John-Paul Flintoff




Avoid eye contact, use soundbites, admit nothing / 5


<<…continued


First, he assumes the role of David Mellor, posing with his family after details of his adultery have appeared in the press. Then he pretends to be the head of Railtrack following the crash at Hatfield. Each time, he concedes nothing to our tough questioning.

His evasions are deeply frustrating, but brilliantly executed.

Seemingly off the top of his head, Arnold invents a crisis for the accountants:


“A director at your company, Alfred Smallbone, 55, has failed to turn up at work, and so has Tracy Goodlegs, a 17-year-old New Deal trainee. The full story has appeared in this morning’s Daily Mail. Tracy’s mother has called for them to return, and Alfred’s wife has said that he was under a lot of pressure at work. Money has gone missing, and the Fraud Squad has raided your office.”


The group divides into pairs, and steps outside to be “doorstepped”.

First up are Holdstock and Bennett. In the drive from the car park to the road, Arnold accosts them with a camera crew (the anonymous Interviewer, by this time, has gone home in his silver sports car).

Faced with this unpleasantness, the executives keep walking, with Holdstock seeming to hide behind Bennett. This doesn’t look good, so they do it again.

This time they stop to talk, but they make a mess of their retreat.

In these circumstances, Arnold says, journalists will continue to ask difficult questions until you disappeared from view. The solution is to use the “broken record” technique: repeat the same comments again and again.

Another strategy is to say, “I’ve helped you as much as I can”, or to use “insider” jargon – such as referring journalists to your press office – which will never be broadcast.

The third and final time, it goes much better.

Bennett marches boldly towards the camera crew and says, “Gentlemen, good afternoon to you. And you are?” Having received a reply, he says: “This is our managing director, John Holdstock, J-O-H-N, H-O-L-D-S-T-O-C-K. And I am Peter Bennett, B-E-double-N-E-double-T, the chairman. Thank you for coming. We can give you a couple of minutes.”

First, he expresses concern for Smallbone and Goodlegs, then he promises an enquiry into the missing funds. “Thank you, gentlemen,” he says finally. “We promised you two minutes… “ and the pair walk on.

For a hefty fee, Bennett and Holdstock have been transformed in a few hours into precisely the type of slick interviewees least likely honestly to answer a journalist’s questions.


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GET YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS

Whatever question The Interviewer asks, ignore it. Reply first with one of the blocking phrases below, followed by any link phrase, and finish by saying whatever it is you wanted to say in the first place.

Blocking phrases: No, not at all… I really can’t agree… Absolutely not… Nothing could be further from the truth… I don’t agree with the assumption that underlies your question…

Link phrases: Lets look at it from this point of view… My priority is… Let me stress… The important thing is that… My duty is…

Core statement: A soundbite consisting of roughly 30 words, which (at the average speed of three words a second) fills ten seconds of airtime. Can usually be expressed in a variety of ways, and delivered several times in the course of the interview.