The Most Important Thing In PR That No One is Doing: Media Training

By Rodger Roeser, APR
President, Eisen Management Group

With the recent fervor over the presidential elections, how one is perceived through the media has gained newfound popularity. It’s not good enough to perform well, it’s critical to inform, persuade and “entertain” in a fashion that is easily digestible and translatable to mainstream media and main street America. Sad thing is, those that probably need media training the most and likely the same folks who believe they don’t need it, so allow me the indulgence.

Everyone needs it.

Before doing an interview, after the interview, before a speech or presentation, reviewing the speech or presentation – media training and bettering oneself is an ongoing process. How you are perceived and how you present yourself both on camera and on stage is a critical point in the branding of both you and your organization. It’s a must to come across in a fashion consistent with how you want others to perceive you and with what you want the target audiences to come away understanding. Media training may be the best investment for your long term brand health. Regardless if you are the CEO of your organization or the lowly PR flack, insist that media training be part of a comprehensive strategic plan for you own sanity.

Here’s a pragmatic reason to consider. You’ve invested time and money into a general publicity and public relations campaign. You’ve done your research, you’ve crafted your key messages, you’ve pitched your story and pow! You secured the interview. And it’s a train wreck. Because the interview went poorly, all the work put in to securing that interview has likely been lost – or at best, unsalvageable. Good luck working with that reporter or publication again, as this bad performance costs you and your organization as a whole your reputation. It’s just not worth the risk. So practice, rehearse, and practice again. Media training is ongoing, but media training bootcamp should be mandatory before any program is launched, certainly once a year and done for anyone that would have the opportunity or be positioned for an interview or presentation.

Some general tips:

1. While not every media outlet will provide questions in advance, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Certainly, before agreeing to the interview, make sure you have a solid understanding of the publication, a general demographic of readers, and do yourself a favor – read the pub and get familiar with it BEFORE you pitch them or do the interview.

2. Unlike the presidential debates, most reporters will actually want you to explain or expound with specifics on a given a topic. Be prepared in advance with what you believe will be asked, and rehearse how you plan to answer those questions. Don’t obfuscate, just be honest. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up on the fly. Simply say, I don’t have that information readily available, but I’m happy to get back to you. And, get back to them.

3. While the media outlet you’re speaking with is likely not interested in being your personal promoter, understand that you will likely have to be a bit nimble and flexible on topics and direction. Roll with it, and don’t be so rigid in your responses that you keep coming back to same mundane bites – this is a sure fire way to end up on the cutting room floor. Just because you have three key messages, doesn’t mean that each answer has to start and end with one of them. Weave them in comfortably and confidently, rather than using them as the one and only talking point. The best interviews and the coverage at the top of the graphs is because something was compelling and specific to a given question, with key messages woven in seamlessly.

This, I believe, is where most media interviews breakdown. The subject is so hell bent on sales speak or jargon or over reliant on key messages that the reporter just doesn’t get what she needs. Reporters are trained to ask similar questions in different ways as they go into the creation of a piece with a general framework already in mind (I’m a former award winning newspaper editor), so work with that, not against it.

4. Use triggers in your discussion. When a reporter asks a really good question, tell them so. It’s good for their ego, and it gives you a second to think cogently about the question and give a knockout answer. Triggers can be exceptionally effective, such as: “if you don’t take anything else away from this interview, make sure you understand this point.” Also, call the reporter by their first name often during the interview. It works well, shows respect, and in particular on radio, sounds really good. It also shows that you’re paying attention to the reporter.

5. Answer the question and shut up. Most people ramble on and on, but when a reporter asks a question, don’t feel compelled to fill “dead air.” Answer the question succinctly, and wait for the next question. Don’t feel the need to fill an entire interview by launching into a diatribe off the first question. No one wants to hear you go on for 10 minutes, and all the reporter asked was: “Tell me about your company.”

6. Speak slowly. Most reporters don’t have bionic hands with which to write down your answers. Speaking clearly and slowly will allow a reporter to more accurately quote and capture what you’re saying. This is true for radio and television as well, so practice, honestly, in front of a mirror and with a video camera. Review your performance and have someone who can be objective and honest with you. Probably not your mom, and definitely not a subordinate. This alone is worth hiring an agency – just be sure, like the EMG Voice Program, that they have expertise and experience in media and media training.

7. An overlooked aspect of media training, but probably the simplest and least expensive thing you can do. After the interview, send a follow up thank you note. Best 42 cents you’ll ever spend.

Of course, there are dozens more things to consider. What to wear, how to stand, what make up to use (and not use), so again, if you weren’t born in front of a camera, do yourself and your brand a favor and invest in some fresh media training. You never know when that next crisis may come and the microphone is thrust in your face – not the best time for on the job training.

Also, sadly I’ve witnessed folks that have worked tirelessly to get a television interview, and when they secured it and fulfilled it, they were nervous and the interview was an absolute disaster. Something that should have been positive in promoting the organization completely backfired and made them look foolish. Don’t do that to yourself.

Media training is one of the best investments an organization can make in it’s long term success, and again, it’s an ongoing thing. Utilized properly at the beginning of any good media relations campaign, and kept up to date in the case of a crisis, being a good interview on the camera or with the reporter can ensure proper coverage and solid publicity. After all, if you’re hiring someone to handle your PR – you owe it to them and yourself to hold up your end of the bargain, which is this case, is taking strides to make yourself and your organization look good. My agency won’t even take on a client that has not or is unwilling to go through training. It just makes our job that much more difficult, so again, invest the time. Practice, practice, practice and with a little luck, you’ll make that cover.

About the Author

Rodger Roeser is the president and founder of Greater Cleveland and Greater Cincinnati integrated public relations firm Eisen Management Group. Roeser served as the president of the Cincinnati chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, and is a member of several organizations and boards. He is an award winning television and radio anchor, and an award winning newspaper editor. He currently hosts online radio show That Marketing Show, and hosts Cincinnati television news magazine Business Focus. He is a regular college and university circuit speaker, and continues to write for a number of newspapers and magazines.

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