Your address will show here +12 34 56 78
Media Training, Uncategorised
Most people are anxious about what they can and can’t say to a journalist during a media interview and that’s quite understandable. After all, once you’ve said it, it’s out there – read, listened to or watched by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. In our media training courses people often express concern not about saying the wrong thing. But they’re also interested in what they can do in a positive way, what they can say to grab the interest of the journalist.


To help meet these concerns at the start of our media coaching sessions we’ll look at what makes a story and what motivates journalists. This means that, working with their PR teams, interviewees can ensure that they say the things that the journalist will be interested in thereby gaining more control of the interview and reducing the risk of said journalist pushing them into dangerous territory in the quest for a story. We help our participants to gain control of the interview.

Five good things to say to a journalist

So, here are five things you can say to a journalist to get their attention and increase the chance of your having more control of the interview and the final report.

“What really struck me about this is…”
It’s a good idea to flag up a key point to a journalist. It might be obvious to you that something is the most interesting or important aspect of what you’re talking about but don’t expect the journalist to know it too. This is especially true of general reporters or, as is often the case, an interviewer who has just been given the story to write with minimal research. (We’re not lazy, by the way, we’re just overworked as newsroom budgets have been slashed – just wanted to make that clear!)

“What people don’t always realise is that…”
Essentially the job of a journalist is to tell people things that they didn’t know that they might find interesting. So, if you can show that something is little known, that the audience might even be labouring under a misapprehension or that they’ll gain some competitive advantage by knowing this fact you’ll have the attention of the journalist that you’re speaking to. This also ticks that “unusual” box that the media loves so much.


“In my experience…”

One of the main reasons why we’re coming to talk to you is your experience. The more practical and recent it is the better for us, so emphasise this when you talk to journalists. We do a lot of media training for law firms, for instance, and so we always encourage them to pass on to journalists what they’re telling clients. Not only does this show that they’re working at the coalface of this business and that they’re very much aware of latest the developments and trends but it also provides tips and advice for our audience. Anything that ticks the “What’s In It For Me?” box is great for our audience is also great for us. As we say to the lawyers that we do media coaching for – you don’t have to give people full legal advice, just a few thoughts so that they’ll realise that you know what you’re talking about and pick up the phone to instruct you.


“One thing to watch out for is…”

Again, this could be about tips and advice but really it ticks the “trouble” box that journalists love. Bad news, risks, dangers are threats are meat and drink to the media. Depressing? Annoying? Perhaps, but the fact is that they grab people’s attention. They fire up the amygdala, the flight-or-fight instinct that is located deep in our animal brains. The other reason why journalists like this kind of phrase and what follows it is that giving warnings and highlighting threats also usually involves offering advice and tips – something that, as we’ve said above, is always good for media interviews, and something that we stress in our media training courses.

“Let me give you an example…”
There’s nothing, well, almost nothing, anyway, that journalists love more than an example, a story, an anecdote or a case study. As soon as you’re giving an example or telling a story, provided that it’s relevant to the audience, the interviewer will shut up and listen – and not start to look for trouble. Giving examples and saying, “for instance,” is something that we do all the time in conversations with family, friends and colleagues. But, for some reason, people often forget to use these basic building blocks of communication or don’t feel justified in doing so during a media interview. Examples both illustrate and prove your point. In fact, at the risk of contradicting ourselves you don’t even have to set up an example, just dive straight in and tell your story.

OK, so those are some of the right things to say during media interviews, but what should you avoid?

Five things you should not say to a journalist


“I can’t comment on that.”

Of course, it’s very possible that a journalist will ask you something that is outside your purview or that could get you into trouble and you’re right not to get drawn into it. But try and find a more relaxed, conversational phrase. You might say: “That’s not really my area of expertise…” or “I’ll let X speak for themselves,” or even “You wouldn’t expect me to go into that, would you?” We explain in our media coaching sessions that whatever you say, the point is that you then move back on to your key message. Talking of which…

“My key message here is…”
Yes, it’s good to have a key message – and you’d be amazed how many people go into media interviews with no idea of what points they want to get across. But you don’t have to be so transparent and crude about it as to use this form of words. Focus on your key message and flag it up, perhaps using one of the phrases above. Then repeat it and use some examples and stories to back it up.


“Let me be clear…”

One of the most frequent comments we hear in our media training workshops is “I don’t want to sound like a politician.” Now, even though we do media training for politicians around the world, we can understand the sentiment. The problem with this phrase is that the way it’s been used by certain politicians and other spokespeople. For them, it usually means the opposite – let me ignore your question and give my vague, fudged answer instead. So, do certainly be clear, just avoid using this phrase.

“What I’d like to say to your viewers/listeners is…”
This is another phrase that is based on the right idea but just makes it too clunkily obvious. It’s good to talk directly to the audience of a radio or TV programme but just do it by sounding natural and conversational and thinking about what they’d like to know. Don’t tell them that you’re going to do it. This is where the first and second person works well – as you’re literally talking to your audience – and that’s essential in any good media interview.

0

Media Training

It’s always a big issue in media coaching – do you have to answer a journalist’s question?  As part of our media coaching sessions we’ll usually do a role play press interview with the participants.  As we tell them, we’ll do it in exactly the same way as we do during our day job as journalists, although we won’t publish it course. Instead, we’ll give detailed feedback on the story that we would have written well as the messages that came across and how they appeared to us as experienced, working journalists.

 

Very often we’ll ask a difficult or left field question towards the end of the interview since this is what could easily happen in real life.  We work closely with Comms teams and PR companies and they’ll brief us on difficult issues.  The interviewee will usually feel obliged to answer our query – or at least to have a go at it.  This is almost always where they lose control of the interview and end up giving us a great story.  Unfortunately, it’s very often not one that will suit them. 

media coaching, answering a journalist's questions
We did a media skills course recently with a large financial institution.  Towards the end of the role play press interview our media trainer/ journalist asked one of the course participants, a board director, about their views on Brexit.  Very helpfully and interestingly they suggested that Britain’s departure from the EU wouldn’t actually be a problem for the firm as it benefits from growing markets in the Far East.   This was a great story that would have made headlines in the Financial Times and other publications.  However, it wasn’t so good for the firm – and certainly not for the poor interviewee.

 

“But you asked me about Brexit,” they pointed out once we’d told them about the story that would have resulted from their interview.  “Yes,” said our media trainer/journalist, “but you didn’t have to answer it.” Lesson learnt.  

Media coaching tip – journalists don’t expect you to answer every question


The point is that we’d obviously expect the interviewee to answer a question about the agreed subject of the interview.  But there’s no obligation to comment on something that is outside this remit.  We often call this the “while I’ve got you here, minister” question.  This is because senior politicians appearing on Radio Four’s Today and other programmes will often be asked to talk about something that is current and – vaguely – relevant to them.   It might be an embarrassing comment made by a colleague, for instance, or something that the government is proposing.

 

Politicians are usually warned beforehand by their media teams about this risky, live issues and have lines to take ready.  With business people this is not always the case.  During an interview on Today to talk about new apprenticeships Sir James Dyson was asked about Brexit.  Instead of sticking to the topic the engineer and industrialist waxed lyrical on the subject. Within a matter of hours his comments were on The Times online.

 

But, of course, not answering a question goes against the grain for many of us.   We do a lot of media coach for lawyers, for instance.   They’re trained to answer a client’s questions accurately and comprehensively – and so they should.  We point out, though, that we’re not clients.  If anything, journalists don’t want a detailed answer to a question.  We just want the top line.

Similarly, we do media training for the luxury sector.  If you work for a luxury hotel saying “yes” to a guest and being helpful is in your blood so, of course, you’re going to try to answer a question as fully as possible. As we point out to the luxury hotel staff that we train, we’re not guests (and with journalists’ salaries as they are we probably never will be) so there’s no need to help us out by giving us an answer to what we’ve just asked them.


Doesn’t it sound shifty if I don’t answer the journalist’s question?

But doesn’t it sound shifty and evasive if I don’t answer a journalist’s question, people often ask during our media coaching courses.  The short answer is that it depends on the question and how you do it.

 

If you’re being asked a direct question about something that you’re responsible for and it’s part of the subject that we’ve agreed to speak about then yes, you must.  This example of Richard Madeley trying to get Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to answer a simple, direct, yes-or-no question is quite toe curling. 

 

If a journalist asks a finance director, for instance, why profits are down by 20 per cent this year then that FD had better be ready with an answer.  How he or she then moves the conversation on to something more useful is up to them. On the other hand, if he or she was asked about Brexit or about a competitor then no, there’s no need to answer the question.


What if I don’t want to answer a journalist’s question?

What, we’re often asked in our media coaching sessions, should you do then, if a journalist asks you a question that you don’t want to answer?  Simple: you tell them in a friendly but assertive way that you’re not going to do so.  Then, very importantly, you tell them why.  This could be because it’s outside your remit.  Just exampling that it’s a matter, for example, for the regulator or the government.  It might simply be an issue that you don’t want to get drawn on such as Brexit or a competitor, as we’ve mentioned above.  Again, just be honest and say so. 

 

Most journalists will understand this.  Very often we’re not even expecting you to answer the question.  It’s just that our editor has told us to raise the issue or we assume that our audience will want us to mention it.  On the other hand, we’re also aware of the possibility of getting a new story – as happened with James Dyson.

Must I answer a journalist’s question during a crisis?

Surely, then, during a serious incident or a crisis, you’ll have to answer the journalist’s questions. Actually, not always.  As we explain in our media training courses, in a crisis you’ll be expected to provide factual information that you’re confident is correct.  But you’ll also be asked questions that neither you, nor probably anyone else knows the answer to.  In a crisis as the media scrambles to fill airtime and column inches speculation is often rife. 

 

Get drawn into surmising what could have caused the incident or what might come out of it and, as we explain in our crisis media coaching workshops, you’ll lose control of your communication and create unwelcome headlines.   As we wrote recently mishandling a crisis really can cost you dear

A good way to make a crisis worse is get drawn into responding to journalists’ questions when you should just stay mum.  So, here too, just be polite but firm and explain why you don’t want to answer certain questions.  

 

We’ve had a lot of interest in a blog we wrote about five requests that you can ask of a journalist that you might not be aware of.   As we advise during our media training courses.  Take control of the interview and don’t be afraid to lay down terms to the journalist. This includes stating clearly the questions that you are and aren’t happy to answer.  So when people ask us during our media coaching courses whether you always have to answer a journalist’s questions – we explain no, not if you know what you’re doing.

 

0