Thérèse Coffey has come under fire this week for abruptly bringing an interview with Good Morning Britain’s hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid to a close.
Becoming increasingly frustrated with their well-known, no nonsense style for holding the government to account for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions halted the interview by literally cancelling her virtual connection.
As a result, Coffey found she became the focus of damaging headlines both in the wider national press and on social media, as she became irritated after the hosts questioned her seemingly unguarded earlier statement that the UK’s ageing population and obesity problems had contributed to the country’s high numbers of COVID-19 deaths.
Clearly agitated, she said she had other broadcasters to go to, which only added fuel to Morgan and Reid’s fire after the government had boycotted the ITV show for a number of months.
Perhaps if Coffey had reminded herself of a few media training tips ahead of the interview and watched the broadcaster’s recent interactions with government ministers, she would have known that one of the first questions she was likely to be asked was about how the government has performed to date.
If you find yourself in the spotlight and acting as a spokesperson, here’s a few top tips:
Be prepared: Be media-savvy and knowledgeable about the situation to demonstrate competence and expertise. Prepare for the worst, but be ready for success. Rehearse responses to difficult questions out loud and, if you wish, through role plays. Be clear about your key messages – and ensure that they are brief and few in number. Support those messages with any relevant data.
Stay ‘on message’: Staying on message drives home the messages, keeps you focused on the issues, and reduces the chance of mistakes.
Tell the truth and be accurate: Communicate honestly and openly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If you can’t discuss something, explain why. People are more accepting of information when spokespersons display truthfulness, honesty and a willingness to address tough issues.
Stay calm under pressure: Exhibit positive body language, no matter how hard the journalist is pressing for information. Don’t become defensive, Respond to issues, not personalities.
Meet the media’s needs: If the media are working on a story, they will report it with or without your help.
Don’t speculate: Stick to the facts. Don’t point fingers at others.
Be sensitive and responsive to public concerns: Convey empathy and be caring.
Be accessible to the media: Otherwise they will go to other sources for information!
For more issues and crisis management tips and advice, please contact a member of our team.