Some people are naturals with the media; others are horrible. But everyone should have some level of media training before talking to a reporter or going on social media.
Among the first questions you should ask your executives or clients are: Have they dealt with media? And have they had media training? This is crucial because you don't want to put someone into the media mix without experience or training.
While many PR pros can train people, it's also essential that you find a good media trainer, including one with a video camera and lights to simulate a TV studio. This allows you the ability to sit in on sessions and also leave to do other parts of your job.
When a trainer comes in, he or she will take the client through mock interviews and help them shape their message points. But the most important thing media training should teach is how to stay cool throughout the interview: this is your client's chance to tell their story. Whatever else they get out of this, the mantra should be: stick to the messages you practiced during media training.
This applies whatever the media: print/online, radio, TV and online video. Media training these days should also include a short primer in social media. The last part of media training is sort of a separate animal: crisis PR management.
One thing that applies across all media sectors is a lesson I learned from a media trainer I used. He tells clients he is training that they should always stay on the record. As he puts it: "Unless the reporter is your blood brother or blood sister, don't go off the record or on background."
Training for TV has the most needs. Training should include how to keep answers to a sound bite and not go beyond your talking points. In these rehearsals, clients need to practice sounding like the expert, but without sounding over the top or without memorizing message points. Learning to get used to the camera in studio and remote shots and the lights is also of paramount importance.
Live TV has the most danger. Your client needs to stick to the message. Going off topic or saying something stupid needs to be avoided. Prepare your client and train them in the art of live TV. It's also okay to say you don't know an answer on TV.
Remember, TV is about perception and how you look and sound. Be believable and use concise but conversational styles, free of jargon.
A last bit of warning on TV: Stay on message whenever the tape is rolling and or the mic is on. Sometimes reporters will use what you say when they are getting reaction shots or tinkering with the camera. Everything you say can be used. And if an interviewer becomes aggressive take a deep breath. The more riled the interviewer becomes, the calmer you should be.
What to wear and make-up are also important issues to be addressed before going on TV. Media trainers can run through all the dos and don'ts here.
Nowadays, media training should also include an introduction to social media. For this article's purpose, let's take Twitter. Like traditional media, use your judgment, say what you know and use the technology to maximize your platform:
- Follow people in your industry.
- Retweet, Reply.
- Mention others by their Twitter handle.
- Use Hashtags -- #
- Tweet content, links, news, photos and videos
- Promote via a Twitter button on your site but avoid too much self-promotion.
- Don’t over-tweet.
- Use bitly.com/ to shorten URLs for links.
The last area of media training I wanted to mention is crisis PR. A separate session with the trainer is warranted but here are some tips:
How to Deal with the Media in a Crisis Today
- Keep the message simple; change as needed to keep up with developments.
- Use the web and all social media channels wisely.
- Have one designated spokesperson with one consistent message.
- Hire a crisis PR agency.
- Keep up with the client's use of email and social media.
- If your client is flogged in the press daily, pick a select few outlets to give access to or hold some on or off the record briefings.
- If you promise the press something, deliver or the press will never forget.
- The local media takes big stories personally so don't forget them even as a crisis goes national.
- Try to avoid no comment.
- If you have a gripe with a reporter’s story, talk to the reporter directly.
Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at Ablum4@aol.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms.