Media UNTraining:  Avoiding ‘Overprocessed’ Media Images  

Remember the days of the formally dressed, carefully contrived talking head that looked into the camera and sternly parroted the company line?  Good, now forget it because that spokesperson is a dinosaur, and training today’s executive to deliver a possibly YouTube-delivered message requires a whole new set of rules.
Deconstructing Is Best
Today’s training requires “untraining” our clients and executives to turn them into spokespersons who can deliver messages that make the media feel that they have not been “fed,” but rather can talk their message.  To do this, they must thoroughly understand and believe in the message they are charged to deliver.  This is not always intuitive, particularly for those who have risen through the ranks and have memorized the spit and polish of media training past, which was all about form.

Today, with reality TV and weblogs setting the pace with real-time intrigue and drama, reporters and their audience are voyeurs, and an interview is not an interview, but rather a conversation.  The message is all that matters.  And the message must be delivered promptly, sincerely and with a twinkle in the eye and an ability to flawlessly field a “tweet” from a viewer who might be shooting Jack Cafferty a quick question via Twitter-feed during the broadcast, which he will pass along to your spokesperson.
Navigating the Legal Labyrinth
Because new media requires spontaneity, spokespersons aren’t the only ones who require training. It’s Twitter meets lawyer, as the regulatory department and compliance officers have to be trained to create faster turnaround time on internal statements, which used to take days—sometimes even weeks to go back and forth for approval.  Media messages must be highly proactive—with all possible angles anticipated and approved by internal powers that be—to enable the spokesperson to answer reporters who are publishing blog information even before they are finished gathering their sources.
The good news is that the plethora of online media has created an insatiable hunger for information.  This means, if your spokesperson has access to information, he or she can establish a relationship with reporters by simply being honest, ethical and feeding the bloggers consistently in a non-self-serving manner.  In the past, a spokesperson was not used to the task of relating directly to a reporter or producer. These days, it behooves even the most camera shy introvert to reach out and create a relationship with the interviewer. In doing so, he will get a sense of the reporter’s knowledge and background, and will create a bond that will serve the company well when the story runs.
Print interviews are likely to be done on the phone, sometimes even on a cell phone, while both parties are multi-tasking. I was recently interviewed for a major daily newspaper while the reporter was picking up her children from the daycare center.  Given the choice, I suggest that face-to-face interviews be arranged to enable the reporter to fully concentrate and invest in the interview.  If this is impossible, I tell the people I train to always have a pad of paper in front of them and to title page one “Get Backs.” Anytime he feels that the reporter didn’t quite “get” what the subject was trying to explain, he should jot it down.  At the end of the conversation, he should say, “I want to get back to something we spoke about earlier and make sure that I made myself clear...”  Then repeat the statement you were trying to translate for the reporter—particularly if it involved a scientific or complicated subject matter that he may not have understood.
The good news is that, in many ways, “media untraining” is far less daunting than formal media training used to be.  Yet as “untrained” as we must appear, we must never forget the power of the press, particularly when in a matter of moments, one wrong word could be broadcast around the world.
This was excerpted from PR News Media Training Guidebook 2009 Edition. The article was written by Karen Berg, CEO of CommCore Strategies and co-author of the bestseller Get to the Point. To order this guidebook or find out more information, go to