Five lessons we learnt from the BBC Today programme

This week we were fortunate to host both the BBC ‘Today’ programme’s Business Presenter Dominic O’Connell and Business Editor Simon Hamer at The Langham for an FHF exclusive corporate breakfast with our Head of News Peter Meikle hosting. Here are the five lessons we learnt from the session.

1. Today still sets the agenda, especially when things are getting serious.

On the morning of the EU referendum result, 11.5 million people tuned into Radio 4, the biggest Today audience ever. The programme still sets the agenda in the UK. People wake up with no news in their head, and they reach for the radio to tell them what’s going on – especially at times of major change. The show has two business slots – 0615 and 0715 . On Friday they have the ‘Boss Slot’, a chance for senior business figures to have a longer conversation about how the business world works, and build their public persona.

2. Stop thinking about how the interview might go wrong. Think about how to make it go well.

Today do robust interviews. They always will – that’s why people trust them on the serious issues. But it’s a myth that the show is a three hour fist fight. They don’t set out to ‘get’ their guests. People worry far too much about interviews going wrong. What they should be concerned about is how to make them go right – to cut through the jargon and say something that’ll be remembered. Think of it like a ‘kitchen conversation’, simplifying complex issues and speaking plainly. People know when someone is speaking nonsense – radio is too immediate and emotive to hide.

3. Lose the jargon. It’s a conversational medium, so speak as you would to a normal person.

The cue is the short introduction you hear before a radio interview, putting the story and the guest in context. When a producer looks at a story, they think about the cue – ‘This is why you should you grant us the next 4 minutes of your time, so stop buttering your toast for a minute’. The longer and more complex the cue, the less likely it’ll work on radio. It’s a conversational medium – everything should be illustrated. Think about how an event will impact the way people will live their lives and how you can explain it in plain English in a sentence or two.

4. Never hide. When something goes wrong, put up a senior figure to take responsibility.

When dealing with a crisis, their view is simple: You need to have someone senior available, ready to take responsibility and answer questions. If you know something is coming out, get in touch with them and let them know – they’ll be more likely to treat the situation even-handedly, and they’ll have time to get the facts right. The British Midlands plane crash and the Virgin Train derailment – both fatal accidents – illustrate this point. Both bosses fronted up immediately and took every question – the end result was that the public say that they were taking responsibility and treated that with respect.

5. Engage with the public. Let them put a face to a business, and they’ll treat you more fairly.

One of the problems with business coverage today is that many companies don’t have a public face. We don’t have many as recognisable as Lord King and Willy Walsh. Most people don’t know who is at the helm of the big companies – as such they’re more likely to think poorly of a business in a crisis, speaking cynically about ‘faceless corporations’. Businesses can’t complain that the public don’t understand business issues when they don’t do the work to make themselves heard. Guests like Martin Sorrell are much desired, but mostly because they’re so rare – someone articulate who is willing to have a conversation and share their views. If you’re ready to talk, they are ready to be convinced.

Cody Want, Senior Account Executive, Corporate Communications