The boss of a top fashion PR agency must surely have given himself a real dressing down after falling into one of the most common media interview traps.
On Wednesday’s BBC2 documentary “Who Gets The Best Jobs?” presenter Richard Bilton investigated whether class restricts access to professions and well-paid careers. Can only the children of the wealthy afford to take lengthy unpaid work experience? He thought Julian Vogel, joint managing director at Modus Publicity, might have some thoughts on the use of unpaid interns.
“Do the interns do proper work when they‘re here?” asked Bilton, setting the trap, but Vogel didn’t spot it.
“Absolutely,” the boss confirmed enthusiastically.
It was just the response Bilton needed to move in for the kill: “If 15, maybe 20, of your 70 staff are working here for free, presumably clearly that’s quite key to the way you’re profitable?”
At this point you sensed Vogel has just glimpsed the big pit he’d dug and appeared desperate to buy some time by seeking clarification of the question, before beginning his backtrack: “When I say they’re doing proper jobs, they’re doing support jobs…”
But Bilton rightly persisted by just slightly rephrasing his question: “So does that help your company remain profitable?”
At this point Vogel went through a complete verbal stumble, before gazing heaven-ward, as if seeking divine inspiration (always a visual clue to the viewer that the interviewee is struggling) before declaring, “How would I answer that?… I’ve never really thought of it like that.”
Not only did it sound hesitant, it wasn’t credible. Had he really not thought how having around a quarter of the staff working for free might be good for the bottom line?!
But it could all have been so different.
What Vogel failed to do was list the advantages being a Modus intern brings – he needed hard facts and sparkling examples. He should have cheerfully listed all the specific experience and skills they acquire, the number of interns Modus has put on the payroll, or who are snapped up at other agencies because they’ve had the word “Modus” on their CVs.
More than anything a couple of real examples of interns, ideally from working class backgrounds, who’d gone on to stellar careers in PR would probably have nailed it.
But for whatever reasons – perhaps he’d been told it would be a positive piece about the value of work experience, maybe he felt too experienced to undergo specific media training – he’d simply not anticipated the potential pitfalls.
Now he’s nursing his bruises. He told PRWeek, “I feel I’ve been stuffed by the BBC.”
In fact he was stuffed twice: his company failed to turn a prime time interview into a huge positive opportunity, and perhaps more embarrassingly for an agency which clearly has a great heritage for boosting clients’ reputations and brands, he did his own brand no favours.
It only goes to prove the best in the business should always be smart enough to realise they’re never too good to learn how to be even better.
But if fashion expert Mr Vogel heeds that, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be, in media interview terms, a runway success…