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How not to do media interviews – from Liz Truss

The press has not been kind to Prime Minister Liz Truss concerning her media interviews, in particular on local radio - Guardian journalist Andrew Sparrow says in one analysis: “Media commentators across political spectrum deride PM’s appearance on local radio to defend economic policy”. The good news is that Truss offers plenty of lessons on what works, and what doesn’t, when you are being interviewed by journalists.

Where Truss goes wrong

Remember to listen

Josh Wheeler, founder of agency Be Broadcast: “I can’t quite believe I am saying this - but I actually applaud Liz Truss. She is the first sitting PM to take on regional radio in as long as I can remember.

“In theory, her strategy is good - get in amongst the people and help try to bring them along. In practice, it bombed.

“Why? She’s filled herself with hot air from the leadership election and felt invincible - I don’t think average Joe wants another Thatcher (which as much as she tries, she is not) - they just want someone who is working in their interests.

“She hasn’t listened to what people need, want or care about.”

Know what you are talking about

Josh Wheeler: “The overarching sense I, and many others, got was that Liz Truss doesn’t understand the issues. And keeps getting found out.

“My advice for Truss is - Listen, Think, Test and only then Act. The challenge is the sands of time are already running out.”

Don’t underestimate local media

Luke Castle, digital PR executive at marketing agency Rise at Seven: "It’s been a busy few weeks in politics! After significant media silence from the new PM after the Chancellor’s mini (maxi) budget caused the pound to crash, Truss took to local stations, seemingly for an easier ride compared to national stations. Local radio presenters live and love their local communities, and it proved in the difficult questions from listeners who are struggling to sleep or have community concerns about fracking. It’s so important to not underestimate the power of local media, with obvious script reading and misinformation mistakes by Truss causing British Gas to take up full-page adverts correcting her definition of the energy price cap. It’s this sort of communication that will take trust out of Truss, just weeks into her time in Number 10."

Allow no room for confusion

Steve Earl, partner at strategic communications consultancy Boldt: “Above all, Liz Truss has to concentrate on making clear, factual statements on policy. Her record on policy is already in tatters after her first few weeks, so in rebuilding that there is no room for confusion.

“She is known for awkwardness and sometimes strange responses when interviewed. She should use soundbites sparingly and with proper forethought, as she tends to use them clumsily.”

Don’t take media training too seriously!

Julie Thompson Dredge, founder of agency Frame PR: “Liz Truss has the delivery of someone who has taken her media training sessions perhaps too literally. There is a lack of passion in her public speaking, which means that she doesn't come across with the level of authority and authenticity that the public expects from a world leader in the multimedia age. She often makes use of phrases like ‘I understand...and I acknowledge that’ which can sound patronising and deflective. Taking a pause to consider an answer is a good tactic generally, but her long pauses have naturally been criticised for sounding either portentous, or like she's searching desperately for the answer in her mind."

Understand people’s concerns

Anna Price, managing director of communications consultancy firstlight group: “In an economic crisis, people care about their pensions, their mortgages, their savings. But Truss had no convincing answers on how her decisions would be felt by people on a day-to-day basis. Good communication is all about bridging to your audience and their needs. Truss just didn’t bring this to the table.

“Not everyone is born camera ready. And that’s okay. But the bottom line is that if you are Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at a turbulent economic time, then you need to be kicking the tyres on your interview skills.”

One way Truss gets it right

Acknowledge your shortcomings

Ed Parshotam, copywriter and communications consultant: “Evasive, stilted, lacking charisma, communicating an unpopular message, a Truss interview is beginning to feel like a strange form of performance art.

“It would be unfair, however, to label every Truss statement as a communications error. During the second Conservative leadership debate, for instance, she acknowledged she wasn’t the most polished performer. This was a strategically sound move - there’s rarely much point in lying to people about what is staring them in the face, so it makes more sense to get some credit for honesty and humility. Plus, if you can acknowledge a weakness and bridge to a strength, as Truss attempted to do (claiming that not being the ‘slickest presenter’ meant she offered a ‘what you see is what you get’ appeal) it’s possible to neutralise some of the harm caused by the weakness.

“Unfortunately for Truss’s prospects - and the country’s - it increasingly looks like people in fact want to get something different to what they see, and the government’s shambolic performance of late suggests there aren’t many other strengths Truss can credibly call upon.” 

Liz Truss is not the only Conservative politician who is failing to present well, as Andy Barr describes in a recent Good and Bad column, there were so many bad speeches at the Conservative Party conference that it was a complete “media disaster”. In the interests of political balance, it is fair to say that Labour leader Keir Starmer doesn’t always do too well in media interviews either. Looks like there are plenty of politicians who are in need of some decent media training advice, which must be good news for the PR industry!

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