Preparing Yourself for the Media Spotlight

Media training is one of the most crucial aspects of good PR. Even with the advent of social marketing, digital media and other forms of online communications, media training remains a workhorse for PR pros. One of the first things that clients want to know is whether business communicators can show them how to carry themselves in front of the media and fix any glitches that may be getting in the way of delivering the message.

But what happens when you turn the tables, and PR managers and directors are the ones who are being interviewed and relaying the message? Before the Internet became ubiquitous PR pros didn’t have to worry so much about being in the spotlight.

However, in a digital age, all bets are off. As social platforms creep toward the center of marketing communications, there is more of an opportunity for brands and organizations to get exposure (positive, negative or neutral) and, subsequently, more media inquiries that PR executives have to manage.

Toss in the proliferation of online video, YouTube channels and Skype-fueled conversations. It all adds up to a growing need among senior PR managers to be camera-ready, regardless of whether they are managing an existing campaign, preparing for a new one or just minding the store.

In the analog age, PR pros had to worry about whether the mic was hot; in a digital era, PR pros have to worry about how the camera is always on.

In addition to knowing how to present themselves in front of the media, PR managers who want to enhance their value are increasingly positioning themselves as so-called “thought leaders” who can speak at industry-related conferences and PR-related events.

“When you’re speaking in public there’s an inherent drive to manage the message and stay on point,” said Stan Phelps, founder of 9 Inch Marketing and author of “What’s Your Purple Goldfish – 12 Ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth.”

Phelps regularly speaks at media and marketing conferences throughout the world. “It’s important during a presentation to have message points and guidelines, but if you deliver them in a way that comes off as mechanical and one-sided people will see right through it,” he said.

Phelps stressed that to win an audience, PR managers above all (not to underestimate the talking points) have to demonstrate “warmth and confidence.”

Exuding warmth, he added, generates empathy for when you lose your train of thought during a speech or get tripped up by the PowerPoint.

Phelps also stressed that “breathing” is crucial to succeeding on the speaking circuit.

“It sounds like a silly thing,” he said. “But people can improve their speaking by breathing in-between each statement, which enables you to frame the content as if you are providing a single thought to one person.”

Indeed, even the most seasoned public speakers can get extremely nervous before they hit the stage.


“I see it as more of an anxiety than a fear,” said Mary Grady, managing director of media and public relations for Los Angeles World Airports, who has been speaking at PR and security related conferences for more than 13 years.

“People aren’t afraid of the information they have to present, they are anxious about the process of providing that information. If the information has to be delivered to the media, whether one-on-one or in a news conference setting, the anxiety level increases,” she added. “Just like you can’t ‘control’ the media and social media, you can’t just get over anxiety associated with public speaking. You manage your anxiety, just as you manage your message.”

With regard to social channels, prepare ahead of time and have a hashtag identified so that you can better manage the message, Grady said. She provided several other tips for PR managers who want to improve their public speaking capabilities:

· Proactive messaging

· Transparency

· Credibility

· Accountability

· Honesty

· Directness; get to the point

· Show empathy


For PR pros to excel at public speaking they must practice what they preach (which is not a sure thing). Know your audience. Talk straight. Add value.

“Always feel compelled to tell an amazing story of success in the framework of lessons learned, mistakes you have made and how your efforts resulted in something amazing at the end,” said Andrew Bowins, senior VP, corporate and digital communications group, MasterCard, who speaks frequently at PR-related events.

Boosting your presence on the speaking circuit can’t hurt your brand and, in many ways, it can help. A lot depends on your ability to network and how outgoing you are.

Primarily, however, PR managers need to be more effective when they speak in front of the media and make sure that they reflect well on the brand.

They also need to be aware of how dramatically the Web has altered the dynamics of speaking with the media.

“The same rules apply as always. Recognize that anything you say can and will be quoted,” Bowins said. “What has changed is that social and digital allow for your comments to be shared and amplified in real-time to the world.”

He added: “Keep that frame in mind as you speak and don’t wing it with off-the-cuff remarks. If you understand the new climate, be a master of storytelling and paint pictures with your words that get audiences excited and want to share what you have to say.”

Become a Trusted Resource for Reporters

small-pg 6 SB HS Barbara BatesWhen it comes down to what makes media stars stars, it’s their ability to become a trusted resource for the press. Getting to that point is not that hard but it does take some discipline and effort. Here are my top four tips for becoming a go-to resource for the media.

Don’t be a user. A reporter buddy of mine always lamented that he felt used by PR folks. “They only call me when they need something.” Try offering up information to reporters that have nothing to do with a specific client or pitch. Make observations about trends or possible storylines that are interesting and not just self-serving. “Hey, did you see this” notes go a long way.

And don’t just be a fair weather friend. A classic complaint reporteres have about media relations pros is that they are one-sided. They hound them incessantly to get them on the phone to talk about the latest fab release from their client. But when a reporter calls directly to ask about some not-so-great news, PR people go missing. Be a resource for the media in good times and in bad.

Become an industry expert. Not by sharing your opinions and knowledge, but by pointing to the most trusted resources reporters can use to get smart about a specific area or trend.

Be real. Reporters are people too. They like to meet interesting people. They respond to humor just like most of us. Get to know them. What they like, what they don’t like. Personal interests. Once you establish an initial rapport, suggest meeting for coffee or grabbing a drink after work, and just shoot the breeze. Actually seeing people, interesting people, is so much more, well, interesting and fun than a work relationship built and sustained only through phone calls and email.

This sidebar was written by Barbara Bates, founder and CEO of Eastwick. She can be reached at

Special shout-out to Patricia Cole, CCMO, CCUSA, for suggesting this article.


Andrew Bowins,; Mary Grady,; Stan Pehlps,

This article originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.