The Inside Word

Preventing interview debacles

Photo caption: Woolworths’ Brad Banducci walking out of ABC Four Corners interview

The poor performance of Woolworths’ and Coles’ CEOs on ABC’s recent Four Corners program about supermarket prices were a public manifestation of appalling preparation by their media advisors. 

Coles’ Leah Weckert and Woolworths’ Brad Banducci, along with their respective media advisors, should have anticipated the tough questions and predictable tone and narrative from journalist Angus Grigg/the ABC/Four Corners. Instead, Australia watched on as two experienced CEOs squirmed, sweated and stormed their way into the Disastrous Media Interview Hall of Fame.

While many Australians felt a mix of disgust and schadenfreude at Banducci’s interview, the SAS Group’s media trainers were aghast he was so ill-prepared by his media team. Weckert got off relatively lightly, thanks to Banducci’s lite walkout, but she too was let down by her media advisors with her stiff, overly rehearsed performance where she largely defended and batted questions away … and let’s not forget her long, awkward silence when faced with the accusation of price gouging.

Crucially, these seasoned CEOs forgot, or weren’t taught, the golden rule of interviews: Speak to your audience – in their case Australian consumers – not the journalist. Weckert and Banducci appeared on edge with the highly experienced Grigg from the get-go, despite knowing their corporations inside out. Weckert was too rehearsed and unemotional, and Banducci was too casual and emotional.

Grigg’s bias played out as should have been anticipated – his facial expressions in the cutaways were alternately smug, cynical or unbelieving – but excellent, comprehensive media training would have empowered the CEOs to play the ball not the man. 

Now let’s look at optics. Dressing Banducci like he worked on the shop floor instead of the top floor (complete with name badge) was disingenuous, embarrassing and immediately signalled he was anything but a man-of-the-people. Business casual attire, as befitting his role and experience, should have been the honest and comfortable choice for Banducci. Instead, even he didn’t seem to buy his outfit. 

Staging is also a crucial element of preparation. Banducci was filmed in a large Woolworths store, sitting bolt upright on a plastic chair as if under interrogation. At times he was distracted by the vast scene around him, and his wandering gaze was disconcerting at best, and made him appear shifty at worst. Interviewees and media advisors can and should carefully consider location, camera angles, lighting, seating, inappropriate signs … it’s a mercy Banducci wasn’t filmed in front of an exit sign.

At least Weckert was filmed in an office, although she slouched in her chair and was framed tightly so she, too, appeared under interrogation. Journalists, producers and camera operators will manipulate elements for their narrative, but a smart media team would have surveilled the room, corrected Weckert’s posture and eyeballed the angles from behind the camera. 

Good preparation also involves negotiating the parameters of an interview to manage risk. What agreement did Banducci and Weckert’s teams have about behind-the-scenes footage?  Video of Weckert raising her eyebrows, drinking tea, staring in silence, and ducking under the camera, and Banducci stretching and arching, swigging water, cleaning his glasses, laughing, and leaning back in his chair were deployed by the ABC with great, negative effect. This dramatic device gave the impression Four Corners was presenting an honest, open perspective. In truth, it had a clear agenda and made the CEOs appear glib, jumpy, uncomfortable, uncaring and out of touch. 

Did Banducci and Weckert’s media teams film the interviews on their phones? If so, they could have released the full interview to provide much-needed context for, say, why Banducci was laughing. Did someone deliberately crack a joke? Further, did Grigg break the rules of engagement or badger Banducci? 

Many Australians own shares in these two behemoths via their superannuation funds, so it’s probably in the nation’s interest for Coles and Woolworths to appoint new media advisors. Here’s our number: 07 3221 9222. 

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