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Preparing to handle the media

GP commissioners are likely to face increased media scrutiny. Andrew Harvey offers some tips on dealing with the media storm

You may well be hoping that the call never comes, but whatever form the NHS reforms take in the end, there is likely to be increasing media interest in you and your consortium. Failing to prepare for an event is like walking into battle unarmed, and never is this more applicable than when dealing with the media. Even if it is a friendly, non-confrontational interview, lack of preparation will leave you looking inept, confused and unfocused – in short, unprofessional.

Top tips

• Prepare carefully so that you are clear in your own mind about what you want to say. Stick to general points and headlines – there will not be time to go into detail.

• Use clear examples to illustrate points you are making. Examples are a very good way of putting flesh-and-blood on those points.

• Avoid jargon or medical-speak and offer down-to-earth, practical advice. Talking to a wide audience does not mean you have to show off your knowledge.

• Adopt a friendly tone – your best bedside manner. Adopting an arrogant, superior or patronising tone will simply alienate your audience.

• Make sure you answer the question. Avoiding doing so will make you sound like a politician and we all know what the public think of them.

• Don't try to second-guess the questions. By all means, work out how you would answer the trickiest questions that might come your way, but you can never forecast all of them.

• Don't try to learn any of your material. At best it will sound stilted, and will prevent the interview sounding like a normal conversation.

• However awkward the interviewer may be, do not lose your temper. It makes memorable broadcasting, but it means that you lose control of yourself and the interview.

Dealing with accusations

Imagine the scenario: You are approached by BBC TV. They say they have had a call from the daughter of one of your patients, an 87-year-old woman. The daughter is making very strong allegations about the way her mother was treated by your practice.

Your immediate temptation may be to keep your head below the parapet. But a refusal to talk or simply offering ‘no comment' will only increase the interest of the journalist. What are you trying to hide? What is behind this? Perhaps there are other similar cases?

So how do you respond? In fact, you need to say very little – but what you do say has to be very carefully planned. For example, you must show sympathy; not to do so will make you sound cold and uncaring.

You may legitimately restrict your answers to: ‘I'm sorry but I can't go into more details on this' , ‘I have arranged a meeting with the family to discuss their concerns', or ‘In our consortium, one of the things we are particularly proud of is the special care we offer to the more vulnerable patients'. All these are perfectly acceptable replies but remember, you may have to deliver them in the face of hostile, repetitive questioning. Other points to consider here are:

• Body language – Do you look and sound as though you know how to deal with this matter? Slouching in your chair will only create a couldn't-care-less attitude.

• Appearance – Even apparently trivial issues like the clothes you wear for the interview can have a serious effect on the impact of your answers. Choosing this day to wear a tie purchased in Disneyworld will create the wrong impression.

Final thoughts

Tackling interviews and media demands does not require a degree in rocket science – it simply requires you to use your knowledge, assemble your facts and prepare your response.

There is, of course, another side to the coin. This is a very effective – and free – way of communicating to a large audience and, as such, a good performance can make good business sense.

Andrew Harvey is a partner at Harveyleach Media Training

For more details see

GP commissioners will increasingly be looked to as media spokespeople