How many people who are interviewed by journalists have had media training, people often ask. The short answer is that if they’re from a medium-sized or large organisation, they’ve almost certainly been media trained. The fact is that if you work in media relations and you’re putting someone up for interview with a print journalist, be that The Times or a specialist publication, or you’re going on TV or radio to represent your organisation, you need to have had media training. The risks of simply popping up and speaking without this essential preparation are too significant.
These days almost every public relations company or in-house communications team uses a media training company to provide training for the people that they field for interview, whether that’s to promote a new product or service, to comment on something happening in their sector or to defend themselves because they’ve made a mistake or been forced to take a difficult decision. As we explain in our media training courses, when discussing media relations, these are the three main reasons a journalist will want to speak to you or your client.
As a niche, agile, specialist media training and communication skills company, we provide media training for law firms, architecture practices, retailers, financial firms, luxury brands and those involved in sustainability and climate change, among other sectors.
What is Media Training?
But what is media training? How does it work, and why should you consider investing in it? As we’ve already said, it’s partly about risk management. A media interview offers excellent opportunities to promote your brand, reach new customers and establish you and your organisation as thought leaders. However, it also implies a risk – at best, you or your spokesperson might say something that doesn’t work for the journalist. This means that after all of your time and effort plus the anxiety you might have suffered in the run-up to the interview, you’re simply edited out of the report, or the print journalist looks at the notes they took during their conversation and thinks, “Boring! I’ll use that other person I interviewed instead.”
The greater risk is that you do give the journalist something that works for them and that they leap on it – but it doesn’t work for you. It might be embarrassing or contrary to your organisation’s aims and policies, or you might have revealed something you’d rather keep under wraps. “Sorry, can you not report that,” rarely works.
Is media training about avoiding the question? Many journalists believe that it is, and even some of the participants in our media coaching classes think we will teach them how to dodge a tricky question.
However, here’s the truth about media training – it’s not about avoiding the question. At least good media training isn’t. As we explain in our courses, if you’re asked a direct, relevant question, and you blatantly refuse to answer it, then you’re actually insulting the audience – after all, the interviewer is simply a conduit to the readers, listeners or viewers. In our media training courses, we teach how to handle difficult questions in a way that will sound reasonable and sincere to the audience without losing control of the interview.
We also help media relations teams and their spokespeople understand when you don’t have to answer a difficult question a journalist puts to you. Because all of our trainers are working in the media, they know when a journalist will expect you to provide a direct, comprehensive answer to a question and when they’ll understand if you politely but firmly explain why you’re not going to answer it.
The Benefits of Media Training
But media interview training is not just about risk management; about avoiding putting your foot in it. Done correctly, a media skills workshop will enable you, as the interviewee, to take more control of the interview. It will allow you to give the journalist something that works for them and that they will include in the final report but, more importantly, something that works for you. Don’t forget that very often, you won’t be the only person interviewed for a report. The journalist won’t use everyone they’ve spoken to; even if your contribution is used, it might only be a fraction of what you’ve said.
Media training can help you to get your message across, and it can also increase the amount of positive coverage you get in the print article or the broadcast news package. Media relations professionals come to us to prepare their spokespeople so that when they arrange a media interview for a client or a colleague, the interviewee is more likely to get a better showing in the final product.
Media training provides a number of benefits outside the world of the media, and it can improve your communication skills generally. People who do our media training courses tell us they’ve picked up or polished skills for meetings, presentations, and conversations with colleagues. They’re more aware, they say, of the audience and what interests them. They’re also better equipped to get straight to the point during a meeting – background information is useful, but whoever you’re speaking to will want to know what affects them and what they need to think, know and do as a result.
As well as helping with public relations, our media training workshops help people to use examples more effectively to illustrate and prove their points. They also feel more prepared to handle difficult questions and to keep meetings on track.
Media Training Techniques
In our media training courses, we’ll work with public relations professionals to identify relevant subjects on which we can interview the participants. In some cases, these are obvious – it might be the launch of a new product or service or something difficult such as an announcement about redundancies or introducing a controversial policy. If it’s the latter, we’ll provide a specific message development and testing workshop, working closely with media relations teams and senior management.
People also come to us for media training because they want to help their teams to become better spokespeople for their sectors or to be able to comment on particular issues. Here we’ll create a course that enables them to find interesting, newsworthy things to say, increasing the chances of journalists using their comments. We’ll help spokespeople provide comment that puts their organisation in a good light or promotes their company’s brand while ensuring that they don’t get drawn into controversy and end up saying something they don’t want to say.
For instance, we worked with one client whose CEO had given a good interview and provided a journalist with interesting insights – but had then been pushed into attacking both the regulator and other firms operating in the same sector. Having done a media coaching course with us, they and their team felt more confident about maintaining control of the interview when commenting on current trends and issues.
We also work closely with public relations companies to help them and their clients to distil their messages and convey them in a way that will resonate with a journalist. There are times when it’s helpful to provide some background and context to an issue. There are other times when you would be better advised to dive straight in with the key point – what does your audience need to know? What are the risks, opportunities and potential for action? An essential technique in Media Training is the use of stories or examples. Whenever people ask us ‘what is Media Training’, we explain it’s effective storytelling. The great thing about an example, a case study or even a simple anecdote is that it helps illustrate and prove your point. Journalists like concrete examples and granular detail. Theory and policies are fine, but we want to know how they will affect our audience in a human way.
Journalists also quote people who are good at picture painting – this means that our audience can see what you mean. Helping spokespeople to identify and tell good stories is essential for general communication skills but is particularly important for media interviews.
We’ve talked about whether you need to answer a question put to you by a journalist or not. We provide our media training course participants with the skills they need to handle difficult questions and develop lines to take in any situation to maintain control over the interview and return to their key messages.
Media Training for Lawyers
As the specialist media training company for lawyers, we work with the media relations teams at law firms to prepare their partners and other senior spokespeople to do media interviews. As we’ve discussed above, commenting on an issue and providing insights and information about current trends can generate positive coverage for law firms and raise the profile of their partners.
Another element of our media consultancy for law firms involves helping the media relations teams of law firms to keep an eye out for news stories or external events that their colleagues can comment on. It could be an M&A deal in the business pages, an important legal case, a question about data protection in parliament or a row about consumer rights. Identifying a current story and then developing an angle on it – a warning, an interesting interpretation or perhaps some thoughts on what it means to other organisations in the same sector – can help raise the profile of a lawyer and their firm in the media.
The public relations firms we deal with will often tell us that their legal clients do interviews but then don’t see positive coverage. This is very often because lawyers give too much detail, assume that their audience knows as much as they do about the law, or they believe that the less they say, the safer they will be. In fact, as we explain in our media coaching for lawyers, the opposite is true.
In our courses, we put lawyers through realistic role-play and media interviews (as we’ve mentioned, our trainers are working journalists), and the course participants provide them with feedback as well as tips and recommendations to improve their performance. We then repeat this process allowing them to put this learning into practice and avoid repeating any mistakes.
Offering a comprehensive view of our Media Training is difficult because we create every course from scratch to meet the client’s exact needs. Unlike some large consultancies, which take a cookie-cutter approach, every course we create is bespoke. The person that you speak to at Communicate Media is the person who delivers the course, and so you know exactly what you’re getting.
We would love to talk to you a bit more about Media Training and the benefits it can offer, so please get in touch.