THE ART OF THE BROADCAST INTERVIEW AND WHY ABBOTT GOT IT SO WRONG
It went south exactly 50 seconds in. And things very quickly went from bad to worse. After 90 seconds, most listeners would have been grimacing; by minute four, plenty had probably switched off their radio altogether, the cringe-worthy plight of the interviewee becoming too much to bear. And there was still a full two minutes left of the interview after that.
I am of course referring to Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, and the blundering interview she gave yesterday on LBC radio.
It came at a critical time for Labour. Faced with an onslaught of criticism from other parties that its sums don’t add up, this was an important opportunity for them to demonstrate that they had done the maths, providing voters with transparent figures and a compelling case to vote labour at the forthcoming election.
Step forward Labour MP Diane Abbott. Presenter Nick Ferrari had kicked things off by asking how much 10,000 new police officers would cost. An easy opener as luck would have it, not least because this was precisely the question Diane had been sent on the programme to answer.
Well, it should have been easy. But it wasn’t. Let’s just say maths doesn’t appear to be Abbott’s strong point: “If we recruit the 10,000 police men and women over a four-year period, we believe it’ll be about £300,000.”
It didn’t take presenter Nick Ferrari long to realise that this was nonsense, equating as it does to just £30 a year per officer – tight to say the least. “What are you paying them?” he asked.
“They will cost…..they will, it will cost, erm, about…..about £80m,” she announced after some delay. Nobody was convinced – it sounded like Abbott had just plucked the figure out of thin air. Nick then asked the question we were all dying to: “How do you get to that figure?”
What followed was excruciating. Abbott clearly didn’t know. But she gave it her best shot anyway, making up figures as she went along that simply didn’t add up. The longer it went on, the worse it got, with Abbott desperately stalling for time, interspersing her answers with long, awkward silences and at least a year’s worth of ‘erms’.
The result? Abbott came across as incredible. And not in the positive sense of the word. Anyone who actually made it through to the end of the interview would have been left completely baffled as to how Labour was going to pay for an extra 10,000 police officers. You just have to look at today’s headlines to see reputational damage it has caused, not just to Abbott, but also to a party that was determined to show that its sums add up. Sticking Abbott on the programme might have been a calculated gamble by Labour’s press team. If so, it’s probably time they gave Abbott her calculator back.
How could all of this have been avoided? Well, clearly Abbott is a talented orator – I don’t think you can make it as an MP if you aren’t. However, it doesn’t matter how good you are at conveying a message if you don’t know or understand what the message is in the first place. Clearly, Abbott didn’t. She was, for whatever reason, poorly prepared and equipped for the interview. And as the old adage goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
The good news is that such a car-crash interview is very avoidable. Preparation is key. Know your key messages, know your interviewer and know the questions you are likely to be asked and have good answers to them. And then practice. Rehearse what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
Here at Finn, we work with people from a host of major brands to coach them on how to deliver a successful media interview and avoid the very real pitfalls well demonstrated by Abbott yesterday. This includes working with them to identify and hone their key messages, through to rehearsing the questions they are most likely to be asked and how to answer them, ensuring they are prepared and comfortable for any situation.