Summertime Clues to Better Media Interviews

By Roz Morris - Managing Director, TV News London

Is being interviewed on TV in the summer more difficult and different from the rest of the year?  (Which of course means most of the rest of the year in Britain.)  Well  - yes it is.  And it’s not just the worry of looking hot and sweaty, it’s your clothes. 

Fashion commentators have recently been pushing shorts as office wear and discussing whether shorts can ever be professional in the office; for men or for women.  But in a TV interview, shorts can have many hidden dangers.  You might only be pictured in close-up without your shorts showing, but,  if there is a wide shot , will your knees and legs look professional? Or will they distract from what you are saying and make you come across as much less serious than you want to be?

In the summer finding professional looking clothes is very challenging, especially for the British.  In fact, because of our generally cooler weather, many of us are unprepared to look professional in our summer clothes and some people even confuse beach clothes with office clothes.

Part of this problem is caused by the shops which don’t offer a lot of extra smart summer office clothes for men or women.   And the retailers’ favourite - linen – just doesn’t stay smart and looks really crumpled and untidy  on TV.  Plus for women the shops  offer more cleavage, sleeveless, see-through and frilly stuff. This does not provide a good look on TV or in the office if you want to be taken seriously and not viewed as someone who has strayed in from a party.  

As one female commentator on one of the many online discussions about shorts in the office pithily put it. “No fashionista is convincing me to put way more skin on display than my male peers do. It's not a recipe for being taken seriously.”

For men there are the perils of creased shirts, visible chest hair, socks with sandals, and also sandals and shorts with hairy legs.   So never mind that the British department store chain John Lewis has revealed that the recent UK hot weather has doubled sales of men’s shorts compared to last year.   Ask yourself:  “Would I make a serious business presentation wearing shorts?”  If the answer’s no , then it’s also a definite no when you want to be taken seriously on TV.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted that he walks around his office barefoot when temperatures reach more than 30C (90F).  ‘But’, he told his LBC Radio  show listeners ‘obviously at public events when I have to respect the dignity of the office I put my shoes back on."  After one listener to his weekly show asked if he would be happy with his workers wearing shorts, Nick Clegg said  he has no problem with his staff taking measures to keep cool.  "I am perfectly relaxed about people who work in my office, as long as they are not in public facing jobs where they have to keep up appearances” he said.

Shops in hotter countries like Spain or the USA always have a much wider and smarter range of  professional looking summer clothes than we do in the UK.  They can look very smart in hot weather and I think we should too.  Why?

Well the main reason is that if you take the trouble to do a TV interview, you do want to be taken seriously.  So looking too casual or too frilly or too hairy, isn’t a good idea because the audience won’t be listening to what you’re saying.  They will be too busy decoding the confusing  signals sent out by your clothes and the unaccustomed amount of skin you have on show.

If we watch a TV interview and all we can remember afterwards is what the interviewee was wearing or not wearing or how their hair was a mess, then the interview content is forgotten – or was never absorbed in the first place.   

We have to accept people as professional and credible when we see them on TV before we listen to them.  So the best advice is to keep your clothes plain and simple and professional so the audience just gets you straight away. 

If we see someone on TV and afterwards we don’t remember what they were  wearing, then the chances are much higher that we will remember what they said.  We listened.  We weren’t distracted by what we saw.  It may sound boring but it works.

Last  month (17 July)  BBC TV presenter Allegra Stratton, the political editor of the serious BBC2 show Newsnight, opted to wear flip flops while standing in the studio delivering a report.  She appeared on screen in a very short pink summer dress with a black jacket, bare legs and black flip flops.  Even though she wore a jacket, the dress was very short and the flip flops were just really shocking. For me they were definitely an informal step too far. Really distracting.

The Daily Mail helpfully supplied a picture of Allegra in flip flops for the majority of us who don’t watch Newsnight and had missed her faux pas.  They did not mention one word of what she had been reporting on. 

But although clothes and shoes or lack of them can be an extra headache in the summer, there is some  good news about doing interviews during the summer months – which do of course cover the long parliamentary recess.  The good news is that the summer is a great place to launch a report or run an event and get far more coverage than you would do  in the news crowded winter and spring seasons.

Why do you think that in July and August there are suddenly more news items about ferry disasters in the Philippines or train disasters anywhere in the world?   It’s because there just isn’t enough UK news around in the summer when our Parliament is on its long recess.  And things don’t usually pick up until the end of August when the education stories get going with exam results, university places and then not enough school places in September etc..

So in the summer, stories that wouldn’t get a lot or any coverage at other times of year suddenly get into the news because the bulletins and the 24 hour news channels have just as much airtime to fill without politics as they do with it.   If you put out a report or set up an event in August you can get a lot more column inches and broadcasts than at other time of year.

So it’s not all summertime blues for summertime news.  Just be sure you think about what you are wearing  and make sure it’s boosting your credibility not destroying it.

Published 08 August 2013