5 compelling reasons why media training is necessary

September 22, 2020 | Posted by: Jin Woo

A CEO of a well-known Silicon Valley venture-backed company called me right after an interview. His request was that I simply call a reporter we just spoke with and ask that he not use a quote (that was both on-the-record and in a recording, which the reporter specifically asked permission for). Not only is this not possible in most cases, but when you draw attention to a particular quote, the reporter is much more likely to print it. When I explained to him this was the possibility, he insisted we still try. So I did, and the article ran with the quote featured prominently, near the top of the article. The point being, it’s much easier and pleasant to be prepared for interviews rather than asking your PR team to try to fix things after, when the success rate is likely low.

It is also very common that executives and other company spokespersons resist making time for media training. They explain how busy their schedules are, how prepared they are already, or that they’ve done some interviews in the past. Here are five reasons that you might be less prepared than you think you are and how media training could be beneficial for your company.

1. Being a subject matter expert doesn’t always translate to a good interview

Whether you’re a veteran executive, technologist or serial entrepreneur, it’s understandable that you’ve been successful. Most certainly, you’re experienced and very well versed in the technology that your company sells. You are the subject matter expert. This however doesn’t always translate well in interviews. Without the proper positioning and understanding how to handle tough questions, you can leave the wrong impression and lose the opportunity for a good story. Going in unprepared ultimately puts your reputation at risk.

2. There are different tiers of reporters

Another important aspect of an interview is to consider the variety of reporters and the way they cover your company and others. Reporters have different styles and focus, and these can vary with the publication. Some reporters are very friendly and want to help companies reach target audiences. Other reporters are prickly or grouchy. Some use questions as a way of getting you to talk about things that are sneaky and before you know it you’ve helped them with a story you don’t want in the public domain. Freelancers, which are more common, also work by a different set of rules. Sometimes this happens in a conversation that takes place after what you believe to be the interview has concluded. So even when you’ve done interviews that resulted in flattering articles, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had the breadth and depth of reporters you will encounter in future interviews. Despite what you see in Hollywood movies about the use of “off the record,” I advise my clients that there’s no such thing.

3. There are different interview form factors

It’s very common these days that the majority of interviews are done over the phone or even using video conferencing platforms like GoToMeeting, WebEx or Zoom. But it’s a much more challenging experience when you are in person at a restaurant, on the show floor in the middle of a conference where there can be many distractions, or in a studio doing a live interview with lights and cameras. For some, it’s even more challenging to do interviews when it’s an audio recording for a podcast, where it’s often done in a single take. And more recently, as a result of the pandemic, Outside Labs has seen a spike in video and audio podcast opportunities, including sponsored opportunities, with more conferences going virtual and publications looking to aggressively diversify revenue opportunities. Just as the types of interview opportunities evolve, you need to be prepared for any type of format that comes your way. Everything from facial expressions, posture, body language, the things in your background during a video conference to sitting still in a swivel chair matter.

4. Do kids understand what’s coming out of your mouth?

Many spokespeople like to use a lot of words that don’t really say much, including marketing jargon, buzzwords and technical acronyms that many people don’t really understand. Reporters often cover a variety of beats or are new to a beat and not intimately familiar with your space. According to some, the New York Times is written at a 3rd grade reading level and the WSJ is written at a 10th grade reading level. So if you haven’t done so, share your elevator pitch with your children (or someone else’s) and if they don’t understand what the product does, the value proposition and who the customers are, you’re over complicating things.

5. Frozen by fear

I’ve also worked with many well-spoken people that you’d think would be great at media interviews. But stick them in a room with a reporter or reporters and they are frozen — caused by fear. This can be brought about by simply being on stage, or being asked tough questions based on rumors or other industry news. The fear could also be a result of tough questioning about company performance. Being prepared to handle a variety of questions and bringing the conversation back to what you want to focus on is a skill that’s only achieved through development. While some are naturals, the majority of us need to come up with a game plan to address anything that could come up during an interview.

Still not convinced you need media training? Not all of these things may apply to you but over time some of these will resonate. The more you can develop a compelling way to deliver your story with clear and concise key messages the better your story will turn out. This means preparation for difficult questions, understanding how to control the interview and deal with other unexpected interruptions. More importantly, this can help you establish yourself as a resource for reporters, developing a mutually fruitful relationship. In fact, recently, an executive I worked with many years ago reached out and told me that he is still in touch with a reporter I connected him with for an interview and it resulted in another great story.

For more great tips or to work with Outside Labs, contact us at win@outsidelabs.com.


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