Media training matters
Media interviews have the potential to be hugely influential. Done right, they can cause your business’ sales to skyrocket, improve brand perception and mitigate crises. But handled badly and your company’s reputation can take a serious nosedive. We can all recall examples of media interviews gone wrong – whether it’s BP’s CEO stating that he “just wanted his life back” after a catastrophic oil spill, or Andrea Leadsom’s quip about motherhood in her bid for the Conservative leadership. In a social media age where coverage can spread like wildfire, it is more important than ever before to make interviews a success.
It’s for this reason that media training is so crucial. It enables spokespeople to feel comfortable and confident when speaking to journalists and teaches them how to deflect and diffuse challenging questions. Media training also ensures that interviewees are aware of how best to emphasise key messages, and how they come across to an audience. All of this can impact brand perception, which it’s why it’s vital to hone interview techniques before speaking to the press.
To help us perfect our own interview skills and really put ourselves in the shoes of spokespeople, a couple of the Babel team attended a PRCA course on the topic. Here we were put through our paces and discussed some of the tricks of the trade to help maximise interview opportunities:
- Establish your key messages. Stick to two or three to ensure that they’re memorable. Use simple, clear language (particularly important if the topic is technical), and draw the journalist’s attention to what’s important – for example, using phrases such as “the key point here is that…” or “what we need to remember is…”
- …And find opportunities to highlight them. If the journalist hasn’t asked the questions that easily enable you to discuss your key messages, create a way to work them in. Use their questions to bridge into what you want to get across. Don’t allow yourself to get drawn into speculation or be led too far off-topic.
- When it comes to broadcast, how you say something is as important as what you say. Make sure your tone is appropriate, and your body language isn’t too much of distraction. During a media training session, the instructor should conduct mock interviews and play them back, giving you a chance to see yourself in action and gain insight into how you come across. Do you have a closed posture that makes you seem withdrawn? Do you talk too quickly so it’s hard to keep up with what you’re saying? Understanding your natural tendencies enables you to play to your strengths and mitigate any behaviour that distracts from your message.
- For print interviews, remember that the journalist may only publish a snippet of what you say. Soundbites can make headlines for a variety of reasons, so think carefully about what you’re going to say before you say it. Prep in advance and identify any potentially contentious questions before working out your response.
- Ask the journalist how they’re intending to start the interview. This allows you to be prepared for their first question and ensures you start off on the right foot.
- Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word. After a crisis, it’s possible to apologise without legally accepting responsibility. Alton Towers’ CEO Nick Varney’s interview following the Smiler crash is widely held up as an example of a crisis interview done right. His first thought was for the victims and he responded well to difficult questions. For example, when asked about how the accident would impact share price, he responded by saying “you’ll forgive me if I’m not really focused on the share price at the moment.” His tact and sensitivity when dealing with a tough interview bought him a lot of public sympathy and understanding and mitigated further damage to the Alton Towers brand.
Following these tried and tested rules will go a long way to ensuring interviews achieve their objectives. However, to best equip spokespeople with the skills they need to navigate journalist’s questions and remain on message, there is no substitute for the hands-on and personalised coaching that media training offers.