Media training has to be more than clever puppetry

Wading through the media sound bites that resonate the airwaves, fill our newspapers and clog our inboxes, it’s easy to think we are all just victims of the relentless public relations machine.

As a media trainer, I am guilty of adding to the case but am here to argue the real damage is done when the talent is not trained at all.

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Good media training maybe detectable but in my experience will never detract away from the key message of the speaker. It takes a discipline and practice to ensure you make your point, back it up, wrap it up and shut up – all within the limited time given for that 10-second grab or one liner that makes a front page headline.

Most PR professionals will attest to sleepless nights worrying how their client will deliver the goods on a TV, radio or print interview. And it is not about your strategy or the client’s knowledge. The CEO or whoever is worthy of a journalist’s attention generally knows their company or the issues they face inside out. What they may struggle with is the delivery when the heat is on.

Techniques used in the IP from the Media Skills™ Network have been developed and refined over two decades by a bunch of ex-journalists. We work across the nation with the big-end of town corporates, government departments and grass-roots charities. Same tools and techniques – no matter the content.

Our clients love what we do, and even the most reluctant participants by the end of a training day fess up that media training has added value to their brand, their company, their careers. It’s about having the confidence to be interviewed by a reporter and walk away happy with the outcome.

Speaking to Margarita Peker from Klick Communications, she shared her views on the value of media training.

“Spokespeople need to know how to stay on message and to understand that an interview is not a regular conversation between two people. There is a very different give and take and purpose in an interview, and interviewees need to be able to recognise that.”

“I believe that the true value of media training is often not fully appreciated until one experiences the benefits for themselves – benefits that extend beyond the realms of the media interview. “

The latest onslaught of the Federal Election campaign is all about driving home the same message to  make your point, no matter the question asked.

How else does one explain the Opposition stating at every given media opportunity their mantra of, “End the Waste, Stop the Taxes, Stop the Boats”? Never mind the journalist asked about paid paternity leave. Or that our Prime Minister will freely wax lyrical about how we are going to at every juncture, “move Australia forward” more times than we care to count in her early campaign appearances.

As a former journalist, I know that the most memorable, even award-winning reporting comes from interviewees who make a shock confession in an “off the record” chat or make a gaff that gets them on Youtube for all the wrong reasons.

‘Bland and safe’ one print journalist told me when asked what comes to mind when dealing with media trained talent.

“The general perception is that you are not always getting the real person or their real views – just a fabricated response that is designed to be bland and safe,” he stated.

Most seasoned journalists like Kerry O’Brien from the ABC can still get under the skin of the most astute media performers. It’s fair to say that media training rarely registers on a journalist’s radar when they’re interviewing someone – although that is changing thanks to auto-pilot politicians and self-styled celebrities who are so obviously trained to repeat key messages ad-nauseum.

For media training to work well, the end game is that a journalist should walk away with a good story. The resulting interview should be smooth, the content kept varied and answers must be devoid of phrases that sound inauthentic. Appropriate tone of voice and convincing body language is also vital for visual mediums.

After some heated debate, a few journalist friends did admit that the best media training delivers something newsworthy with crisp quotes and tangible examples. This folks is what matters for your clients and audience.

I always think of media training as bullet proofing your PR campaign. In the hogwash of the 24/7 news cycle, stakes are high every time anyone speaks to a journalist so why just “wing it”?

By Amber Daines

Founder of Bespoke Communications and a member of the Media Skills™ Network

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