Media Training What It Is and Why It Just Might Save You

Let’s start with what Media Training is not.

It’s not spin.

Media Training isn’t designed to teach those in the public eye how not to deal with the obvious, avoid blame or dance around difficult truths.

What media training DOES do is help level the playing field for those facing the media, either for themselves or on behalf of others. To those outside the process, media training may seem like a way to “manage” the media. In fact, those inside the process know better than to think the media can be managed. The goal of media training is to teach management of your message to the public through the media. Managing the message is not the reporters’ job-It’s the job of the subject being interviewed.

In truth, saying what you want to say in the way you want to say it to a reporter is not an easy thing to do. No matter how substantial your title, how great a record of success or your level of confidence, it’s not easy to face a reporter’s questions. Every reporter has a war chest of stories of supposedly “slick” interview subjects coming unglued over the idea of the public learning what they just said, rather than what they meant to say.

As the subject of the media interview, you don’t control the context, the questions asked, or what others might say about you, and for those used to being in control, that’s not a pleasant prospect. That’s why there are so many examples of executives, managers and even very public figures who simply avoid speaking to the media directly. Others who can’t avoid it sometimes try to manage their communications by selecting only those reporters, subjects and situations deemed “friendly.” At best, that approach works only for a limited time (until the public catches on or the media catches the interviewee off-guard). It means missed opportunities to reach a broader audience. Attempts to avoid the media may even become the story.

So what do those in the public eye learn through media training? There are three basics any good media training should provide:

1. How to deliver a message:
If you’re going to be effective with the media, you have to learn about developing and delivering messages. Most reporters aren’t interested in making their subjects look good-they’re interested in getting a story whether it makes the subject look good or not. Messaging shows you how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter while doing no harm to your reputation.

2. How to get the attention you want and deal with the attention you don’t:
On the other side of the coin from those who avoid the media at all costs are those who can’t find their way into the public eye. The media regularly conduct interviews that never see the light of day. Often, it’s because the subject being interviewed didn’t have anything of interest to say. Media Training shows you how to become a quotable source for reporters, helping to increase the scope and the quality of your coverage. You learn how to deal with difficult situations as well, without circling the wagons.

3. How to help different reporters tell your story effectively:
The media, be they print or broadcast, work in definable and predictable ways. Understanding the rules increases your effectiveness and your control over what gets covered and how it gets covered.

Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through repeated practice. That takes specific scenarios and realistic mock interviews of all kind: television; radio; print and on-line mediums. Trade and industry reporters may be interested in different things than wire service reporters or television reporters and all reporters use a variety of techniques. A good media trainer understands those differences and prepares trainees for the kinds of media they’re most likely to be dealing with.

Finally, Media Training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of communicating the public statement. It gives companies, organizations and individuals the confidence of knowing how to tell their stories most effectively to their audiences. A confident public figure is one, first and foremost, willing to engage in communication. It not only can help make reputations and save them; it makes common sense as well. After all, who so ever seeks the public’s ear would be wise to know what to do when they have it.

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, a media training firm in Washington DC. A former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and communications executive, Aileen and her staff train corporate, government and non-profit executives and public figures in the art of communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com.

Media Training – Why Those in the Public Eye Need It

Media Training is simply a way of giving those in the public eye the vital tools they need to tell their story effectively to the public. Companies, organizations and public figures already know the importance of their public reputations. Many hire public relations companies to supplement their own staff’s efforts at driving more media interest in their products, services or capabilities. Media Training insures that when reporters do call, executives and spokespeople they speak with are fully prepared to deliver.

So why can’t spokespeople, CEO’s, researchers, elected and appointed officials and others simply tell their stories and let the chips fall where they may? The results of that approach are exactly why so many in the public arena are afraid to get within 50 yards of a reporter. Misquotes, misunderstandings and worse are the price of a lack of knowledge about the media and how it operates.

So what is learned in media training? There are three basics any good media training should provide:

1. How to deliver a message:
If you’re going to be effective with the media, you have to learn about developing and delivering messages. Reporters aren’t interested in making their subjects look good-they’re interested in getting a story. Messaging shows you how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter.

2. How to get quoted:
The media regularly conduct interviews that never see the light of day because the subject wasn’t quotable. Media Training shows you how to become a quotable source for reporters, thereby increasing the scope and the quality of your coverage.

3. What different reporters need to tell your story effectively:
The media, be they print or broadcast, work in definable ways. Understanding the rules increases your effectiveness and your control over what gets covered and how it gets covered.

Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through a variety of paces. That takes realistic scenarios and mock interviews of all kinds: television; radio; print and on-line mediums. Trade and industry reporters may be interested in different things than wire service reporters or television reporters. A good media trainer understands those differences and prepares trainees for the kinds of media they’re most likely to be dealing with.

Finally, Media Training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of the public statement. It gives companies, organizations and individuals the confidence to know how to tell their stories most effectively to the world. And what organization couldn’t use that kind of enhanced communication skill when the media knocks on their door?

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group, a media training firm near Washington DC. A former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and communications executive, Aileen and her staff train corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com.

Media Training: Coaching Tips for Media Interviews A media training guide for today’s executive

Ever notice how the media tends to interview the same experts time and time again? Have you wondered if those executives have better communications staff, take advantage of personal media contacts, or are maybe just plain lucky to get that much free publicity for their interests?

Whatever else those executives have going for them, you can be sure they’ve learned one thing: what the media wants.

An executive who is accessible, quotable and knowledgeable is every reporter’s dream. When reporters find a source like that, from any field, they’re sure to add that executive’s name to their Rolodex and keep him or her there.

Some senior executives so loathe public appearances, they will leave all interaction with the media and indeed the general public, to a paid company spokesperson. Whether that spokesperson is a “hired gun” from a public relations firm, or an internal staff member, the message that person delivers can never be as powerful as the one coming from a senior executive of the company itself. That executive is the one with power to affect change and who can speak with the most authority on any given issue. While the media will air or quote what a spokesperson has to say if they have no other choice, a company spokesperson is never as desirable a “get” for a reporter as a corporate executive on the front lines.

Lack of access and public accountability by senior executives can be a distinct disadvantage especially at times of crisis.

Because there is more to gain for a senior executive who speaks to the public through reporters, there’s more to lose as well. There are scores of examples of the ill-timed remark or emotional outburst devastating personal and corporate reputations in a moment. But for those executives who understand their role in shaping a corporate image, and who can communicate ideas effectively to a reporter, the rewards are great. That’s why media training ought to be a requirement for any senior executive responsible for their company’s reputation and image.

So how do executives cut through the noise and win positive coverage in a much-coveted place in the media spotlight? Here are some tips that media savvy executives already know:

Accessibility counts (a lot): If you’re going to work with the media, you’re going to have to accept that reporters live by the deadline. That means the interview they absolutely must have is the one they need now. If you’re going to accept the interview, accept it immediately. Then you can buy yourself as much time as you can to prepare.

Interview the interviewer: Any legitimate reporter will have no problem answering a few questions before the interview that will help you prepare for it. Ask the reporter what he or she wants you to contribute, who else has been or will be interviewed, and when the reporter’s deadline is.

Know what you want to say: This is called messaging and it’s a vital part of the process of speaking to any reporter. You are not speaking with a reporter just to answer their questions. (Even the reporter doesn’t believe that!) This is your opportunity to deliver a message of your own. Take it!

Less is more: Speaking to reporters requires getting down to the bottom line as quickly, and as quotably, as you can. Deliver the supportive data, facts and backup information after you’re sure you’ve delivered your bottom-line message. Try to make your message as accessible as you can to the greatest number of people (no jargon!)

Practice, practice, and practice: It takes a while to get comfortable with it all, developing messages, reducing your messages to a few well-spoken statements, and staying on message through questions. The more you do it, the better you will get. Start out with as many small, local and friendly outlets and forums as you can. No matter which reporters you speak to, follow the same process.

Enjoy yourself: No, seriously! It’s possible. When you’re confident, it’ll show. Give reporters what they want-access, good quotes and reliable information-and you’ll be accessing opportunities for yourself and your company to tell the world about your story.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and p.r. executive who now leads her own Washington D.C. area firm, training public and private executives in the art of communications..

Selecting A Media Trainer

Is your media trainer qualified? Here’s how to make sure the media training expert you select knows the score.

We hope you’ll select The Pincus Group, of course, but regardless of whom you select for your media training, here are some criteria to help you make the right choice:

 

PICK A MEDIA TRAINER WHO HAS WORKED IN THE MEDIA

Sounds simple enough, but don’t assume your trainer has real world experience. Some so-called “media trainers” have never set foot in a newsroom. Some have backgrounds in public relations, sales, marketing or even entertainment—but if the best experience your trainer has is coming in contact with reporters—find another trainer. Interacting with the media is a ‘full contact’ sport, often with much at stake. There are good, qualified media trainers available: trainers who come to training after a career in journalism. Find one, and you will find a trainer who knows the real story about what you’ll need to deliver a successful, powerful interview.

 

DON’T PICK A MEDIA TRAINER WHO HAS ONLY WORKED IN THE MEDIA

Finding a media trainer with real media experience is essential, but don’t stop there. Your trainer simply has to have experience working on the other side of the fence to be truly effective. That’s because reporters are famously unconcerned about the consequences of their stories. Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority are not advocates and simply don’t care whether you’re harmed or helped as a result of their story. As the interviewee, of course, you care a great deal. That’s why it’s important to be sure your media coach understands both worlds, the media’s perspective and yours, as the subject of media interest. Find a trainer with at least some experience in advocacy communications, either as a spokesperson or in some other role. You want a trainer with knowledge of the practical tools of media interaction: messaging and positioning. Don’t engage a media trainer who has never dealt with those tools or with the aftermath of a media interview gone wrong.

 

BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

The largest public relations and management training firms say they offer media training in their portfolio of services. They do, after a fashion. Media training is a special expertise however and one few large firms invest in. If you choose a big firm, make sure you check the credentials of the person slated to do your training. Dig deep to assure yourself the trainer is a seasoned media professional—someone with advocacy and media experience—not just a member of the account team or a trainer who has only watched reporters at work.

 

EXPERIENCE COUNTS, BUT NOT ALL EXPERIENCE COUNTS EQUALLY

Look for a media trainer who is a good match for your specific needs. If you’re preparing for print interviews only, a media trainer with experience limited to the broadcast media won’t be the best choice. If television interviews are on your agenda, make sure your trainer understands that TV reporters aren’t just print reporters who use pictures. If you’re playing in the big leagues, don’t assume your trainer understands the very rough and tumble world of the major markets. Find a trainer with the expertise you need for the types of media encounters you specifically want to prepare for: from small markets to the majors, from trade papers to general interest. ASK if your trainer is experienced in preparing for live remotes as well as taped interviews, ambush interviews as well as press conferences.

 

FIND A MEDIA TRAINER YOU CAN TRUST AND THEN TRUST THEM

If dealing with the media were easy, there’d be no need for media trainers. In reality, even those who interact with the media regularly can get into trouble over something they said or didn’t say to a reporter. It takes time and effort to move from basic techniques to the delivery of really powerful, effective interviews and the confidence to know the difference. Stay away from any media coach who promises you’ll be ready to take on “60 Minutes” after an hour of their “coaching”. If you don’t have internal staff to help keep you on track with new skills, make sure your trainer is available for follow-up help. An effective trainer builds confidence through positive reinforcement and honest and direct feedback. He or she has to be experienced enough to identify your needs, and confident enough to guide you toward real improvement. A good media trainer is like a good reporter: professional, tough, and fair (even if you hope they’re not staying for dinner).

 

CHECK FOR RESULTS

This is not an academic exercise: results count. Ask for references. Choose a media trainer the way you’d choose your doctor—do some homework. After all, this is the professional who will help you maintain the health of your reputation and the success of your career.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and p.r. executive who now leads her own Washington D.C. area firm, training public and private executives in the art of communications..

The Messenger: Friend or Foe in a Crisis? Why Executives Who Should Know Better, Get It Wrong

The media make a tempting target for those in crisis.

When gaffe-prone Pennsylvania Governor Rendell found himself in the middle of a firestorm of his own making, his immediate response was to blame the media.

Rendell claimed he’d been taken “out of context” after telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board many white voters in Pennsylvania were “not ready to vote” for an African American for president. The Associated Press then picked up the story, giving it national attention. Constituents were angry at Rendell for portraying them as small-minded bigots,while those in Hillary Clinton’s camp felt Rendell had further stoked the simmering race issue. (Rendell was an early Clinton supporter before backing Obama).

Instead of issuing a forthright apology, Rendell gave one exasperated interview after another, blaming the media for essentially repeating his words. His spokesperson added fuel by saying Rendell was “just being realistic.” (Obama carried Pennsylvania handily, with women voters giving Obama a whopping 18% margin).

Now consider the case of another chief executive in trouble, former Governor Rob Blagojevich. Blagojevich launched a national tour, hoping a media appeal would save him from impeachment on charges of abuse of power. While media outlets from the Today Show to MSNBC were more than happy to accommodate the flamboyant politician with air time, the results only worsened public perceptions. The media tour finally culminating in David Lettermen telling the hapless pol to his audience’s delight: “You know, the more you repeated your innocence, the more I said to myself, ‘oh this guy is guilty.’”

Both Rendell and Blagojevich made a classic mistake in trying to use the media for their own ends. The media is neither friend nor foe—and cannot be a reliable foil or life preserver for those in crisis. Both politicians would have benefited from following the first rule of crisis communications, and one that can be followed regardless of one’s standing in the media: When in a hole, stop digging. To that I’d add: and don’t expect the media to do anything but keep an eye on which way you shovel.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.
www.thepincusgroup.com