Avoid eye contact, use soundbites, admit nothing / 2

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For the executives from Howard Schultz, the purpose of any interview is to deliver a predetermined message to a target audience.

“Your ‘core statement’ is what New Labour calls the message,” says Arnold. “If you wrap it up in a snappy phrase” – a soundbite – “it will be impossible for the journalist to leave it out… You can’t buy advertising on the BBC, but you can be interviewed there.”

Even though they’re targeting finance directors, the interviewees must always address themselves to an imaginary viewer, whom Arnold characterises thus: “Her name’s Doreen. She’s 55 years old, and she doesn’t work in the higher echelons of business.”

Now the men decide what core statement they wish to put across in their radio interviews.

  1. Nigel Dickinson, regional audit manager, wishes to talk about this year’s Ryder Cup, and more generally about the wonderful world of golf.
  2. Ian Mulgrew, business development director, will criticise banks for overcharging.
  3. Mike Jennings, head of property, wants to talk about companies outsourcing property departments.

Arnold warns Jennings: “Even with a subject like that, you have to put it across in a Doreen-friendly way, even if you’re talking on Bloomberg, because then it can be picked up and used by another channel.”

Into the lion’s den

First into the radio studio is Dickinson, who faintly resembles Michael Portillo.

He puts on his “cans” (headphones) and rests his hands on his lap, but you can tell he’s nervous because he rocks from side to side in his chair and jiggles his feet.

Standing motionless beside him, I can hear only Dickinson’s side of the interview, which starts when a green light comes on. After saying good morning, Dickinson continues thus:

“You will be aware that this summer sees the Ryder Cup… well, TV audiences will show that you are in a minority… degree of competition, camaraderie, good spirit… the game encompasses all walks of life… well, no, the issue is… making it a mass market game but maintaining the standards… that was a one off, a freak event… Thank you.”

Before the next man arrives, I quit the little studio and go looking for the interviewer who has made such short work of Dickinson.

I find him in a larger room, shuffling papers. I can’t give you a detailed description, or tell you his name is because he insists on anonymity (of which more shortly).

Sitting beside him is Ralston Humble, a director of the training company, Media Master, who also owns and operates these studios and production facilities. Operating various switches, Humble speaks into a mic. “It’s going to go quiet in your cans. When you see the green light, you’re on air.”