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Media training – six questions PRs often ask our media trainers
April 19, 2024

Media training – six questions PRs often ask our media trainers 

Our media training courses are a great way for PR people and in house media relations teams to share ideas and observations with our media trainers. Because all of our media trainers are working journalists, they know what makes a story and how the media operates at first hand. 

PR executives can talk to us in confidence about their clients and colleagues and bounce ideas of us. We can advise on their pitches to journalists and editors. We can also provide recommendations for developing interest among journalists in their clients.

They can also ask us questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from our media training workshops – with answers.

1. Is there any such thing as off the record?

It’s useful to start by asking why you would want to speak to a journalist off the record. As we explain in our media training courses, it’s a way of getting information into the public domain in a discreet, arm’s length way. 

One experienced Comms person told us, for instance, that when their company didn’t win a contract, they’d given an off the record briefing about it to key journalists. This put the failure into context and explained what the business leadership intended to do next. The message was reported but without the company making a big deal of it by issuing a press release or giving quotes from the CEO.

So, if you’re going to speak off the record, the first thing you need to think about is the journalist that you’re speaking to. Do you have a good working relationship with them and are you confident that they will want to come back to you for more information and ideas for stories? If so, it’s more likely that they will respect you speaking off the record. This means that they will not quote you directly. 

You’ll also need to agree with the journalist about how they’re going to use the information. Are they going to simply report what you’ve told them as fact? Are will they use a phrase such as “A source at…”, or as the FT often says: “People close to the deal say that…”? It’s important to confirm this with the journalist.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if what you tell the journalist is so amazing and important they may well “burn” you and attribute the quote to you anyway.

2. Do journalists still read press releases?

PRs in our media training courses for architects and our media training courses for retailers often ask this. The short answer according to our media trainers who are also working journalists (operating under strict NDAs) is “yes.”

Press releases are still a great way to get information out to large a number of media outlets. In many cases, given that resources are so stretched, the PR and media relations teams that we work with on our Media Training courses tell us that journalists sometimes copy and paste their press releases.

Obviously, press releases are not great for the kind of exclusive stories that journalist love so much. However, they work well to get general news coverage. It might also be the case that the journalist has picked up a few other examples of what you’re talking about in your press release. 

In our Media Training workshops for lawyers or our media workshops for luxury houses, for instance, when we look at what makes a good media story, we look at trends. How often do you read in an article “A growing number of…” or “More and more companies…”? Alerting a journalist to a trend with your press release can get you or your client positive coverage.

The same is true if you’re publishing some research or the results of a survey. You might not get immediate media visibility. However, a few weeks or months down the line a journalist might find your release and quote from it.

3. Why does the media love bad news?

The short answer, as we say in our media coaching workshops for architects and others is that we like bad news because you do. Words such as “risk”, “fear”, “row”, “threat”, and “fury,” fire up the amygdala – that part of the brain which deals with fight or flight.

Bad news often grabs people’s attention because it’s unusual – another key element of what makes a good media story. Most of the time everything works well but occasionally things do go wrong and this ticks the “unusual” box in our newsworthiness acronym. 

Another reason why journalist like bad news is because we frequently see our role as flagging up problems and injustices. We do so in order that those authority or feel the need to act and remedy the situation.

Lawyers are risk averse, we know, because we work with so many of them. However, we point out in our Media Training courses for law firms that interviewees can use journalists’ love of trouble. In a media interview lawyers can flag up a risk a problem or a threat and then offer a solution to it.

4. What’s the difference between PR and media training?

We often hear PR executives ask this. There is a view among some people that PR and Media Training are the same thing – but they’re not. Instead, they complement each other.

Once a public relations professional has secured an interview spot for one of their clients or colleagues, they bring us in to carry out practice role-play interviews. This means that it’s more likely that the client or colleague get more positive coverage from the interview. But more than that, they’re less likely to make a mistake and turn it into something of a disaster. This, we find, is reassuring for PR people and their clients or colleagues.

Our media training works to embed the consultancy with their clients and helps them to forge closer links. Working closely with the PR consultancy we use our experience and training to help reinforce the consultancy’s role with the client. 

The PRs usually end up finding many more stories after one of our media training courses. It’s also a way of lowering clients’ expectations sometimes. For example, we might tactfully point out to a client that their PR hasn’t got them any coverage for this particular service or product because it’s simply not a story. Or it is a story – but not a positive one and, as their PR, you’ve saved your colleague or client from getting negative coverage. Essentially, we complement and reinforce the PR’s role.

Sometimes we come in when a client is about to launch their business or a new product or perhaps a campaign. Other times it’s just when the PR feels that the relationship needs refreshing and there might be new things to learn on both sides. On other occasions it might be when a client has a difficult issue to handle. This might be a product recall, layoffs, a change of position on an issue or a challenge by the regulator or a competitor. Our crisis communications and issue management courses are increasingly popular. 

5. Will journalists send us the questions beforehand?

This is a question that came up recently in one of our Media Training courses for law firms. The short answer is probably not – partly due to a lack of time. But it’s also because, as we explain to the participants on our Media Training workshops, very often journalists don’t know what exactly they’re going to ask. 

Essentially, they’ll want to know what’s going on and what does the target audience need to know. But beyond that ideas will come into the heads. Very often these ideas will be prompted by what the interview tells them. 

We point out in our training courses that this shows how you, as the expert can lead the conversation. You can tell the journalist what the story is as you see it. Certainly, though, you should have an idea of the subject area and the particular angle that the journalist is taking.

6. Will I be able to see the article before it’s published?

The answer to this is almost certainly “no”. We’re quite often asked this question in our Media Training courses for luxury brands. This is hardly surprising given the importance to these companies of brand image. 

Similarly, PR and media relations teams will ask it when we provide Media Training for tech companies. Here the risk is that the journalist, especially if they’re not a specialist, will get the wrong end of the stick or will not understand the detail. We completely sympathise with why PRs and their colleagues or clients would be concerned about this. Therefore, our advice, is to offer – and only offer, don’t demand – to check your quotes. 

You can use a phrase such as “I hope I’ve made myself clear but if you’d like me to check any facts with you, I’d be very happy to do so.” Sometimes journalists are willing to do this especially when the subject is technical.

We hope these questions and answers have been useful.

Media and PR training courses

We always make it clear to our PR clients and the in-house media relations teams of the companies we work for that were always on hand to answer any questions in formally and free of any charge.

If you’d like to discuss Media Training or Media relations generally with us, please do get in touch. The same is true if you’d like to know more about our PR training courses. You can follow us on LinkedIn here.

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