The new boss of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, comes across as a personable and professional communicator, but yesterday in the space of just 17 seconds on BBC TV News, he said three things our media training would have advised him to avoid.
The story was that Barclays will issue new shares to fill a capital shortfall that’s been created by new regulatory demands.
So what should he have done differently in the media interview?
Firstly, the interviewer, Robert Peston, asked, “Have you been running the bank recklessly?”.
Jenkins replied, “I don’t think we’ve been running the bank recklessly…”
Using phrases like “I don’t think…”, “ I don’t feel…” or “We don’t believe…” rarely sound unequivocal; they introduce opinions that leave the proverbial door open for counter argument, instead of slamming it shut on a misguided suggestion, or – in this case – a journalist’s reasonable question.
Secondly, Jenkins repeated Peston’s extremely negative words, “running the bank recklessly”. Although the Barclays boss was denying it, the audience simply heard the damaging words again. To compound this, Jenkins went on to use the phrase yet again. Unfortunately he fulfilled that rule of good presentations – people remember things best when they come in lists of threes!
Strong false suggestions call for equally forceful rebuttals.
What he should have said is something like, “That’s absolutely not what we’ve been doing and let me tell you instead what we have been doing…”
Finally, he used a dreadful and meaningless phrase that’s become infuriatingly ubiquitous: “going forward”. Many in business could do worse than look at the Government’s style guide for officials, launched last week. It says the phrase “going forward” should be avoided since it’s “unlikely we are giving travel directions”. Quite.
You might argue none of the above amounts to a huge gaff, none is a cock-up of Ratner proportions and indeed Jenkins, who only took over as the bank’s chief last year, generally seems a strong interviewee.
But applying British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford’s stategy of marginal gains – ensuring many small improvements add up to a giant leap forward – if Jenkins can avoid the verbal slips above, he might yet strike gold in an industry that’s been badly tarnished.