Subway's unprepared spokesperson gets eaten alive in media interview

January 30, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

An interview with national radio provides a wonderful opportunity to enhance the reputation of your business, especially when you have good news to tell.  So, when Subway’s President and co-founder Fred DeLuca was invited for an interview on BBC Radio Five Live’s breakfast show following positive financial results and the creation of new jobs, he  should  have been rubbing his hands with glee.

Had he remembered his media training – assuming he had indeed invested in media training – he would have known that the key to success is preparation.  Without proper preparation, a media  interview is a high risk scenario as Mr DeLuca found out to his cost.  (Listen herefrom 2 hours 51 minutes onwards)

Listen to how he begins to fumble around, giving hesitant and unconvincing answers, refusing to comment and failing to properly address questions about pricing, health and animal welfare.

Avoiding this fate comes down to spending time beforehand developing a plan for your media interview.

Here are three areas to focus on as essential preparation for any media spokesperson:

1) What are the best and worst case scenarios for this interview?

Knowing the best case scenario for your interview (imagining the perfect headline is a useful way of encapsulating this) is an important way of setting the agenda during your media encounter.  It is only by understanding your objective that you can shape and steer the discussion.  Equally, it is only by assessing the worst case scenario – the lines you want to avoid – that you can be prepared to bridge away from those areas and back on to safer ground.

2) What are the questions I would least like to answer?

One of my mottos for crisis communication is “plan for the worst and hope for the best”; unfortunately, too many spokespeople simply hope for the best.  Taking time to predict the toughest questions and preparing strong answers for them means that you approach a media interview with confidence based on the knowledge that you can handle whatever the journalist throws at you.  And do have key facts and figures at your fingertips (the fact that Mr DeLuca was unable to confirm the prices of his sandwiches undermined his credibility)

3) Rehearse

Too many spokespeople simply “wing it”, conducting interviews without any practice.  It may be a risk worth taking for a low key interview with an obscure trade title, but not when you are broadcasting to the nation.  Take time to practice with a colleague or trusted third party: it helps you to finesse your messaging rather than testing it for the first time in a live interview.  For maximum value, take feedback from a third party who not only understands communication and the media, but who is also prepared to give you honest and constructive feedback.

Media interviews are indeed opportunities, and too few spokespeople view them as such. However, they should not be approached without proper preparation and media training or else the opportunity may evaporate and turn into something far more unpleasant instead.

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