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.