Teaching Execs How to Channel Hop

Andy Gilman
Andy Gilman

As a kid, I learned the riddle: When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. Applied to media training: When is TV media training not TV media training? When it’s customized for specific settings, hosts and issues. CNBC is different from NBC. Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Grace and Jon Stewart have more in common with each other than they do with Charlie Rose. And don’t forget video pages for online publications like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. We’ll get to specifics shortly. These cardinal rules apply to all television/video platforms:

1. Preparation

2. Produce

3. Practice

Preparation. Watch the program. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. Learn about the hosts; what they like to cover, the way they ask questions, how much they learn about guests, what bugs them, do they let guests win by scoring at least one key message?

Develop key messages, including a visual example or story and a What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) answer.

Produce charts, video B-roll and infographics for the screen. Media outlets are budget challenged and more likely than ever to use your material. Producers usually prefer to show something besides talking heads.

Think CNN split-screen and your ability to control it. If producers have your charts, videos or infographics, they’re likely to be used.

Practice. No matter the program, rehearse out loud. If your spokesperson would rehearse for a 20-person board meeting, he/she ought to do the same for a program that could be watched by millions.

PR staff should schedule time with the spokesperson and do a warm-up on the day of the interview.

CNBC/Fox Business. The goal is to promote the company and its stock and/or coverage by analysts. The key is to prepare one or two answers that cover broad market issues and the competitive landscape. Only after this credibility is established will hosts allow you to dive into your company’s message.

Direct the WIIFM toward investors and analysts.

Today/GMA/CBS Morning News. These shows put a premium on telegenicity and studio presence. Particularly with medical and technical experts, producers often want a demo video to prove the spokesperson will come across as interesting and with a consumer audience focus.

Always train the spokesperson to deliver a consumer/viewer WIIFM.

Engadget/CNET. We love these geeky programs. Interviewers want true experts and don’t mind when guests use a few acronyms and tech talk (as opposed to more mainstream TV programming, where industry jargon should be considered off-limits).

The interviews tend to be specific and technical. Guests need to have high energy, deliver answers in fewer than 25 seconds and it doesn’t hurt to have a certain edginess or sense of humor. The WIIFM is a combination of how consumers/users can benefit fromthe technology.

Bill O’Reilly/Jon Stewart/Nancy Grace. Any time we’re asked to prep someone for one of these shows, the question is why? Really. Why?

These shows—it doesn’t matter the political bent—are electronic jousting matches where guests are on the set to help demonstrate how smart or clever the host is. If you take the challenge, be pithy, flatter the host and learn how to politely stick to your guns.

Don’t try to over shout or argue with the host; if so, you’d better be really good or best friends with the host.

There’s hardly a WIIFM unless you are the rare guest whom they like or want to promote.

If you get caught, use phrases such as “Here’s something your viewers will find interesting” as a get-out-of-jail card. Prepare for a barrage of questions or accusations, then make your point in 15 seconds or fewer.

The New York Times/The Wall Street Journal/USA Today. Video versions. Have you noticed the online video clips? It’s common when a print reporter brings a camera to the interview. Be prepared to give an answer or two for the website.

You can make a phone interview a video session by asking the reporter if he/she wants an answer for the web site. Then use a flip camera or smart phone to film a similar answer you provided to a question.

Send footage to the reporter and voila, there’s a video. Ask the reporter if he/she wants you looking into the camera or off to the side. The WIIFM often is an answer that encourages the reader/viewer to visit a specific website.

Industry programming. Media training for broadcast at industry shows can range from preparing for network and local news crews, to industry publication videos, to bloggers who want video for their web sites.

The content usually is positive and about the product. Since these interviews often are fast paced and competitors also are interviewed, the WIIFM trick is to deliver the most-compelling user/consumer/buyer sound bite.

TV Media Training: A Glossary

Here a few terms to familiarize yourself with when prepping senior executives for TV appearances.

Mic check. Right before the interview, the sound guys want to balance your mic with the host’s. Instead of the obligatory “testing 1, 2, 3,” use the time well. Give your name (spell it and pronounce it so that the host says it right). Then add 10-15 seconds of your most important point. This works on three levels: It’s enough sound for the techs, it makes you think positively and it might get the host to ask a question based upon you just said.

IFB. This is the piece that goes into the ear, aka Interruptive FeedBack. This is used for any remote or satellite interview. You will be able to hear everything going on in the studio, including commercials. Make sure it fits well and put it in your good ear.

Dress up, from the neck down. This is a CommCore term for thinking about the physical appearance. In today’s “business casual” world, it’s still important to be well dressed on TV. For CNBC and Fox Business, a suit and tie still work for men; a dress or nice business suit for women, with a classy scarf. Trade show or cable TV allow for more casual dress codes.

Demo tape/interview. If you want to break in on the morning shows, you may need to produce a short interview with the expert you are pitching. The worst sin on morning (or most other shows) is to be boring. Create a demo interview that is upbeat and in the style of the show. —A.G.


Andy Gilman is president-CEO of CommCore Consulting. He can be reached at agilman@commcoreconsulting.com

This article originally appeared in the March 30, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.