Crusaders Coach Rob Penney Interview Lessons

Posted May 23, 2024

Rob Penney and the Crusaders made some crucial mistakes around the disastrous press conference yesterday. These are common when teams and their management are under pressure, and they show the importance of media training and preparation.

For those of you who haven’t seen the coverage, Penney was asked some tough questions by one particular reporter who doesn’t usually cover sport. That should have been the first red flag. Sports reporters rely on cooperation from teams to get their stories so are not usually too critical for fear of losing that cooperation. When a news outlet brings someone else in for a one-off story, watch out because that person isn’t reliant on future relationships.

The focus of stories about the press conference wasn’t initially the tough questions, but Penney’s comment to his media manager afterwards when he was heard saying, “He’s a disgrace that c…Who’s he?”

I obviously don’t need to say that was inappropriate, but there is much more to this. Firstly, he should have been ready for tough questions such as speculation about his future as coach after such an unsuccessful season to date. It shouldn’t be hard to respond to such questions if you are prepared for them. They should be answered with grace because it’s actually the fans you are talking to. The reporter is merely the conduit of that information.

But Penney made it abundantly clear throughout the tough questioning that he thought the reporter was being unreasonable. Most of his answers were one or two words. 

This was another mistake. In any interview or press conference, any coach needs to have a few points in the back of their head to push out. They can do this after answering a difficult question to try to move the conversation to something they want to talk about. It could have gone something like this. Reporter: “Would you consider standing down?” Penney: “No and I think (X part of the game) worked well today so if we maintain that and work on our handling errors during the week, we’ll be back to our best for the Blues game.” 

That last part is made up but you can see that if you add to the conversation rather than just offer a one word answer, the reporters are likely to follow up on what you said and what you want to talk about. I say it all the time but a media interview is not a Q&A, it’s a conversation that both people can contribute to, as long as the points made are relevant and of interest to the audience. This does take practice but is an essential skill for anyone who may face media.

The last mistake was the statement sent out by Crusaders CEO Colin Mansbridge. Firstly, there was no apology from Penney, but Mansbridge on behalf of the Crusaders. Secondly, when referring to speculation that Penney may not see out the season, Mansbridge said he could accept that from fans, but “from commentators, I think it’s childish frankly.” Once again, the media are representing the fans and this is professional sport. Questions about this can be answered easily and then the coach should transfer to something of interest that he wants to talk about. But if the coach shows his disapproval of the questioning, doesn’t have his own points to discuss and/or makes comments about the reporter afterwards, future stories are unlikely to be favourable.

I say all this as a passionate Crusaders fan.

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