In today’s era of pervasive communications media, senior executives, public officials, consultants, politicians and leaders of all types of groups cannot avoid facing the media at one time or another.
Whether you operate at provincial or local government level, hold a position in a listed or educational organisation, at some time a microphone or tape recorder will be thrust in front of you and you will be required to make a statement that will be read, heard or seen by thousands or even millions of people.
Using the media is also a wonderful opportunity to build your organisation’s reputation, and to add to your organisation’s messages and further the organisation’s marketing efforts.
However when you face the media, nothing you learned in your career training, on the job, or even in a fancy MBA program prepares you. Media interviews involve techniques of questioning and editing of responses that are not taught in university or management courses.
Journalists are trained in how to ask probing and often in – your-face type questions. They also are familiar with sophisticated editing facilities and techniques that can extract segments of what you say, or join statements together which can alter the context and even the entire meaning of your comments. They are taught investigative techniques, just like detectives.
Spokespersons for organisations and companies often naively face media interviews ill-equipped for the dynamic communication and publicity opportunity that media interviews provide. In most interviews, the journalist is holding all the cards. It need not be so. Some basic tips and training can equip you to get your points across in an interview and minimise misreporting and misquoting. If you talk to the media now, or are likely to do so in the future, you need to be prepared.
All your dealings with the media must be with strategic intent.
To achieve this, you need to understand that:
There is a distinct need for senior management and staff to receive media awareness training as opposed to practical spokesperson coaching. Let me explain. Companies traditionally appoint two to three spokespersons. The spokespeople (who are carefully chosen), need to receive hands on practical training in front of cameras, microphones and live audiences. This type of training is extremely expensive and time intensive and is normally conducted in a studio. Some trainers put spokespersons on the spot and then proceed to show them their weaknesses. This often breaks down people self-confidence levels and should be avoided (You cannot build on sand). Spokesperson training should be positive and uplifting and conducted in simulated environments.
However they also need “contextual” training – training that will add to their understanding but that will be added on in a studio later.
In my own capacity, I work with senior management & staff that needs media awareness understanding. I teach them a context so that they understand the media stakeholder, how they operate and how to conduct themselves in a media interview situation. This is normally different to those people who speak to the media on a continual basis. It is better to use local providers such as specialized media training coaches for that type of training. It is more cost-effective as long as it is built on a base of solid understanding.
Often senior management are the people who have to formulate the messages that spokespersons need to convey or decide on an approach in dealing with the media. They therefore need to understand the media stakeholder, so that these messages and chance interactions with the media will be positive and uplifting.
My favourite saying is that media relations need to be approached with strategic intent and if you do not know the rules of the game, how can you play it.
I believe that my recommended two-tier approach is the best for building sound media relations and reputation capacity in the organisation. To this end, I present a one-day workshop called Media Survival Skills. In this workshop, we cover media awareness, understanding and the seven tools for better media interviews and various powerful and useful tips and suggestions. The day involves pulling newspapers apart, theoretical inputs, skill practices and case study analysis.
Footnote – The title refers to working with ‘organized’ media. The reason is that we need to separate organized media from the fact that there are people who have the tools to be publishers and conveyors of information without understanding journalistic principles, so the so-called rising of the citizen reporter. Read my other blog post – The Tools exist to Do Damage