If anyone doubts the value of media training they only need to listen to Nick Ferrari’s recent interview with Diane Abbott on LBC, during which she failed to accurately state how much it would cost the country to employ 10,000 additional police officers.
Her truly toe-curling performance was lambasted on social media and ended up with Jeremy Corbyn having to publicly endorse Diane Abbott. Whilst her detractors derided the performance, some of her supporters suggested that she was the victim of racial and misogynistic abuse.
The reality is that Ms Abbott, as a prospective cabinet minister in a future Labour government, should have been prepared for the interview. As a prospective Home Secretary, Diane Abbott would oversee a wide range of policies, some of which could have significant cost implications; it goes without saying that she should have had the facts at her fingertips. She should also have been advised by her aides that Nick Ferrari is no shrinking violet and that she would be facing fairly tough questioning.
Given that Diane Abbott did go ahead with the interview but didn’t know how much it would cost* to recruit 10,000 new police officers, her best option would have been to simply admit that she didn’t know, instead of trying to clutch the illusive figures from the ether, which at one stage put the annual salary of an officer at £30. Whilst an admission of ignorance, live on air, would have been bad enough, at least it would have ended that particular line of interviewing.
Of course, we need to keep things in perspective and under intense pressure even the most prepared person can stumble. Neither is Diane Abbott the first person to forget their lines or otherwise make a fool of themselves live on air; the previous leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, fumbled the costs of building 500,000 affordable new homes; we have had Nigel Farage walk out of an LBC interview and Boris Johnson continues to make error after error when dealing with the media.
So, the next time you or a colleague need to speak to the media or even just deliver an internal presentation, bear in mind the modern-day proverb attributed to Alan Lakein*: failing to plan is planning to fail.
*At an average of £30,000 per officer per year, Diane’s scheme to recruit 10,000 new officers would cost £300,000,000 per year.
** Alan Lakein was the writer of several self-help books on time management from the 1970s onwards.