How To Media Train C-Suite Executives

Never have the stakes been higher for managing a brand’s perception or for effectively stating your market position in a way which confers trust and credibility while also establishing product distinction. And, for marketing managers who see a skeptical public as their biggest challenge, look out for members of the media. If you thought they were on the side of the working class before our economic meltdown, they are in a feeding frenzy now; there’s nothing like jobless claims being at a 26-year high to churn the waters of a newsroom.

All of which begs the question: Are you ready for this? Are your C-suite spokespeople sufficiently prepared to take on an even more ravenous than usual Lou Dobbs (CNN), Chris Matthews (MSNBC) or Andrew Ross Sorkin (New York Times)? Even if you’re not playing on the bright lights of the national stage, your local paper poses real threats to your brand reputation as viewed through the lens of your on-the-record spokesperson.

If you’re responsible for preparing your spokespeople to go public, remember the words of a recent sports commercial: “We must protect this house.” Here are a few tactical considerations to translate a ho-hum interview into a brand-building, competitive advantage.

â–¶ Don’t worry about the questions. The old media training manual says gather your director of external communications (or a similar title), pull the reporter’s last 50 stories and look for keys to anything he or she might ask. Hogwash. Enjoy your 1974-era thinking as the shareholders show you the door for creating a perception of the company that’s distinctly stiff and dry, which may be good for martinis, but not 30-second sound bites.

Instead, concentrate on what you want the reader or viewer to think, feel or do as a result of this interview. Think “call to action.” If you had a great prospect alone for 30 seconds, would you prepare by considering what they might ask you or would it be smarter to prepare three points, which will leave this prospect with a clear, compelling message of what you want?

This is not to say that you should completely throw out the old-school handbook. It’s in your best interest to consider answers for the questions you hope they don’t ask, but why dedicate your prep time pondering every possible question when you’ll have no control over the questions anyway? Use your limited pre-interview time to prepare an actionable, concise and end-user wow factor. Remember that your answers will be on the page (print or Web) or on the tape…permanently. The reporter’s questions will not.

â–¶ Forget everything you know. Key messages and the resulting edited sound bites are not the place to prove to the world you know every nuance about every aspect of your industry. Too much talk and you’re out (of the story). In addition, giving too much information increases the odds you’re going to lose control of the interview, say something off-message and be besieged by the current reporter, a follow-up reporter or citizen journalists of the blogosphere.

Pre-interview minds should be focused on the three competitive messages to be made and the related illustrating proof points. Spokespeople, during interviews, are not newsroom reference tools. You should be glad to help reporters advance their knowledge of your industry, but not when the tape’s rolling and “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer.

â–¶ Think problems and solutions. Part of your challenge in the very limited span of an interview is to incorporate how you made people more money or how you saved them 300 hours per year stuck in traffic or how you created an efficiency program giving parents more time with their kids.

Your key messages should remind your audience of how you’ve made their lives, their kid’s lives or their pet’s lives better, longer and more enjoyable. In the news cycle, the spotlight on the good you’ve done and the problems you’ve solved is just a bit shorter than the lifespan of a flashbulb.

â–¶ Attack your way into the headlines. This just in: News is defined as “conflict.” It doesn’t matter with whom or about what; reporters want you for one thing: a quote. And, if that quote is going to live to see the light of day, it better have a point of contention.

Don’t be afraid to use absolutes: “The market has never seen anything like our product”; “We’re absolutely confident our new formula will be a hit with consumers”; or “Read my lips: No new taxes.” These examples create positive conflict and give headline writers a reason to brand your organization with distinction. It’s a logical tool, but often overlooked and unintentionally conceded to a competing voice.  PRN

This article was written by Chris Wailes, a vice president with Pierpont Communications. He can be reached at