How to avoid turning a media interview into a crisis

November 20, 2018 by Joe Hawke


Media interviews can be an effective way of communicating key messages to a target audience. However, they can also have the reverse effect if handled incorrectly.


How a media interview can tarnish your reputation

Persimmon’s CEO found out, to his detriment, that one media interview can tarnish your personal reputation as well as your organisation’s.  

Facing questions about a £75 million bonus he’d received a year before (reduced from £100 million), Jeff Fairburn walked off screen when the BBC reporter asked him whether he had any regrets about the ensuing media attention his bonus payment received.

Not only did he dismiss the reporter’s line of questioning in a defensive manner, he proceeded to disappear from the camera (when an advisor, off-screen, instructed him not to answer the question) and, with the cameras and audio still on, could be heard saying to the reporter “I think it’s really unfortunate that you’ve done that.”

The interview ultimately cost Jeff Fairburn his job. The media attention his bonus received a year prior to the interview was reignited and Persimmon’s chairman said that the ‘ongoing’ distraction of the bonus meant that a change in leadership was required. It appears, the media interview was the final straw.


The importance of crisis media training

While Jeff Fairburn’s interview wasn’t, at first glance, one that he was giving in a crisis situation, it quickly turned into one.

It’s important that, during any interview, you are adequately prepared for every line of questioning, whether positive or negative. The interview Jeff Fairburn gave was off the back of Persimmon’s impressive commercial performance, but the reporter used this to link to his bonus payment from the previous year.

It’s also important that you address the question being asked and don’t just dismiss it. Remember the two or three key messages that you want to convey during the interview and use these to guide your response to the journalist’s question(s).

At a rudimentary level, don’t walk of camera and remember that, just because the interview is apparently over, it doesn’t mean that the camera and audio won’t still be rolling.


Media interviews can be an extremely important part of your reputation management, particularly during a crisis. If spokespeople are adequately trained and prepared for questions the journalist might throw at them, it will not only help with their confidence during the interview; it might also allow them to shape the interview in their favour.



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