Amith Prabhu: What corporate spokespersons can learn from the historic Rahul Gandhi interview?

03 Feb,2014

By Amith Prabhu


The first one-on-one television interview of Rahul Gandhi took place on January 27 on Times Now. The reactions were mixed. More negative than positive. What can members of the corporate world who are or will be spokespersons learn from this episode?


First things first – the first interview addressing the English urban Indian should have not happened on television. Always, create an impact on a medium that is non-visual. Thereafter, a TV appearance makes sense. A step further would be to have had a series of off-the-record individual and group meetings over a three-month period before this full exposure.


Secondly, video training and multiple briefings may or may not have happened but they certainly did not happen with the best in the industry. When placing Rahul to be interviewed by Arnab Goswami, the organization would have done well in having someone like Karan Thapar to train him by doing a mock interview.


Thirdly, an over-reliance on key messages and question deflecting techniques without providing proper context. For those who have been briefed by a PR team or for PR professionals who have briefed a spokesperson, you would have noticed that Rahul tried deflecting questions by sticking to the briefing. However, his tone and body language gave it away.


Fourthly, preparation is the key. Rahul had the right intent but did not have the right content. There were several ways in which he could have conveyed the difference between 1984 and 2002 but he was unable to. All he needed to ask Arnab was who are Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi and 2002 would have been settled.


Fifthly, humility is not difficult actually. As the future leader of the party what would have Rahul lost if he would have reiterated what his mother and the Prime Minister did a few years ago by apologizing for 1984. A one line – “I was 13 when 1984 happened and was reeling out of a shock that my grandmother was killed gruesomely but what happened after that was not good. If there were Congressmen involved, I apologise profusely on behalf of the party that my father, grandfather and great grandfather have served.” This would have disarmed the rival who refuses to apologise for a riot that happened under his watch.


Finally, sharing a smart key message that leaves audiences with a takeaway. This interview left most with nothing interesting and exciting. This interview impacts only the urban, English-speaking voters and that demographic clearly has an anti-Congress sentiment. But if this interview was to be in Hindi on Aaj Tak or Doordarshan, the impact could be worse.


So what’s in it as learning for all of us PR professionals – To build a base in media interactions over a period of time and climb the ladder of media outlets slowly and steadily. Bridge-building meetings are an important factor here. Video training that involves playback is critical to presenting oneself up for an interaction of this nature. Nothing beats preparation harder than more preparation. Humility has to be demonstrated in what we do and say. Hoping the forthcoming interviews make up for the deficiencies in the first.


Amith Prabhu is a primarily a Public Relations specialist and currently an independent political communications consultant and a specialised events curator. He can be reached via Twitter at @amithpr


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2 responses to “Amith Prabhu: What corporate spokespersons can learn from the historic Rahul Gandhi interview?”

  1. Hi Amit,
    To add to your points, i think Rahul stuck to the messages which were fed to him by his PR agency. But wht he forget to do was to weave a story around them and dovetail it with a larger story. Unfortunately he just kept repeating the same messages,which although were copy book, but as in the game of cricket, you need to improvise, which he did not.
    And the faux pas pertaining to him sweating could have been avoided if the organsiers would have switched off the heaters..!