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One man's mistake is another's opportunity - what PR can learn from Brad Banducci's interview with Four Corners

21 February, 2024

Woolworths Article Header

If you've been following the news this week you would have seen Brad Banducci, CEO at Woolworths, making headlines as he announced his retirement following an eventful interview with Four Corners reporter Angus Grigg. In this article, we will be exploring what Banducci did wrong in his interview and seeing what PR can learn from it. Featuring thoughts from Media Stable's Managing Director, Nic Hayes, and insights from one of Medianet Insights' analysts, Adam Palmer.


"I shouldn't have said that"

Nic Hayes cropped


For most of Banducci's interview, he was performing well as a spokesperson. But it only takes one moment, one mistake, to change the focus and the outcome of the interview.

"There was so much going right in the interview… in a store, in his natural surroundings, well lit, the polo shirt was an interesting touch, a man of the people, not the top executive of Australia’s largest employer. He was present, he was ready to speak but he got combative.

This is when you need to be very careful with any pre-recorded program that this is what they might be looking for. The GOTCHA moment. He had a response that was either premeditated or he had been briefed on to respond to a former ACCC Boss comment and he messed it up. There was a sense of arrogance or control that he thought he had. You never have control!

Live interviews are very different. You have control of your reaction, your response, and how the interview is positioned. In a pre-recorded interview you do not. You need to respond in a measured, authentic, empathetic, and disciplined way." - Nic Hayes, Managing Director of Media Stable.

Nic's insight into different interview types gives us a look at the level of preparation a spokesperson needs to go through and the level of understanding of the media they are speaking with that is needed before starting an interview. 


Be prepared and know the media you are engaging with


Being prepared might be an obvious thing to say, but when it comes down to it, it's important to consider which media you are engaging with and how the interview might play out. When asked about this topic, Nic mentioned "you need to have good advisors around you that know how a journalist interview will play out. When you put a camera and microphone in front of a person it is natural for the adrenaline to run, for the sweat to appear, for the mind to run fast and wild."

In a recent interview with 6PR on the subject, Nic mentioned the importance of being mindful of programs like Four Corners and A Current Affair. These types of programs have a set direction, agenda, form and style that need to be well understood before jumping into an interview.

Hear the full interview with 6PR below.


Never walk out of an interview


If there was one clear takeaway that Banducci's interview gave us, it is that you should never walk out of an interview. 

If you are faced with a difficult situation or you made a mistake, take a deep breath, accept responsibility for what happened and move on. 

"Never walk out of an interview. That is when there is no return, the story is about you now and not what you were asked to go on the program for." - Nic sums it up perfectly.

So what was the result of Banducci walking out?

An analysis conducted by Adam Palmer, one of Medianet Insights' esteemed analysts, looking at online media coverage from 19 Feb to 21 Feb, showed us that following Banducci’s resignation, there was a slight shift in coverage which centred on Banducci’s “interview blunder” more so than the original issue at hand (which at the time primarily focussed on price gouging enquiries across the whole supermarket sector).

There was certainly negative sentiment around supermarkets and anti-competitive behaviour, but few can deny that this focus is squarely centered on Woolworths’ after the now-infamous Four Corners story.

"As a result of the interview blowing up, Banducci created a new story about his actions, which has only amplified the messaging around price-gouging and anti-competitive behaviour. Without his snafu, the Four Corners story would have gained some traction but nothing like it ultimately has." - Adam Palmer.


Time and time again


It is common knowledge among PR professionals that the timing of a media release can make or break a story. You wouldn't announce a new product during a major disaster affecting thousands of people. You risk your story falling short so you instead delay the media release to a more suitable time.

So did Woolworths’ nail the timing of Banducci’s retirement?

The media very quickly put two and two together, with the clear consensus that Banducci had drafted his own demise given the announcement of his retirement came only days after his appearance on Four Corners.

His retirement announcement produced higher volumes of media coverage than the interview itself. Adam’s analysis also shows that a portion of media coverage on Wednesday contained balanced sentiment, with many reports covering the change of the guard and profiling incoming CEO Amanda Bardwell. Some of this was even balanced and did not reflect negatively on Woolworths, with coverage profiling the incoming CEO Amanda Bardwell and her career.

Woolworths topic analysis

Figure 1. Themes of Australian online media coverage mentioning Woolworths’ by sentiment.

Woollies may think they’ve dodged a bullet here. The ‘trainwreck interview,’ as some headlines characterised it, they could argue, is no longer their problem, the problem has retired and now they can look to the future.


But our data shows that coverage of price gouging and anti-competitive behaviour remains highly negative towards the supermarkets, and distancing yourself from one individual - especially when that individual puts your supermarket in the firing line of public ire - is likely not going to mitigate the long-term reputation damage facing the supermarkets. 

Adam closed his analysis by noting "The negative commentary resulting from his 4 Corners interview is likely to continue for Woolworths, and the highly topical and newsworthy story of his resignation is likely to fuel scrutiny of the supermarket industry more broadly."


Let's try this again


Luckily for those of us not involved in the 'crisis', we have the opportunity to learn from the events and prepare ourselves (and our spokespeople) for media engagements in the future. So next time, be prepared for the interview, take the time to understand the media you are engaging with and see the interview through to the end. 

Thank you to both Nic Hayes from Media Stable and Adam Palmer from Medianet Insights for their contributions to this article. 


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