Archive for the ‘Media Training Tips’ Category
I’ve worked with many people who don’t trust or like the media. But one recent group of trainees from a public entity was more emphatic in their hatred of the press than I’d ever encountered before.
This group constantly felt besieged by a rapacious press corps that couldn’t be satiated, and they believed that reporters were far too busy pursuing their own predetermined agendas to give them a fair shot.
Given the hostility of this group toward the press, I decided to try something different. The result was striking, if not outright shocking.
Instead of playing the role of reporter (as I usually do in media training sessions), I decided to divide the group in half.
The first group played their usual role of serving as corporate spokespersons. I gave them a scenario to work with, asked them to develop their messages and media strategy, and told them to assign a person who would deliver a press conference.
The second group was tasked with playing the role of reporters during a press conference. I told them that their job was to do everything they could to get the facts the spokesperson was reluctant to offer. I instructed them to get past the spin, challenge evasive responses, and do whatever they could to get to the truth.
The second group took their job seriously. When the press conference began, they were unforgiving of anything that remotely bordered spin. They asked tough follow-up questions, used evidence to contradict some of the spokesperson’s claims, and adopted an almost hostile tone. Frankly, they were tougher than most of the reporters I’ve ever seen at press conferences.
The “Aha!” Moment
When the press conference ended, I asked both groups what they were feeling. The group representing the company said they felt exhausted and beaten up. But the group of reporters was pissed. They felt that the company was being evasive, and they resented the company’s lack of candor.
I didn’t have to say anything. My takeaway message seemed to wash over everyone simultaneously: Reporters aren’t always being jerks just to be jerks; sometimes, they just resent that you’re not being straight with them.
That profound realization, which reminded me of the old adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, changed their perspective. Suddenly, they understood how they were complicit in the media’s reaction to their attempts at media management—and they recognized the need to begin doing things differently.
Tags: media relations tips, media training, Public Relations, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »
Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 1,000 posts. Some of the most popular posts have gotten buried over time, so I occasionally unbury especially useful older posts to share with readers who missed them the first time. This article was originally published on December 27, 2010.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen my regular advice to do almost every media interview you’re offered. But there are times when turning down an interview makes the most sense, and this article will discuss the times when saying “no” is your best move.
Below, you’ll find a list of seven times to turn down an interview.
The original list comes from the IABC (The International Association of Business Communicators). Although it’s a solid list, the tips are overly-generalized, so I’ve added my own commentary to each of the seven suggestions to help make them more complete.
1. Employees Have Not Yet Been Notified About a Specific Issue
As a general piece of advice, this is fine. But if a reporter is about to run a story with or without your input – and if you lack the logistical ability to inform your employees directly before it runs – it might make sense to participate in the story to ensure you provide the necessary context. Plus, what is the “specific issue” at play here? Announcing a new product before all employees have been notified (e.g. the iPad) might be strategically sound, while announcing employee layoffs through the press would not be.
2. Employee, Client or Patient Privacy Is Never Breached For Any Reason
Client confidentiality might be waived, for example, if you’re subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit or before Congress, especially if no confidentiality agreement was signed between the parties.
3. An Emergency Has Occurred; Next-of-Kin Have Not Been Notified
I agree you should not be the first party to announce any deaths before next-of-kin has been notified, but what happens if the media has already announced the names? Do you confirm them then, or continue to wait hours – or days – before next-of-kin has been notified? These cases aren’t always cut and dried, and sometimes confirming the names is the more humane choice.
4. Sensitive Competitive Information Would Be Divulged
In a reputational crisis, there are times you might lose more by NOT divulging a proprietary piece of information. As with any crisis, you have to analyze all possibilities, including divulging competitive information.
5. Security Legislation Would Be Breached
Whistleblowers aside, this is probably good advice. I assume this refers to laws already passed, not pending legislation.
6. Union Negotiations are Underway; An Information Blackout is in Effect
If both sides are honoring the agreement, this is good advice. But what about when one party breaks the agreement and is killing you in the press? You should talk to the media – if not to offer specifics, at least to remind the public that you’ve agreed to an information blackout, that you’re not going to talk for that reason, but that there’s more to the story than they’re hearing from the other side.
7. Legal Counsel Has Advised Against Communications
If there’s one thing on this list that makes me bristle, it’s this one. First, even if counsel has advised against “communications,” you can still communicate. You can almost always offer a generic statement such as, “We can’t offer specifics in this case since it’s in litigation, but I would like to remind everyone that there are two sides to this story, and we’re confident that our side will come out in court.”
Second, legal counsel often advises against communications as a kneejerk reaction, even when communicating makes the most sense. Executives would be wise to consult their attorneys and their communications professionals prior to making such decisions. Sometimes the reputational damage caused by your silence is greater than the financial damage of future lawsuits.
Editor’s Note: A grateful hat tip to a good marketing blog called IMC Intuition by Beth Ryan, on which I originally saw this list.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, PR, Public Relations, working with reporters
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Spokespersons may encounter a few additional media formats. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these five possibilities:
1. Editorial-Board Meetings
Many newspapers have editorial boards, which are composed of a small group of editors who write the editorials, or “official viewpoints,” that appear in each morning’s paper. The editors who pen them are typically not news reporters (whose reporting is supposed to avoid expressing personal viewpoints). Editorials are different than “op-eds,” which are usually written by members of the community.
Meetings with editorial boards are opportunities to influence the editors to adopt your viewpoint. Treat these meetings the same way you would a news interview: anything you say can be quoted, and some editorial board meetings may be audio- and/or videotaped. Some editors ask aggressive questions, especially of spokespersons who represent a controversial brand or idea, so prepare thoroughly for your meeting.
2. Deskside Briefings
Deskside briefings are similar to meetings with editorial boards, but are usually one-on-one exchanges with an individual journalist at his or her office (hence the name “deskside”) rather than with larger groups. The casual and often friendly nature of deskside briefings can lead spokespersons to stray off their messages, so remember to treat everything you say as a quotable comment.
3. Walk and Talks
Have you ever seen a television interviewer conduct an interview while walking down a street or hallway with the interviewee? Some reporters are fond of conducting interviews as “walk and talks,” since they tend to relax the person being interviewed and are more visually interesting than a typical in-studio interview.
This can be a difficult format, since you have to focus on where you’re walking in addition to relaying your message. Walk slowly—and if you find yourself getting distracted, stop walking for a moment and turn toward the interviewer while making a key point.
Some talk shows, including daytime chat programs, ask guests to do a demonstration, or “demo.” Chefs show viewers how to cook lasagna, home decorators demonstrate how to inexpensively design a living room, and physicians teach people how to perform a self-examination.
Delivering a demo in just a few short minutes can be a major challenge. Do several on-camera practice rounds in advance to get your timing and delivery down, and be prepared to handle any unexpected moments that occur.
5. Comedy Shows
One thing I’ve learned through the years is that almost everyone thinks they’re funny. So when they appear on a late-night talk show such as The Tonight Show or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their inclination is to try to crack a joke or two. It’s usually a bad idea.
Unless you’re a comedian, it’s usually best to avoid competing for punch lines. Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, even tells his guests beforehand to play it straight. Let the comedian do the jokes—comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. Just bring your good humor, a warm smile, and a willingness to go along with the joke.
Tags: media training tips, working with reporters
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If you want to virtually guarantee that reporters will use the quote you want them to, you need to master the art of the media sound bite.
Reporters love sound bites because they make for lively copy. The public enjoys them because they’re memorable. And you’ll benefit from them because they can serve as a perfect delivery vehicle for your messages.
I always try to look out for particularly clever and well-phrased media sound bites. In this post, you’ll find seven of my recent favorites.
1. This sound bite has a clear political point of view—but ignore the politics and look at the structure. If you’re on the other side of the aisle, you can simply replace the name “Sarah Palin” with a different name. I was unable to find the source of this sound bite.
“Getting a history lesson from Sarah Palin is like getting your teeth cleaned by a proctologist.”
2. During the 2012 election season, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was briefly discussed as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Huckabee dismissed the buzz with this clever sound bite:
“I think there’s a greater likelihood that I’ll be asked by Madonna to go on tour as her bass player.”
3. While promoting her book about women in the workplace, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, offered this memorable quip:
“Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”
4. Knocking her opponent for what she maintained was his lack of political action, Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes said this:
“If the doctors told Sen. [Mitch] McConnell he had a kidney stone, he wouldn’t pass it.”
5. Congressman Hal Rodgers (R-KY), speaking about the challenge his party’s Speaker of the House faces in running his caucus, quipped:
“It’s a little bit like being the head caretaker of the cemetery. There are a lot of people under you, but nobody listens.”
6. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV), who was accused of a conflict of interest for supporting medical procedures that helped her physician-husband, used this analogy:
“I won’t stop fighting to give Nevadans access to affordable health care just because my husband is a doctor, just like I won’t stop standing up for veterans just because my father served in World War II.”
7. Finally, here’s a sound bite that any parent will appreciate:
“Cleaning a house with a toddler is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”
For more tips on how to develop your own media sound bites, check out my video below.
Tags: media training tips, sound bites
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After concluding on-camera practice interviews with our clients, I often ask them to rate how much energy they thought they had, on a scale of 1 to 10. “Oh, around an eight or nine,” the trainees usually guess. “That was probably a bit over-the-top, right?”
I then ask the other people in the room to rate their colleagues’ energy during the interview. They usually rate it a 4 or 5. The trainee is always shocked.
It turns out we’re not great judges of the amount of energy we convey during media interviews. What feels right to clients in the training room often looks flat on television—which makes sense when you consider that television tends to make people appear more muted than they do in person.
You’ve seen that dynamic play out if you’ve ever sat down in front of your television, watched an entire interview, and completely zoned out—realizing later that you can’t remember a single thing the spokesperson said. It happens all the time, and it’s usually the result of a “blah” spokesperson who doesn’t reach out of the television and grab you.
A media interview delivered without energy is like a steak cooked over low heat: dull, uninspiring, and lacking “sizzle.” Great spokespersons know they need to inject passion and energy into their delivery to fully reach their audience.
Some of our clients get nervous about displaying too much energy or passion during their interviews. They protest that they’re mild mannered or soft-spoken in everyday life and that speaking loudly wouldn’t feel authentic to them. That’s fine. Passionate need not be loud.
But what may feel like yelling to you usually doesn’t come across as yelling to the rest of us. In fact, when I ask trainees to “go bigger” by speaking in a comically loud voice, they’re almost always surprised to find that it goes over great on TV.
Therefore, focus on being the most energetic and passionate version of you. Think about when you’re sitting in your living room with an old friend, reliving memories of your schooldays. You’re probably a bit louder than usual, a little more demonstrative, and a lot more interesting.
In order to bring that more enthusiastic version of yourself out, try speaking 10—15 percent louder. Many people fear that will make them come across with too much volume. And sure, we need to dial back the occasional trainee who goes too far. But that’s rare. The vast majority of the time, spokespersons can hit the gas and be even more energetic.
So don’t hold back. If you care about your topic, make sure the audience can tell just by looking at you.
Tags: body language, media training tips
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Reader Monica Miller Rodgers asks the following question:
“I notice you express your ideas with lots of hand movements (as do I). In media training, though, I have always taught clients to keep their hand movements below the waist to avoid getting gestures in the frame. I teach them to continue using their hands and not to hold them stiffly (then you just get odd shoulder movements), but to keep them low. What is your recommendation for this?”
First, let’s address the biggest downside of allowing gestures in the frame: They can, in some circumstances, be distracting. For example, if someone makes fast gestures, waves their hands near their face, or is wearing stacked bracelets that make noise every time they near the microphone, their gestures can distract the audience and prevent viewers from hearing their words.
But in my experience, those moments are not the norm. The vast majority of the time, speakers who gesture normally look more natural, which is the goal. When I’ve asked our trainees to restrict their hand movements, I’ve observed that they usually become duller—both in terms of their energy and their content.
I’ve concluded that asking people not to gesture—or to dramatically change the way they typically gesture—makes them slower of thought. There’s research to back up my conclusion. According to Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think by Susan Goldin Meadow:
“Gesturing can lighten a speaker’s cognitive load, thus saving effort to expend on other tasks. Moreover, gesturing may even affect the course of thought, making some ideas salient and others not. We may be changing what we think just by moving our hands.”
“Gesture and speech together form a single unified system and, within this system, are coexpressive. Both modalities contribute to a speaker’s intended meaning…Listeners carry out this same synthesis—in the process of speech comprehension, listeners synthesize the information presented in speech and in gesture to form a single unified representation.”
In other words, asking spokespersons to restrain their movements could inhibit both their own thinking and their connection with the audience.
I agree there are times when gestures pose a distraction. But from my perspective, the opposite problem—unnatural stiffness—is the bigger problem of the two. Thanks for your question, Monica!
Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on the blog? Please email us at Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: body language, gestures, Hearing Gesture, media training tips, Monica Miller Rodgers, presentation training tips
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You’ve just boarded a plane. You arrange your bags, remove your reading material, and say hello to the stranger who will be your seatmate for the next six hours. (For the purposes of this post, let’s assume your strategy isn’t to instantly put on your headphones and tune your neighbors out.)
The person seated next to you begins chatting with you and asks what you do for a living. “I’ve never heard of your company,” he says in response to your answer. “What is it?”
That moment—what I’ve dubbed “the plane test”—is a wonderful opportunity to test your brand messages. If your fellow passenger’s eyes glaze over at your response, you’ll know that your messages need some work. But if it leads to an interested reply and a relevant follow-up question, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Your seatmate is a free, one-person focus group. He or she will never know you’re testing different versions of your brand message on them. And you should take advantage of that opportunity every time.
When asked about their companies, most people deliver an uninspired “what” answer:
“Well, the Association for the Advancement of Arkansas Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with 25 employees working in four statewide offices to improve elementary and secondary education in Arkansas.”
By the time you said 501(c)3, your seatmate probably started wishing he had just pressed play on the in-flight movie.
There’s a better technique to describe your company called the “Why + What,” which I elaborated upon in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview. Here’s an example:
“In Arkansas, we rank 50th in the United States in high school graduation rates. That means our students are among the least prepared in the nation when entering the workforce and the most likely to live in poverty for the rest of their lives. The Association for the Advancement of Arkansas Education is dedicated to changing that and to making sure our students get the high-quality education they need to successfully compete in the global marketplace.”
That answer is more likely to provoke a “wow!” response and prompt a bevy of follow-up questions from your seatmate: Why is Arkansas last? What can you do about it? What, if anything, has been working? Can you really change that trend?
If your company, organization, group, or government agency has developed messages, test them at every opportunity possible. Your “plane test” may occur while you’re in flight, but it may also occur when you’re earthbound at a cocktail reception, your child’s school play, or your local grocery store.
Take advantage of those free, one-person focus groups—and revise your responses until you find the language that regularly produces a “wow.”
Tags: media training, media training messages, the plane test
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In the late 1990s, I was a producer for CNN’s Sunday public-affairs program, Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. Because Late Edition aired after all of the other Sunday public-affairs shows, one of my tasks each week was to watch the earlier programs to monitor what politicians were saying. If a politician said something interesting, I’d edit a video clip out of the quote so that Wolf could air it on the show.
I was always on the lookout for a politician saying something off message. Why? Because anything unscripted and off-the-cuff was inherently more interesting than the canned responses we always heard. And in a newsroom, a less scripted response will almost always be deemed more newsworthy.
Years later, I developed a name to describe that phenomenon: “the seven-second stray.” I call it that because if a spokesperson is on message for 59 minutes 53 seconds of an hour-long interview but says something off message for just seven seconds, I can virtually guarantee that the reporter will select that seven-second answer to play over and over again.
The seven-second stray can be deadly. Not only is it often damaging to your reputation, but it drowns out everything else you’ve said, becoming the only quote the audience will remember from your interview.
My choice of the word drown in the previous sentence is intentional. To help our clients avoid committing a seven-second stray, I often use the analogy of a lifeboat. If you’re facing tough questioning, I tell them, your message is your lifeboat. If you keep returning to your message and message supports—stories, statistics, and sound bites—it’s as if you’re swimming to the safety of the closest lifeboat. But if you stray off message, you’re treading water at best—if not drifting farther and farther away from the lifeboat until that inevitable (and entirely predictable) moment when you drown.
Case Study: BP CEO’s Infamous Seven-Second Stray
In April 2010, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and injuring 17 others. For 87 days, oil gushed from the seafloor, washing up on ecologically sensitive shorelines from Texas to Florida. The spill wrecked local economies, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. Fishermen were left without seafood to sell, hotels were left without guests, and restaurants were left without diners.
British Petroleum, the massive oil conglomerate responsible for the rig, took a daily beating in the press. The bad press had a devastating impact on the company: the oil giant quickly shed half of its worth, a loss of more than $100 billion.
As bad as the crisis was, the spill itself wasn’t responsible for the greatest harm to BP’s reputation. Rather, the company’s inept response, headed by CEO Tony Hayward, significantly deepened the damage. In a televised interview, Mr. Hayward famously quipped:
“There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.”
That stunningly tone-deaf seven-second stray, which slighted the deceased oil workers and newly unemployed workers, became a symbol of BP’s self-interested focus. Those five telling words, “I’d like my life back,” reinforced an irreversible narrative of a clueless company that just didn’t get it – and just didn’t care.
Mr. Hayward was forced out shortly after the spill ended, but it didn’t matter. The damage to BP had already been done.
Tags: media training tips
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