This has probably happened to all of us at some point in our PR careers: we’ve worked hard to develop messaging and positioning with our client or internal spokesperson, prepared the press release, developed unique story angles and pitches, gone through revisions and feedback sessions, and finally pitched the story. And, voila! We landed some interviews. But when the spokesperson starts telling the story, your jaw drops because they are telling it in a way you’ve never heard before. Why? Maybe it’s because we forgot to carve out time in the lead up or simply ran out of time to do some basic media training. Even here, we are guilty of occasionally lining up that last minute interview without always thinking through prep.
Sadly, the time we take to prepare for the interviews can leave most of us feeling that we’ve spent too much time on the initial phase and not enough on coaching the client or internal spokesperson for the ultimate payoff – the interview.
And shouldn’t the media training be the cornerstone of this activity?
Often, a spokesperson may not be entirely comfortable doing media interviews, or may just be new to the process. So, while all the initial steps -preparing a detailed briefing document, outlining the opportunity and noting potential questions, suggesting talking points – are critical, what’s equally critical is allocating the time to prep the spokesperson.
Many times during my career in PR and as a media trainer, I have asked myself if I have spent enough time prepping the spokesperson for the interview. So much more time seems to be spent developing messaging and other core materials, that when it comes to prepping the spokesperson, we may think our job is done after we deliver the briefing document, hoping that he or she reads it and that somehow will be enough.
As PR professionals, we need to make certain that media training is happening on a daily basis, and not regarded as some feared annual mandatory workshop.
Here are some tips and tricks to make sure we are helping prepare spokespeople in their day to day lives vs. coaching them annually for the Armageddon of media interview scenarios such as Scott Pelley from 60 Minutes showing up at their door step unannounced:
1.) Walk the walk, talk the talk
If time doesn’t allow for formal media training after messaging is solidified and prior to the media interviews, at least set up a mock interview with the spokesperson in person or by phone. During this session, go over the basics—explain whom they are meeting with and why, and actually pose some potential questions to help with suggested responses.
2.) Answer the "So, what?" And get your party pitch ready
A favorite media question, either asked or implied, is "Why should I care?" or "So, what?" Be prepared! And, encourage the client or internal spokesperson to practice their elevator pitch or “party pitch” as I like to call it-whether at home and with friends. If they have an upcoming barbeque or a family party, encourage them to be thinking about compelling ways to talk about their company’s story in an everyday setting so that someone outside of their field would find it interesting. If you get feedback that above training in real-life scenario results in guests making a bee line for the bar to escape said budding spokesperson, offer to help your spokesperson fine tune that party pitch.
3.) Have an idol
Encourage your client or in house expert to find a spokesperson they admire, and ask them to identify what it is that makes this person charismatic and effective at telling their story. Is there something they can emulate from this person while still being genuine? Or are there particular styles they would rather avoid? This political season is ripe with good and bad examples of effective interview styles. Check out Beth’s post about which candidates handled tough questions the best during the GOP debates last fall.
4.) Put pen to paper
Encourage the spokesperson to write down three points or "must says" they want to get across before each interview, and prepare two sound bites they want to deliver, even if the interview doesn’t go as planned or goes off track. This allows the spokesperson to remain in control of the interview as much as possible and to have something concrete to go back to.
5.) Repeat, repeat, repeat
Like many things in life, practice makes perfect. Encourage your spokesperson to think about potential questions and answers developed during the mock interview session and review them out loud, preferably in front of an actual person who is patient and kind enough to act as a live audience. Who knows -- your spokesperson could use blocking and bridging techniques in their personal life too. (Husband: Why is the house such a mess and are we really doing take-out again? Wife: What I can tell you is that the children have been extremely happy and active, playing and frolicking about).
Let’s face it; after all is said and done, one of the most important functions of PR is to generate positive, accurate and hopefully memorable coverage for our clients and the companies we represent as in-house PR professionals. By encouraging media training in the day to day, we may find we are helping develop more prepared, confident spokespeople who can truly become "go to" sources for influential news media.