How Many Times Should You Repeat Your Messages?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 10, 2013 – 10:09 pm

Finish these famous advertising jingles:*

“Like a good neighbor, _____ _____ is there.”

“GE: We bring good things ____ _____.”

“The best part of wakin’ up is _______ in your cup.”

Did you find yourself singing along? If so, you’ve just experienced the first lesson of media messaging, which demands that all messages be consistent.

You remember those commercials because the advertisers—State Farm, General Electric, and Folgers—stuck with their catchy ads long enough for them to become almost universally known.

Like memorable commercials, good messages require consistency and repetition. Spokespersons who change their messages from interview to interview prevent their audiences from understanding, remembering, and acting upon their messages, which usually require numerous exposures to become effective.

Just how many times do you have to repeat your messages in order to achieve your goals? Advertisers rely on the concept of effective frequency to determine the number of times they should run an advertisement. Commercials for simple products with high name recognition might need to be seen only twice to result in a sales increase, whereas ads for less familiar brands might need to be seen nine times.

In the age of media and message oversaturation, those numbers strike me as low. I advise my clients that moving their audiences from unawareness to action requires anywhere from 7 to 15 exposures—and sometimes more.

Consistency is broader than just media interviews—you should apply it across all of your auto accident lawyer Delray Beach communications platforms. Your website, public speeches, newsletters, annual reports, and all other internal and external communications should reflect the same themes as your media messages.

Think about it this way: every time a member of your audience hears a consistent message from you, your clicker goes up one notch on your march to 7 to 15 exposures. If I read your on-message quote in a newspaper article, you’re at one. If I visit your website and see it again, you’re at two. If I see your on-message interview on the local television news, you’re at three. But if your message is slightly different each time you communicate, you will never move the clicker past one.

Repeating your main messages may sound confining, but it’s not. In a few lessons, you will learn how to keep your messages fresh by reinforcing them with new stories and the latest statistics.

From The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager:

“We live in a busy and fractured world in which people are bombarded with pleas for their attention. Given this, you have to try extra hard to reach them. You need to be everywhere. And for people you reach multiple times through different mediums, you need to make sure your message is consistent, so for instance, they don’t see a TV ad on tax cuts, hear a radio ad on health care, and click on an Internet ad about energy all on the same day. Messaging needs to be aligned at every level: between offline and on-, principal and volunteer, phone and e-mail.”

 *Answers: State Farm; “to life”; Folgers

This article is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here.

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Why Your Brand Should Ride a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 4, 2013 – 6:01 am

When I ask new clients to tell me what their company does, this is the type of answer I typically hear:

“We are the premier service on the east coast that delivers groceries to clients on the same day they place their order. We are able to reach millions of homes, since we don’t restrict our deliveries to a single store—we work with many different grocery chains in different areas.”

That’s not a bad answer. It contains a lot of useful information, even if it lacks a bit of inspiration. But there’s a better way to create instant understanding—and capture some of the cachet of larger, more well-established brands. Imagine, for example, if the client in the example above had started his answer this way:

“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery.”

The more complete answer might say:

“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery. Just as iTunes instantly delivers music that you can select from many different music labels, we deliver groceries that our customers can select from many different grocery stores on the same day they place their orders. That gives our customers more choices than any other company, as all of our competitors here on the east coast only deliver from one grocery store.” 

Advantages of Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

The biggest, most immediate advantage of referencing a larger brand is that doing so can help your audience understand what you do instantly. The mention of iTunes creates immediate context for customers, allowing them to understand what you do and how you’re different.

There’s another big advantage. iTunes is popular, so by referencing it, you’ll immediately transfer some of its positive brand image and “hipness” onto your brand. 

Cautions When Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

First, I’d only use a well-established brand. That’s safer than referencing the latest tech darling which could go bankrupt six months from now.

Second, only use a brand from outside your industry. If you’re a tech company, you can provide “Nordstrom-level” service. If you’re a tools manufacturer, you can say “we’re as solid as a Ford truck.”

Finally, I’d stay away from using the reference to a third-party brand in print and in any marketing materials, since doing so could attract the other company’s notice or create legal issues. A passing analogy to a non-competitor during a media interview or speech shouldn’t be problematic though, says trademark attorney Erik Pelton.  

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Dear Media: Don’t Call Me. And Don’t Leave Me Voice Mails.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 3, 2013 – 12:02 am

Bill Nowling, the spokesperson for Detroit’s emergency manager, sent reporters a memo recently instructing them to stop leaving him voice mails. has the full text; an excerpt appears below:

To better assist you and your organization with media questions and interview requests, I am instituting a new “contact procedure” that I think will streamline the process and get you the information you need in a timely fashion…

1. Going forward, all media requests (for information, for interviews, for directions) will be handled via e-mail at:

2. If you have a media question, please send an email to: Please be as detailed as possible as to the issue about which you are calling or the specific questions you have. Also include a specific deadline for responding back.

3. Please don’t leave a voice mail message. Believe it or not, VM just adds delay in responding, especially when most messages simply say “call me back.” It is not unusual for me to have 25 or more VMs waiting to be heard at any given time.

Bill Nowling

You might expect me to blast Mr. Nowling. The truth is, I’m empathetic.

Like him, I find telephone voice mails to be the least efficient way to reach me. I respond to emails and tweets much more quickly, and occasionally forget to check my voice mail when I’m out of town. Plus, he’s right – a simple “can you give me a call” voice mail message can be more efficiently delivered via email, text, or tweet. 

The biggest problem with his new policy may not be the policy itself, but the manner in which he communicated it. As an example, here’s a comment Nowling left on the website Deadline Detroit:

“I hate VM. It’s impersonal, inefficient and it fills up two or three times a day…I want to talk to reporters, but I don’t want to waste their time or mine by not being prepared; if I can cut one just one extra return call for each call that comes by being prepared to answer the question when I call back, then I will be able to handle more media calls in a day.”

In his full one-paragraph comment on that website, he used the words “my,” “mine” or “I” a whopping 17 times, showing just how self-centered his message was.

Hand holding a retro telephone isolated on white

Imagine if he had framed his message as a request rather than a formal procedure instead:

“In order to serve your audience, you deserve the fastest-possible response time from me. Because I’m not always in the office, I’m afraid that voice mails don’t always get played as quickly as they should (plus, the voice mail box fills up quickly, preventing some of you from leaving messages). Therefore, in an effort to serve you better, please email your requests to me. In return, I promise to be responsive to your emails in a timely manner. And if you opt to leave a voice mail message, I’ll do my best to listen to it quickly—but please know that’s not always possible and it’s proven to be a much less efficient way to reach me.”

That framing makes it less about him (“I hate VM”) and more about serving the media and the public (“You deserve the fastest-possible response time from me.”)

Of course, that only works if he follows through. One anonymous commenter identifying himself as a reporter on PR Newser writes:

“This would be perfectly reasonable IF Nowling responded to e-mails, which he rarely does. At one point he wanted to communicate by text message, which is insane. And let’s be clear: this isn’t some corporate flack we are talking about. He is essentially the press secretary for the city of Detroit, which is seeking bankruptcy protection under federal law. He is a public servant, and should be responding to the public–and the media–accordingly. In other words, he has no right to be arrogant.”

I have reservations about Mr. Nowling’s policy and am not sure it builds the positive press relations that anyone in a public position should desire. Perhaps he could have made clear that he doesn’t mind people trying to reach him by phone—reporters have the right to contact him using their preferred method, too—but that if he doesn’t pick up, email might be the next-fastest option. 

What do you think? Does a public servant have a right to instill a “no voice mail” policy? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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How To Conduct a Practice Media Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 21, 2013 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

This lesson will teach you how to conduct an effective practice session and rate your performance. Even if the reporter has a particularly bruising deadline, try to do a quick “shortcut” version of this exercise.

Record a Practice Interview

  1. 1. Ask colleagues, friends, or family members to interview you. Give them your Q&A document so that they can ask you the questions you developed, but encourage them to ask any relevant follow-up questions they can think of. That will force you to practice answering unanticipated questions by transitioning back to your messages.
  2. Supplement your Q&A document with a few open-ended questions (say, “Can you tell me about your company?”) and a few of the trap questions you learned earlier in the book.
  3. 2. Get your equipment ready. If you’re preparing for a television interview, record your practice run with a video camera, if possible. For radio or print interviews, you may use an audio recorder (most smartphones have a built-in audio recording device).
  4. 3. Adjust to the format of your upcoming interview. If you’re preparing for a standing television “bites” interview, for example, stand up and maintain eye contact with your friend or family member, not the camera. (Your interviewer should stand just to the side of the camera.)
  5. 4. When the interview begins, try not to break character. If you make a mistake, keep going. It’s important to learn how to recover from your mistakes, so stay in the moment and do your best to get back to surer ground.

Rate Your Performance

  1. 1. Watch or listen to the tape. Pause the playback after every answer.
  2. 2. Begin your self-critique by commenting on the things you did well—positive feedback is important—and then move on to the things you could have done better. Make sure you comment on both the quality of your message and the manner in which you delivered it.
  3. 3. After you analyze an answer, ask your colleagues, friends, and/or family members for their feedback. Proceed through the entire interview, one answer at a time, using this formula.
  4. 4. Be kind to yourself. Most people are much more critical of themselves than they should be. In media training workshops, people most frequently comment on their age, their looks, or their voice—but the audience is less likely to be distracted by such matters. There’s a reason many Academy Award—winning actors refuse to watch their own films—they are painfully self-critical and see only the flaws in their performances. The reality is that their performances were brilliant—and similarly, your performance was likely better than you think.

This article is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here.

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Advanced Media Training Tip: Tee Up The Next Question

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 18, 2013 – 1:33 pm

What if there was an almost foolproof way to ensure that reporters ask you the exact question you want them to ask

There is. Often times, you can “tee up” the next question a reporter will ask you simply by placing it right in front of them.

As an example, imagine that the question you’re asked is slightly off topic. You answer the question, followed by this phrase: “But that’s not even the most fascinating thing we’ve seen.” Any reporter worth his or her paycheck will immediately ask: “Oh? What is?”

Think of this technique as analogous to golf, where players “tee up” their next shot by placing the ball carefully onto a small stand (the “tee”) before striking it.

Other phrases that might help you tee up the next question include:

  • “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made.”
  • “And I heard something more surprising than that along the way.”
  • “That’s only the second most frequently asked question we hear from visitors.”
  • “There’s an even greater risk to tourists that most people aren’t aware of.”
  • “What most people don’t realize is that there’s a more effective way to treat this ailment.”

Now, go back to those five phrases and play the role of a journalist. What would the follow-up questions be? The answer is pretty obvious, right? Each of those phrases should elicit an obvious follow-up question.

When should you use these phrases? You can use them at any time, but I find them of particular use during a live radio or television interview. Let’s say you’ve been booked for a five-minute radio segment. You have limited time in which to make your key points. The host’s first few questions are a bit off topic, so you want to gently and subtly steer her back to the more important parts of the story. These “tee up” phrases help you do that—and allow the host to look good by asking you the “smart” question.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering why you shouldn’t simply use those phrases to transition to your message instead of depending on the reporter to ask the follow-up question (e.g. “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made. The most interesting discovery was when we found…”).

That approach is certainly sound and is usually preferable. But let’s say you feel like your answer has already gone on too long and you need to hand the ball back to the reporter. This is a perfect way to accomplish that — the host will be able to jump back in to ask the next question, but will probably ask you the one you want.

As usual, a little goes a long way here. Using this technique once or twice in an interview is probably sufficient. But it’s worth adding this technique to your media arsenal and deploying it when the reporter is just a little off in the questioning and you want to gently nudge them back to a relevant topic.

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Humor Is An Asset In Life. But Not In Media Interviews.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 14, 2013 – 6:02 am

Many sports coaches hate it when their players “talk smack” about a team they’re about to play.

Those incendiary comments often serve as motivation for their opponents, who relish the chance to defeat the team that insulted them. Some opposing coaches even post the quote in the locker room to help rally their players.

So it caught my eye yesterday when one of my tweeps, @adam_myrick, tweeted this out:

Adam Myrick Tweet

The Associated Press story he links to is about Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who got into trouble with his coach this week for trash talking his opponents. As the AP reports:

“Coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that Spencer wouldn’t speak with the media for ‘a long, long time’ after saying a day earlier that Ohio State would ‘wipe the field’ with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

‘I guess I’m a little biased, but I think we’d, uh, we’d wipe the field with both of them,’ Spencer said, chuckling.”

To the AP’s credit, they reported the full context of Spencer’s comments:

“It was a statement that Spencer…concluded with a laugh. It was clear he was half-joking. But sarcasm, humor and nuance seldom can be sensed between the lines of cold, hard print or on a monitor or screen.”

Coach Urban Meyer, who wasn’t amused by his player’s ad lib


Many news organizations wouldn’t have done Spencer the favor of writing that he had been half-joking. They would have just included his comments verbatim without mentioning the humorous context in which he made them.

And that’s the problem with humor. Without the context, comments intended as humorous, silly, or ironic can be portrayed literally—and often are.

You might wonder whether you can afford to make more humorous comments during a live radio or television interview, since the audience will see your full exchange and be able to discern your meaning in its proper context. That’s safer, yes, but it’s still not entirely safe. That’s because your comments may later be transcribed by the wires, blogs, and newspapers—and the “proper” context may not be reflected in their stories about your interview.

With all of that, you may reasonably conclude that I’m advising you never to be humorous during a media interview. But that’s not quite it. It’s not that you can’t be humorous at all, but rather that your humor must reflect your actual, literal meaning.

If your humor, when transcribed, says exactly what you mean and can’t be interpreted in a harmful manner, you’re probably on safe ground.

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Remember: The Reporter Isn’t Your Audience!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 6, 2013 – 2:42 pm

At the beginning of a media interview, many spokespersons remember to answer questions using their messages and message supports. But as the interview progresses and begins to resemble a normal, everyday conversation, they suddenly forget to include their messages.

That’s dangerous not only for the reasons you’ve already read, but also because it usually means they’re directing their answers to the reporter, not their audience.

A media interview is not a conversation with a reporter. It is a highly focused form of communication aimed squarely at your audience. The reporter is merely the conduit through which you reach it. That doesn’t mean you should ignore reporters, but rather that you should focus your communication on the people you’re trying to reach.

As an example, I occasionally receive a negative comment on our blog from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written. If I’m nasty in my response, the entire audience will hold it against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree.

Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers. So beware of slipping into a conversation with the reporter. If you do, you’ll be speaking with the commenter rather than to the readers.

Here are three ways to make sure you’re directing your communication to your audience:

1. Visualize a member of your audience.

Most people find the idea of speaking to 100,000 people through a reporter absolutely terrifying. The good news is that you never have to fear a large audience again. Instead, visualize one specific person in your target audience that you need to reach in order to be successful. Be specific. Focus your answers on that one individual. If that person understands what you’re saying, odds are the rest of your audience will too.

For one interview, one of our clients visualized that histarget person” was a retired 78-year-old African American woman living by herself in rural Nevada. He further defined her by saying she retired nine years ago after working as a trauma nurse for 40 years. By being that specific, he was able to visualize that woman during his entire interview, helping him reach the entire audience more effectively.

Before reading further, take a moment to identify and visualize your target person.

2. Base your interview on the audience’s level of knowledge.

If you’re speaking about climate change with a reporter who has covered that issue for a decade, you might be tempted to speak at a higher level by using acronyms or technical jargon. Don’t. The reporter isn’t your audience; the person you visualized is. Speak to the reporter as you would to your target person.

3. Don’t call reporters by name.

Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.

This article is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here.

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How To Survive A Media Ambush Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 23, 2013 – 6:02 am

When most people think of ambush interviews, they think of a television interviewer chasing after a scandal-tarred executive with camera and microphone in tow.

Those types of ambushes do occur occasionally, but they’re rare. More typically, an ambush occurs in one of two ways:

  • When a reporter shows up without notice.
  • When a reporter deviates from the agreed-upon topic to blindside a source with something totally unexpected.

In both cases, the reporter is after one thing: a great visual that makes you look guilty. If you respond with defensiveness, anger, or shock, the news outlet will run the tape of your bad reaction repeatedly, perhaps for days. You win an ambush by denying the reporter a great visual. If you’re ever ambushed, remember the advice offered in that old deodorant ad: never let ‘em see you sweat. By remaining calm, you prevent reporters from getting the compelling “money shot” they desire.

1. When a Reporter Shows Up Without Notice

What should you say when a reporter shows up without warning? Try something like this:

“Thank you for coming. I’d be happy to speak with you. I wish I knew you were coming—I have a meeting scheduled that I’m already running late for. Please contact my office so we can set up a time to talk.”

Then walk to your destination. If you only have a short distance to walk, continue facing the reporter and restate your message as you walk backward to avoid the “back to camera” shot. And whatever you do, don’t block the camera by placing your hand over the lens! Deny them the defensive-looking visual.

2. When a Reporter Blindsides You During an Interview

What do you do when you’ve agreed to an interview about your organization’s work to save endangered tigers but the reporter suddenly asks about your lavish compensation package? If you refuse to answer, you look guilty. If you answer badly, the results could be even worse.

You have two choices:

  • Answer the question. Doing so usually plays better to the audience, and good media training should prepare you in advance to anticipate the “unexpected” questions.
  • Deflect the question. Tell the reporter that this interview was supposed to be about your work to save tigers, but that you’d be happy to schedule a future interview to discuss other issues. This might be your best option if the question is about a topic the audience wouldn’t expect you to know much about, and may be your best approach if answering the question badly would do even more harm than not answering it at all.


President Reagan, a master of good visuals, was subject to an ambush of sorts every time he exited the White House to board Marine One.

Sam Donaldson, ABC News’ aggressive White House Correspondent, would shout tough questions at him as he walked across the lawn.

As the blades of the helicopter whirred, Reagan pretended he couldn’t hear Donaldson’s questions by cupping a hand to his ear, shrugging, and offering a mile-wide smile.

This article is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

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