Media training! “Is that really necessary?”

YES! Yes it is.

Even the most seasoned spokesperson – including the CEO – needs media training and regular refresher sessions.  It’s important not to lose sight of this as part of your Thought Leadership Strategy.

We previously worked with a CEO who did not take media training seriously (this client shall remain nameless for reasons you’ll agree are obvious!). Despite our repeated attempts to counsel and even warn him about the damage that could result from not being prepared, he accepted what he thought would be a friendly interview with ABC’s 20/20. Well, friendly it was not and the CEO failed miserably at managing the situation. Needless to say, we held intensive media training sessions thereafter!

If you’re still not convinced, let’s talk about media training in terms a CEO most DEFINITELY will understand. Media training = meeting preparation. Getting ready for a press interview is as important, if not more so, than planning a business meeting – and not just during crisis communication. After all, when you’re speaking with the media, your responses reach audiences well beyond the conference room. In addition, different communication techniques are required when utilizing the voice of the media to influence vs. directly communicating with your audience as you do at a meeting.

So when you’re deciding if interview preparation is worth your time, remember that you would never walk into a board meeting, new business pitch, negotiation or quarterly investors’ presentation without doing your homework. Give the same respect to the interview process and you’ll reap the benefits.

In upcoming posts we’re going to explore the dos and don’ts of media training, such as:

  • Messaging: although you may know your company inside and out, there are tips to effectively communicate your strategic positioning in an interview.
  • The successful sound bite: the ability to provide responses in a comprehensive yet concise manner takes much practice. All reporters edit down quotes – be sure they include the right information from your interview.
  • TV, radio, print: what’s the difference when giving an interview?

Throughout this Media Training series, we invite you to share your media training experiences and advice, and to ask questions to keep the discussion going.

Written by Lynn Schwartz

An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Lynn is a true public relations generalist with experience in a wide variety of disciplines and industry sectors.


10 Comments on "Media training! “Is that really necessary?”"

  1. Denise L. Santos says:

    Most definetely! You have to be ready to respond to any particular crisis involving your Company. If not convinced, watch press conferences with many executives who have made huge mistakes due to lack of preparation. It’s not easy to come up with the correct honest answer with many reporters and cameras in front of you. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

    • Lynn Schwartz says:

      Hi Denise! Thank you for the comment! Glad to hear that you agree that media training and continuous preparation should be a must for executives. Very importantly, all executives at a company who might be interfacing with the media should take ongoing steps to be prepared with updated messages and refreshers on technique — not just the CEO. Are you aware of any effective processes companies are using to ensure this happens?

  2. Mike Gaynes says:

    I agree with the emphasis on preparation for an interview, but I strongly disagree with the approaches described here. When you need to “sell” the importance of media training to a skeptical executive, in my opinion you definitely do NOT compare the preparation for an interview with the preparation for a board meeting, conference or quarterly investors’ presentation. Meetings like that last set periods of time, are presentational rather than conversational, and can be scripted and outlined in advance… and nobody interrupts you mid-sentence. You cannot script or pre-outline an interview, so I consider the comparison invalid.

    Interviews should be prepared for in the same way, specifically, as sales calls — put the most compelling points up front because the available time is uncertain, use concise “soundbite” sentences to maintain immediate audience interest, and be prepared for interruptions and other interactive issues that arise from the conversational back-and-forth of an interview.

    I would also suggest that the best way to present the idea of media training to a too-assured CEO is as a way to ensure success, rather than prevent damage. I suspect the CEO who disregarded your warnings simply wouldn’t accept the possibility of failure… the executive ego sometimes can’t even consider it. Using positive terms, rather than negative, is also a good coaching tip for your client’s interview.

    • Lynn Schwartz says:

      Thank you for visiting our blog and posting your comment, Mike. We appreciate your input very much! We agree and completely understand that each and every media interview should allow a skilled executive to deliver positive company and/or brand messages. It is this very opportunity that we focus our clients on during media training. What is the messaging and how can you effectively deliver these messages to impact your business? At the same time, let’s be honest, if a client is being interviewed by an investigative program such as 20/20 we’d be fooling ourselves to sugar coat the potential downside. Our clients appreciate our candor and we feel it’s important all media spokespeople be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly! But overall, you are right, by presenting things positively the odds will be with you. Thanks again!

  3. Melissa Simas Tyler says:

    I agree as well! As a former broadcast journalist, I could always detect when someone wasn’t prepared for an interview. Not only was their message lacking, but their body language gave off the impression that they weren’t comfortable with the questions or the setting. Training is a must!

  4. Horray for reinforcing “media training”…I would go a little further in that given today’s “social media” environment that we need to take social media into consideration. Too often I think people feel that they can just jump into any stream of conversation in the social space. I would never suggest that the right “messages” need to be put into play, but a grounding in common sense and some principles and protocols related to playing in the social space should be integrated into the media training handbooks…cheers @MolsonFerg

  5. Jim Beasley says:

    Great article, Lynn!

    Another horror story: a CEO refuses to prepare, saying he knows enough that he can just “wing it.” But as the questions fly in his direction, he begins to get flustered, losing control. Before long, he’s no longer thinking properly and keeping his communications objective in mind. Instead of his key messages, the story becomes his public meltdown.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen. It’s not pretty.

    • Lynn Schwartz says:

      Hi Jim, thanks for posting this comment. What a horrible horror story for the CEO. You are so right, executives should (and almost always do) know their business inside and out but it’s funny how when they’re interviewed they can be totally thrown off. This is why they can never practice enough! I hope the CEO you mentioned has since undergone a lot of media training!

  6. Media training is not only necessary but it cannot be similar for different individuals. If that is the case and it often is, and costly at that, it simply will not work and be detected as counterfeit. How many people truly stand out when they appear in the media or for live appearances? There is, forgive me, a certain sameness, with customarily not exceptionally memorable imprints left (that is, mediocre image). Here is where intuition comes in, with customized training for each individuals strengths and weaknesses to what I call “manufacturing what appears to be spontaneity” and, if you’ll permit me this word, even “charm.”
    Steve Wolf

  7. I can’t even count the times we’ve begun a media training session with a less-than-enthusiastic executive or physician and completely won them over in just a couple of hours… by the end of the day they are generally raving about the importance of this kind of training. I usually broaden these sessions out to be “communications skills training” seminars, rather than just media training, because the basic skills we teach (finding and refining your Key Messages, bridging to your own agenda etc.) are as applicable to presentations as they are to media interviews. I’ve known internationally-recognized medical experts to rewrite their entire conference presentations after attending one of our seminars. See The Evolution of Media Training”…
    And I completely agree with Steve. These sessions have to be individually tailored. A cookie-cutter approach is both lazy and ineffective.

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