What can PR people learn from that Boris Johnson interview?

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

Just the other day I was talking to the PR Academy tutor and media trainer, Chris Tucker, about how we might critique high profile media interviews, using them to provide tips and learning for our students.  But where to start?  Then along came Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, being skewered by Eddie Mair who was hosting the BBC Sunday morning politics programme – The Andrew Marr Show.  What a corker!  But is there anything we can learn from Mr Johnson’s performance?  I asked Chris what she thought.

“Well it was at times painful to watch,” said Chris.  “If you are familiar with The Andrew Marr Show, an often eclectic mix of politics and popular culture, this type of interview is not what you would expect.  Let’s say the interrogations are usually somewhat gentler and there is often a feeling that some of the exchanges are if not exactly pre-planned then not a complete surprise either.  Not so for Boris yesterday.

“During the interview we all saw a visibly stunned Boris being cross-questioned on his private life and having put to him a series  of allegations about his past.   At one point interviewer Mair called Boris a ‘nasty piece of work.’   You can see the interview here.

“My first thought as someone who trains a range of people to face the media was that this is the type of interview my clients have nightmares about.  In fact many potential clients who had seen this interview may well be put off interacting with the media for life!  So here’s some advice:

    • You and your management team are probably not politicians.  Even if you do operate in this world chances are none of you are potential Prime Ministers.  This type of grilling  comes with the territory Boris operates in.  It is very unlikely to happen to you.
    • That said do not be complacent.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Make sure you do have the answers to all the likely questions you may face.  Boris knew he was to be the subject of a documentary (to be aired tonight Monday, BBC 2 9.00pm) by Michael Cockerell, a journalist well-known for this type of his exposes.  None of the accusations made by Mair (and likely to be repeated in tonight’s programme) were new so why did Boris not have the answers?
    • As part of your preparation, make sure you have more than a passing acquaintance with the programme or publication you are going to be interviewed by.  As I said above, The Andrew Marr Show is currently not as it was (Marr is recovering from a stroke and there have been a parade of stand-in interviewers.)  Mair, as the presenter of Radio Four’s PM programme, has a reputation for his challenging interviews – Boris should have known this.
    • Similarly, ask, ask and ask again about the interview you are being invited to do.  Often the issue with broadcast is that the researcher who contacts you has one idea, the interviewer another and in between events can create yet another angle.  Journalists may not always be forthcoming about what they may be planning to ask you (to be fair sometimes they have had very little time to think about it) but that should not stop you asking.
    • Finally, if the worse does happen what do you do?  Easy to say but don’t get rattled.  Remember your key messages and work hard to bring the interviewer back to them.  Viewers often judge the interviewer harshly if over the course of the interview he or she appears to be over-aggressive to an interviewee who is calmly trying to do their best.

Only time will tell, however, what effect yesterday’s performance may have on Boris’ future ambitions!”

Some great insights from Chris there – what do you think?