It’s the first time I’m aware of that a film, let alone one with major Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, has included repeated references that one of the key characters ‘needs media training’. ‘Don’t Look Up’, now showing on Netflix, is an over-the-top satire of populist, frivolous politicians and media outlets, though it is clearly trying to make a very serious point. Ms Lawrence plays a PhD astronomy student who discovers an unidentified comet which, it soon becomes clear, is on a direct collision course with the Earth. After failing to persuade the White House to take the threat seriously, she and her nervous professor, played by Mr DiCaprio, go on a popular TV morning news show to warn the public that urgent action needs to be taken to try to shift the comet’s course. However, she loses her temper on-air when the vacuous and trivia-obsessed hosts treat them as figures of fun for their apocalyptic warnings. The character’s rant goes viral and any chance of the pair being taken seriously disappears into the ether.
The point here for anyone giving a real-life interview is that it’s not just the message that’s important, it’s who is saying it and how they are saying it – the overall impression. These elements all have to pull together in the same direction, in other words to be congruent, otherwise the point will be lost – you probably wouldn’t take seriously an argument on pensioner fuel policy from a 12-year old, but you might from an 80-year old sitting in a freezing house. Again though, it would depend on the style and tone – an angry rant wouldn’t engender as much sympathy as a passionate, but well argued point.
It reminded me of the environmental campaigner who appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain the other day, arguing that because of global warming it was right to ban new homes from having sun-trap conservatories – speaking from her own conservatory! As presenter Susanna Reid pointed out, she seemed to be saying that she’s alright in her own conservatory – but nobody else is allowed to have one. Instant collapse of authority, plus negative newspaper coverage, as above.
So, take a lesson from the experiences of Ms Lawrence’s astronomer character. If you want your organisation to be taken seriously, ensure spokespeople don’t just have the right job title or subject knowledge, but will know how to make the right overall impression, and can speak with calm credibility and authority, to really cut through. That probably means they do need media training.
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