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How to avoid a media ‘train wreck’

The disastrous interview of Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci on the ABC current affairs program Four Corners earlier this week, in which he stormed out while being recorded and subsequently resigned once the program aired, shows how high the stakes can be for lawyers and other professionals with media interviews, writes Andrew Mckenzie.

user iconAndrew McKenzie 23 February 2024 Big Law
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Coles managing director Leah Weckert was interviewed for the same program, but after delivering a far more “lawyer-like” performance, she largely disappeared from public commentary despite using the odd tactic during the interview of complete silence to deflect a question about grocery market concentration.

In my experience, lawyers often have a particular style and specific challenges when talking to the media, and although many will seek to avoid this level of public exposure, media profile comes with both opportunity and risk.

Many lawyers will never interact with a journalist over the course of their careers, but for others, whether it is due to the nature of their clients and work, or because they use the media to build a professional profile, the media interview is a regular experience.


The great benefit of any story that appears following an interview is that it gains the implied “third-party” endorsement of the journalist and the media brand it appears in. The downside is that control is ceded and the outcome can be unpredictable. For a controversial issue – such as grocery market concentration in Australia – the outcome can damage reputation as much as enhance it.

Depending on the story, the specific challenges for lawyers in interacting with the media can be professional – distilling complexity or obligations to the court or clients – or personal – managing nerves, frustration, fear of loss of control, and providing a relatable performance.

However, there are some key questions you can ask yourself that can help make the “train-wreck” interview less likely and lead to the outcome you want.

  1. What is your purpose in doing the interview?
This may seem obvious, but it is often not considered. Are you hoping to show your expertise and promote your personal brand? Are you intending to explain and diffuse an issue for a client? Perhaps you want your picture in the paper to show your mum? If you cannot clearly state your purpose, perhaps you should consider declining the interview, as the risk outweighs the benefit. A written statement may be more appropriate.

  1. What can you say that meets your purpose and that of the journalist?
Once you know your purpose, you need a message that can deliver it. However, this will only work if it respects the audience of the media you are speaking to. The language and level of sophistication should be appropriate, and the message should also be relevant, interesting, and truthful.

  1. What are the difficult questions you might be asked, and how will you manage them?
There are many ways to manage difficult questions, but getting aggressive or leaving the interview will only highlight the issue, as Banducci’s Four Corners interview showed. The most important thing is being prepared. It may be that you simply defer to a client or the court, or that you bridge to a different point that will prove more interesting to a journalist. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is far better to admit ignorance than to try to wing an answer. You can always offer to follow up later.

  1. What are the interview rules?
There are many types of interviews, ranging from the courtroom steps press huddle, where the short grab is all that’s needed, through to long-form print interviews that can sometimes go for hours. The important thing is that you know what the journalist is seeking, what you are seeking, and how you will meet in the middle.

Is there an opportunity for “background” or “off-the-record” discussion? Should you follow up with additional information? Is it possible to review quotes (it often isn’t, but you can ask).

There are many more elements to effectively managing a media interview, but the most important thing is that you take it seriously enough to prepare.

Andrew Mckenzie is the principal of Crackle Communications and teaches strategic communications at the University of Technology Syndey and the University of NSW.

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