Prepping C-suite executives for media interviews is a critical responsibility for many PR professionals. I’ve media trained all kinds of spokespeople, from CEOs and government officials to scientists and celebrities. The common denominator is that all were receptive to media training and welcomed the opportunity to improve their game. Many already do a great job in interviews, so the best value you can provide is to cover the basics: review anticipated questions, reinforce key messages and get a practice run under their belt before talking to the reporter. Here are five steps I’ve found to be most helpful:
Cover your bases. Put your execs at ease by giving them a complete picture of what’s in store. Who will conduct the interview? What’s their angle? What are the likely questions—softball and hardball? Exactly where and when will the story run? Characterize the kinds of stories the reporter typically covers and the tone of their reporting. Forewarned is forearmed.
Train by example. If you can find video of a relevant interview (successful or unsuccessful) done by another executive in a similar field, show it. Point out what works and what doesn’t. We all learn by example.
Accentuate the positive. One of the most important lessons I learned early on from a media training pro is that the most important thing we can do is instill confidence. There’s no benefit to making an executive even more nervous than they already are. So keep criticism constructive and focus on reinforcing what they do well.
Cut to the playback. As uncomfortable as some people feel watching themselves on camera, playing back video of a practice interview and pausing to give specific suggestions and reinforce positives is the most impactful way I know of getting media training to stick. It’s not necessary when prepping for a routine interview on a safe topic with a trusted reporter, but before a major interview or media tour, playback makes perfect.
Don’t be afraid to tell them what to say. You have to really understand an executive’s business to do this well, but if you don’t, why are you media training them in the first place? Give them a few ready-made sound bites to articulate the key messages you think are most essential to a successful interview. Senior execs will always make it their own. Even if they disagree with your suggestions, you’ve given them something to react to and helped clarify their thinking.
Jim Miller is SVP, managing director of Dentsu Communications, a PR agency specializing in education, nonprofit and advocacy communications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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