might think that with election fever gripping many of the nation’s journalists, there may be less opportunity for other spokespeople until after the June 8.
But in reality there remains a strong appetite for other news during the election campaign – not least from the public - so there are still openings for organisations with strong stories and spokespeople with recent media training to make the most of the opportunity.
And of course, if the worst happens, and you find yourself in a crisis media management situation, you can be sure that crisis will be reported.
The ‘political trap’
The most likely impact of the election is that your spokesperson could be drawn into politics.
For example, a very likely question any businessman could face in an interview is ‘how will the election affect your industry?’ or ‘who has the best policies for your industry?’.
You could also face questions about specific policies. For example ‘Labour is suggesting… what would that mean for your business?’ or ‘are the Conservatives sensible to say that if they are re-elected they will do….?’. Or, you could be asked ‘If Theresa May was sitting here now what would you say to her?’.
Many of these questions will come towards the end of interviews as what we refer to on our media training courses as the ‘while you are here’ or the ‘and finally’ question.
This could also be described as a ‘political trap’, but this approach is not really designed to catch people out. These questions are simply asked because the election is a very topical issue and journalists and their audience want to know what people from different sectors are thinking.
How should they handle it?
Well, if your spokesperson is the CEO, they may actually want to make a political comment. The obvious risk is they could annoy or upset those who don’t share the same views. The more likely outcome, however, is that the political comments they make overshadow the story they really want to discuss.
A memorable example of this was an interview vacuum cleaner boss James Dyson gave back in 2015. Asked for his thoughts about the European Union and the possibility of Brexit on the Today programme, his Eurosceptic comments stole all the headlines from the new training scheme he had wanted to promote.
So, if you opt to leave politics well alone, how do you handle questions on the subject?
The key is to prepare for the question and know what you are going to say to acknowledge the question and move the conversation on.
When Dr Andrew Palmer the Chief Executive of Aston Martin, appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live last year to discuss his company’s decision to build its new luxury car in South Wales, he was asked for his views on the EU referendum. He replied by saying ‘my view is businesses should not really interfere or influence what the Great British public is going to vote on, whether to go in or out’ and then moved the conversation back on to the benefits of the new plant.
More recently, when Jurgen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK, was asked a political question, he replied by saying ‘I’m in business and my role is not to take political sides,’ before he also bridged away.
Bridging back to your main message not only gives you the opportunity to emphasis a key message, but it also reduces the chance of being asked a follow up election question, leaving politics to the politicians.
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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