In the previous column, “Being –
and Staying – ‘On Message,” we discussed the importance of
ensuring that your company’s key messages are heard and understood when
communicating to your organization’s key audiences -- customers and
prospects; business and sales partners; employees and stakeholders;
government and regulatory bodies; and the media and analyst communities.
Being “on message” simply means being able to
utilize your key messages as the basis or part of these communications.
Being “on message” means that the messages are delivered clearly and
consistently so that the media, for example, gains a precise understanding
of the company’s viewpoint or positioning.
Unfortunately, too many times in both my experience
as a journalist and marketing professional I have experienced having to
decipher the answer to a question posed by the media, rather than hearing
an answer that was clear, concise and readily understandable. Too many times, the point (or “key
message”) has been buried deep inside the answer, like a pearl in an
oyster, waiting to be discovered.
To ensure your company’s success with the media, it
is important to avoid this type of situation. It is essential to dedicate the time and
effort needed to make your spokesperson comfortable with your key
messages. This is truly a case where
practice makes perfect. And the best
way to begin to practice is through formal media training. In this process, an outside expert or
team of experts is brought into the company for a half- or full-day
session that provides both the theory and hands-on practice of speaking to
Media training, I believe, is one of most
misunderstood and therefore underutilized tools in the marketing toolbox. It is the key to making a company
spokesperson -- whether loquacious or reticent -- speak clearly to the
media. Let me explain what goes into
a media training session so that you can see clearly why it is so
The best media training experts have more than two
decades of experience helping prepare thousands of individuals from around
the world to face the news media. They
bring decades of experience with some of the biggest names in the media
industry, understand how stories are conceived and structured in major
newsrooms as well as how your company is likely to be positioned in them. Because they’ve been active in the news
industry, they’ve asked the tough questions, been on the other side and
can anticipate many of the answers that will be demanded of your
PLANNING THE TRAINING
Well in advance of the actual training session, the media trainer
works with your company directly or with your in-house or agency public
relations liaison to make optimal use of your training session. Usually, the trainer will ask for bios of
the participants as well as a personal “take” on their strengths and
He or she will also ask you to focus on what you’d
like your spokesperson to accomplish in the training. Should the emphasis be on speaking to
print or broadcast press? If it is
broadcast, will he or she be speaking primarily on TV or radio? If print, will he or she be talking
primarily to the trade, business or consumer press? Will the interviews be conducted
primarily in person or over the phone? Is
there a specific announcement your company is gearing up for or are your
needs more ongoing?
The media trainer also asks for guidance to ensure
that the mock interview sessions are relevant to your spokesperson’s
responsibilities and needs. He or
she may ask you to supply a few samples of recent press coverage for your
company or industry as well as a summary of the issues facing your company
and your industry. In addition, the
media trainer may ask for suggested “starter” questions that can be
raised during the mock interview sessions.
The training usually takes place at a
conference room at the company. Typical
supplies are an easel and flip chart as well as a video camera, VCR and
monitor since the mock interview sessions are tape recorded.
WHAT GOES ON
The session usually begins with an informal chat. As your trainer and trainees get to know
each other, it becomes apparent to the trainer where the trainees will
need the most work. Is the client a
“natural communicator?” Are they
shy or reticent? Or do they have the
opposite problem -- do they “over-explain” or share too much? The best media trainers have learned to
recognize the many different types of communicators and how best to help
them in the context of media training.
Next, the media trainer then explains the methodology
that he or she will be using. This
can take the format of an informal “classroom lecture” with questions
and answers from the trainees or may consist of a more formal presentation
with handouts. The methodology can
be adjusted slightly depending on whether the training is for print media,
broadcast or both. But the overall
strategies should remain largely the same, regardless of media.
Next come the hands-on interview practice sessions. The structure of these sessions can vary
from group sessions to brief one-on-one sessions to several intensive
(two-hour) sessions. All interviews
are videotaped for a critique which follows.
The trainee gets to watch him or herself on video to hear how each
question was answered and see his or her physical appearance (or “body
language”) during the interview process.
Interviews and critiques continue for as many rounds
as time allows. These rounds may
vary by content (different hypothetical story lines), format (print vs.
broadcast), media category (“consumer press” vs. “trade press”),
level of urgency (“feature story” vs. “crisis”) and level of
difficulty (“soft” vs. “tough” vs. “hostile”).
In most cases, the entire group goes through one
round of interview/critiques before returning for subsequent rounds. In some cases, however, it’s more
efficient from a scheduling standpoint to have each individual go through
two or three rounds at a time.
At the end of each mock interview session, the media
trainer reviews the improvements through the various rounds of interviews. As positive reinforcement, the
trainer will often direct the trainee to particular points in the mock
interviews that capture the client at his or her best.
s desirable, but not always necessary or even possible schedule-wise, for
the group to reconvene en masse when all the interviews and critiques are
complete. The trainees can
then share their experiences with the rest of the group, offering the
opportunity for additional questions and answers as well as guidance from
Media training is one of the essential keys to successfully communicating
with the media. In the next
column, we will look at the “real world” application of your
company’s key messages in the media arena.
With his unique
"both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savicky’s
advice and counsel on public relations and marketing has been sought after
by some of America’s largest corporations and best-known brands.
He has designed strategic plans, managed communications programs and
obtained major news coverage for such Fortune 500 companies as IBM,
Fujifilm, Motorola and Sony, early stage companies like Arbinet, Dialogic
and Juno as well as startups like Barnesandnoble.com, ClubMom.com, New
Paradigm Software and Viaweb. As President of Strategy +
Communications Worldwide, he helps companies gain mindshare and
win market share by improving their communications to their key audiences
through the use of outside experts. He welcomes your comments and
questions on how to put his ideas to work and can be reached at (516)
467-4122 or [email protected].
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