Proper media training is essential for effective PR.
Knowing how to work with and through the media can produce tremendous benefits for a brand or personality. However, a single media miscue can also derail a promising campaign or brand message, sometimes seriously.
There are some key steps everyone should take when training for media appearances in 2020.
These apply to, essentially, everyone in every media situation:
· Research to know everything possible about the interviewer, the network, the platform and the audience
· Consider the type of questions that may be asked so you can prepare to field difficult questions which may be off topic or crafted for specific narratives
· Practice the priority message, including how to stay on point when the interview is steered in a different direction
· Have quick and memorable sound bites, facts, and key points ready so that the audience has something important and easy to remember
· Always have an answer, never say nothing or “next question”
· Keep eye contact with the interviewer, not the camera
· Wear appropriate clothing, as the image portrayed contributes to the message delivered, so send the right one
Knowing these steps and putting them into practice does not mean every media opportunity is one that should be accepted. No matter how good the opportunity sounds in the moment, take stock of the potential benefit versus the potential for negative or no results. It’s okay, in fact, it’s important, to ask two questions:
1. Is this media appearance worth my time?
2. Will it do more harm than good?
There are often times when a well-written statement will serve better than an unscripted interview. This is especially true if the brand in question is in a crisis PR position. If there’s controversy, or if the brand or a principle with the brand is being called on to address a hot button or a controversy, write out the response, and start from there before anyone goes on camera. The key here is to establish and maintain control of the message.
If the media appearance is a good opportunity, understand the role the brand is to play in that media report. Often, media outlets have prepped their audience, especially if there’s conflict or controversy in the story. Someone has already been hinted at or outright cast as the “bad guy” in the scenario. Brand managers and PR pros need to understand if they are the designated villain before the cameras start rolling.
Once it’s been decided that the brand representative will appear on the record, learn everything about the journalist conducting the interview. Do they have an angle or an agenda? Do they have a history of playing it straight, or do they like stirring the pot or drumming up controversy? What sort of questions do they like to ask? In what order, and with what sort of tone? These factors reveal quite a lot about how an interview is likely to go.
Role play and practicing the best answers to the most likely questions. Don’t pull any punches here. Get serious, because it’s likely the journalist is not going to keep their gloves on. Understand how to shift the difficult questions back to the preferred narrative and seed the answers with easy to remember stats and sound bites for the audience.
Preparation like this takes work and practice. It’s not just about scripting the most likely questions and offering boilerplate non-answers. This isn’t engaging and it will turn the audience against the PR rep.
Understand that the two agendas in play may diverge more than they overlap. Coming in, the brand rep or PR pro has an agenda, a story they want to tell. The journalist does as well. Whether they are acting on the directive of an assignment editor or producer, or they simply have their own take on the situation, assuming that perspective and the one the brand prefers are the same is a bad move.
But don’t push back against their agenda. Learn to work with it and around it. A confrontational pose should only be taken on purpose, never as the result of the PR pro trying to out think or out-maneuver the interviewer. Remember, the message is for the audience, not the interviewer, but that audience often has a connection to that interviewer. Don’t accidentally step on that connection.
To sum it all up: do quality research, know the questions in advance, practice the best answers, stay on message, deliver easy to remember sound bites, always have an answer, talk to the audience, respect their feelings and look your best.