Making media training work for you

A recent opinion piece in Mumbrella, the marketing industry’s online newsletter, alleged that media training for clients was a complete waste of time. Such training rarely worked because clients were so over-prepared they came across as stilted and unnatural in interviews, full of fluff and ‘spin’. The article went on to say media training usually concentrated on covering potential crisis and ‘worst case scenarios’, so clients were unprepared to answer feel-good questions. Finally, all media trainers trained the same way and the uniformity of approach was dispiriting.

It’s disquieting that such criticisms arise because media training clients for me is a PR must. Nobody wants clients to face the media without feeling absolutely confident about their ability to handle the interview and get their message across.

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Media trainers obviously vary, but here are some tips on how to spot trainers who know their stuff:

  • Media training must be customised, one size never fits all. The best media trainers analyse, research and devise scenarios which meet and understand client needs, covering media possibilities ranging from the positive to negative.
  • Even the most seasoned media spokesperson gets nervous when faced with a beady-eyed journalist. Nerves usually stop an interview from coming across as forced, slick and over-rehearsed. But when you’re nervous, training goes a long way to settling butterflies and promoting confidence. In my experience, it’s rare to hear stilted responses to media questions (we can leave that to politicians!) The best interviews showcase interviewees who are passionate about what they’re saying and who persuade and convince both the journalist and the public of their position
  • ‘Spin’ never works because the media can see through it. Audiences are also increasingly sophisticated and are unmoved by blatant promotion. Similarly, lies will eventually be uncovered and can ruin an organisation’s reputation. Good media trainers understand this.
  • Just because someone wants to be a spokesperson and asks for media training doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best person for the job. Some CEOs come across as arrogant or out-of-touch and should be kept out of the media spotlight. It takes a brave media trainer to say so, but the best will ensure the right spokesperson puts across the company point of view.
  • If you are in the midst of a crisis and face the media without adequate training, do so at your peril. Facing the media is daunting but without proper preparation can leave you red-faced and empty-handed. Remember the former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, who made gaffe after gaffe after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010? Consultation and training before going live might have prevented a PR disaster.
  • Media training is also about establishing protocols for all staff within an organisation. If nurses and reception staff had been prepared and media-trained at London’s King Edward VII Hospital, they would not have succumbed to last week’s Summer 30 show media hoax. Protocol would have diverted all calls directed to the Duchess of Cambridge to a central press office and the ensuing tragedy may well have been averted.

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Seasoned media trainers understand both PR and media imperatives. And they also understand that each trainee is an individual. If you’re not sure about training content or a trainer’s pedigree – ask. It pays to do your research because the dangers of facing the media without comprehensive training definitely outweighs potential disadvantages.