When it comes to representing your company through the media, it's simply not good enough to perform well—it's critical to inform, persuade, and "entertain" in a fashion that is easily digestible and translatable. The sad thing is, those who probably need media training the most are likely the same folks who believe they don't need it.
Bottom line: Everyone needs it.
How you are perceived and how you present yourself, both on-camera and onstage, is a critical point in the branding of both you and your organization. It's essential to come across in a fashion consistent with how you want others to perceive you, and with what you want the target audiences to come away understanding. Media training may be the best investment for your long-term brand health.
Here's a pragmatic reason to consider: You've invested time and money into a general publicity and public relations campaign. You've done your research, you've crafted your key messages, you've pitched your story, and…pow! You secured the interview. And it's a train wreck. Because the interview went poorly, all the work put in to securing that interview has likely been lost. Good luck working with that reporter or publication again, as this bad performance costs you and your organization as a whole your reputation.
It's just not worth the risk. So practice, rehearse, and practice again. Media training is ongoing, but media training bootcamp should be mandatory before any program is launched, certainly once a year and done for anyone that would have the opportunity or be positioned for an interview or presentation.
Some general tips:
1. While not every media outlet will provide questions in advance, it doesn't hurt to ask. Certainly, before agreeing to the interview, make sure you have a solid understanding of the publication and a general demographic of readers. Then do yourself a favor: Read the pub and get familiar with it before you pitch them or do the interview.
2. Most reporters will want you to explain or expound with specifics on a given topic. Be prepared in advance with what you believe will be asked, and rehearse how you plan to answer those questions. Don't obfuscate—just be honest. If you don't know the answer, don't make it up on the fly. Simply say, "I don't have that information readily available, but I'm happy to get back to you." And do get back to them.
3. While acknowledging the media outlet you're speaking with likely isn't interested in being your personal promoter, understand you'll need to be flexible on topics and direction. Roll with it, and don't be so rigid in your responses that you keep coming back to the same mundane sound bites. This is a surefire way to end up on the cutting-room floor. Just because you have three key messages, doesn't mean that each answer has to start and end with one of them. Weave them in comfortably and confidently, rather than using them as the one and only talking point. The best interviews are based on compelling answers to specific questions, with key messages woven in seamlessly.
This is where most media interviews break down. The subject is so hell-bent on sales speak or jargon, or over-reliant on key messages, the reporter just doesn't get what she needs. Journalists are trained to ask similar questions in different ways, with a general framework already in mind for the story they're writing. Work with that, not against it.
4. Use triggers in your discussion. When a reporter asks a really good question, tell them so. It's good for their ego, and it gives you a second to think cogently about the question and give a knockout answer. Triggers can be exceptionally effective, such as, "If you don't take anything else away from this interview, make sure you understand this point." Also, call the reporter by their first name often during the interview. It works well, shows respect, and—particularly on radio—sounds really good. It also shows you're paying attention to the reporter.
5. Answer the question…then shut up. Most people ramble on and on, but when a reporter asks a question, don't feel compelled to fill "dead air." Answer the question succinctly and wait for the next one. Don't feel the need to fill an entire interview by launching into a diatribe off the first question. No one wants to hear you go on for 10 minutes when all the reporter asked was, "Tell me about your company."
6. Speak slowly. Most reporters don't have bionic hands with which to write down your answers. Speaking clearly and slowly will allow a reporter to more accurately quote and capture what you're saying. This is true for radio and television as well, so practice in front of a mirror and with a video camera. Review your performance and have someone who can be objective and honest with you (probably not your mom, and definitely not a subordinate). This alone is worth hiring an agency for—just be sure they have expertise in media and media training.
7. Here's an overlooked aspect of media training, but probably the simplest and least expensive thing you can do: After the interview, send a follow-up thank-you note. It's the best 42 cents you'll ever spend.
Of course, there are dozens more things to consider: what to wear, how to stand, what make-up to use (and not use), etc. So if you weren't born in front of a camera, do yourself and your brand a favor and invest in some fresh media training. You never know when that next crisis may come and the microphone is thrust in your face-and that's hardly the best time for on-the-job training.
Rodger Roeser is president and founder of the public relations firm Eisen Management Group.