InsightsPOSTED November 19, 2018

Time to rewrite the guide to media training spokespeople

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media training

Sounds bites? I have no patience for them.

Repetitive brand mentions?  Stop already, it’s serving no one, including you.

Answer the question?  No, pre-empt the damn question.

Interviews via email?  Please, this is generally unhelpful to the reporter and to your brand story.  Can we just speak with the media already?

I don’t have to tell anyone that newsrooms in Canada have changed radically in the last five years.  Newsroom staff and resources have been cut by approximately 65 per cent.  Except for a small minority, the beat reporter is becoming extinct.  A journalist will be assigned a beat, but she’ll likely only hold it for months rather than years and she’ll have one or two (or more) peripheral beats to monitor, to say nothing of management’s expectations to nurture a personal brand.  So yes, the work, expectations and job of a journalist in Canada is more demanding than ever.

Yet, how we coach spokespeople has been stuck in a time warp, changing hardly at all.  That’s not fair to clients and it’s certainly not helpful to the reporters we work with.  Because contrary to many cynical bystanders, a well-coached area expert or spokesperson will help the editorial integrity of the ensuing story rather than muddy it with incessant key messages and brand mentions.

Yes, we need to put the brand and its spokesperson in the best possible light, but to achieve this, you must first deliver the news.  And unless you’re talking about a major M&A, a rebranding or some other industry shifting move good or bad, the brand is often not the news.  Sorry, I hate to break it to you, but it’s true.

That’s my core beef with conventional media training. It coaches would be spokespeople to promote a series of key messages, products or services in a technically sound manner, but not in a compelling newsworthy way.  It’s more about training people to survive an interview with one’s credibility intact than to deliver a story that actually moves the bar on a brand’s business objective and reputation.

Why are we putting our clients in front of the media in the first place?  To spark a productive and meaningful dialogue with would be customers, business prospects, employees and/or stakeholders.  Otherwise, its an exercise in ego.

Well media trained area experts and spokespeople understand some critical 21st century principles:

  1. News and newsworthiness needs tension and you must serve it to reporters on a silver platter at the top of the interview.
  2. A media interview is very similar to leading a standard business meeting — if it’s your meeting, you lead the agenda towards a desired outcome. The same holds true for a media interview.  It’s your interview, so lead it.
  3. A media interview tells a story that has a linear flow. It’s not about concise sound bites, a flood of data or random key messages.  In fact, when you master this formula you can make any proactively negotiated media interview 99.9 per cent predictable and effective.
  4. There are tools for you to bridge “fork in the road” issues or questions with agility, confidence and authority.
  5. And finally, you must be motivated and enthusiastic to participate in the exchange in the first place.

There is obviously a lot more that goes into the making of an effective, credible and sought after area expert or spokesperson, including a lot of practice and experience.  But the skills required today are very different from the ones needed a decade or even five years ago.  The game has fundamentally changed, so should your media training.

Kenneth Evans is managing partner at APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital and the agency’s in-house media trainer.

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