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Unfair and Unbalanced

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Does Everyone Need Media Training?


I was a late convert to the notion of media training. Coming from a journalism background and having transgressed to the "dark side," I thought media training was a make work function, invented by flacks to expand their expensive services and boost billable hours. What little i actually knew about media training involved "staying on message," or "how to bridge to your message" - obvious techniques employed by politicians and corportate executives to avoid questions, pitch themselves or their services, and generally act evasively and arrogantly. I couldn't see how these approaches could help build trust and transparency with reporters.

Well, I was right about that but wrong about media training overall. After more than a decade in PR I've seen how media training can really help even the most media savvy executive or individual. I've witnessed and helped coax dramatic transformations from people who originally had no business being in front of a camera or microphone to someone who could take on Mike Wallace if they had to (when he was alive). 


But I still never got the "stay on message," "bridge to the message" mantra of most media trainers. Reporters are hip to this strategy and all it does is breed suspicion and frustration and that doesn't help the subject in any way.

I teach a less adversarial apporach that works on fostering trust and good relationships first and the message is actually secondary. I take tips from Eric Bergman's At Ease With the Mediaprogram which advises that traditional "bridging" puts spokespeople at risk. How? One of the most typical complaints from subjects after they see their statements reported in the media are that they were "misquoted." But with ubiquitous video cameras and tape recorders and note taking it's actually rare that someone is really misquoted. Instead the risk for spokespeople involves the "out of context," issue where one might be quoted accurately but the comments appear without proper context. Bergman says that constantly bridging to your message and not directly answering questions increases the risk that you'll be taken out of context. He advises, as do I, that subjects simply answer the questions asked and then stop talking. Or, more directly, shut up.

I've found that Bergman's PAS technique ("Pause, Answer, Stop Talking) is THE most effective way of managing an interview and building good relationships with reporters. 

But it's not easy to master. People, and especially senior business executives, seem to be born with an innate desire to fill silences with more talking and that's when the context risks are increased. Learning how to answer questions and stop talking is difficult but also allows the reporters to ask more questions - thus increasing the likelihood that you'll be able work your message in somewhere.

Now, who benefits from media training? Well, everyone. Think for a minute about how you might at a moment's notice be thrust into the media limelight. When a reporter calls you or visits you for an interview, regardless of how brief, they will come armed with a game plan, sometimes including tricks to make you say something you shouldn't (see "One Free Lesson in Media Relations"). Therefore it is imperative that you also have a game plan and that means spending at least a short amount of time reviewing issues and potential responses with an experienced media trainer, preferably one who has spent a significant amount of time on the other side (moi?). You wouldn't hear Bill Bellichick say "oh, I'm confident we can handle this week's opponent, we don't really need a game plan or need to bother rehearsing a strategy." 

If you're thinking about media training for yourself or someone you know please take my Media Training Survey (you'll be rewarded with some entertaining videos of bad examples of media interviews), and contact us for a free consultation.



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