When Should a PR Person Step in to End an Interview?

Consumer electronics company VTech has provided a useful case study in the importance of preparing for a media interview and the decisions to make on whether to be interviewed at all.

An interview between the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones and a VTech senior brand manager at a trade show went a bit sideways when he asked whether the company could recover trust with consumers after serious vulnerabilities in the company’s data security had been revealed.

Cellan-Jones asked a direct but straightforward question about consumer trust only for the off-camera PR person to step in to halt the interview and offer her opinion that this was not the story of the day.

It’s awkward and you can see it here

Via Twitter I asked if a line of questions had been pre-agreed for the interview.

Here’s the exchange

My point is that VTech had a significant, current and well-reported issue associated with their brand and the probability of a senior BBC reporter asking about it was high.

In this situation there are three possible paths, with different outcomes:

Agree what is and what isn’t going to be covered in the interview. If the interviewer breaks that agreement and this new line of questioning is likely to be damaging then you need to weigh up whether you are going to intervene on the basis of what had been agreed. (It’s good to decide whether you yourself are up to doing that before the cameras roll…)  It’s risky but it’s hard for a respectable media outlet to run footage with someone politely explaining that they have broken a promise. If the story is about serious matter of public interest, then forget it, assume everything is up for grabs and the chances of agreeing terms are much more slight.

If you can’t agree to a list of topics for the interview (and especially if you know that there is an elephant in the room) then you have to field someone for the interview who is able to respond if the problem is referred to. I wonder if a brand manager is really authorised to comment to the BBC about an issue affecting broad corporate reputation. From the footage, it seems not.

If you can’t agree topics and you can’t field someone with the authority and ability to handle a tough, big question then you either decline or you hope that no-one notices the elephant.

It’s hard to decline the chance of a top tier media interview, but as this shows, they come with risks.

For the avoidance of doubt whilst I asked Mr Cellan-Jones for permission to quote our exchange, he has not contributed to or seen this piece before publication and this is my personal opinion.


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