I’ve never conducted a media training or advised someone who wasn’t terrified or frustrated (or both) by the media. And given the branding campaigns media outlets run, I don’t blame them. Whether it’s Anderson Cooper’s promise of “keeping them honest” or just about any news station in every major market declaring that they “get to the bottom of ____” or are on your side.” The Faithful Fourth Estate have fashioned themselves as digital vigilantes, fighting hard for the city.
Except that’s not the case most of the time.
And of course, there’s the fear of the ambush interview when the daring reporter runs up to an unsuspecting official, camera in two demanding answers.
As an aside, if you want to see an ambush gone bad, check veteran reporter Bill Moyers’ epic handling of a Fox News producer:
While the ambush interview is real, it is also rare. When your client is contacted by the press, chances are you aren’t going to walk into a crazy hostile situation. While you don’t need to panic, you do need to:
As adversarial as some outlets seem, journalists have deadlines have deadlines that need to be met. Even when a topic is controversial, most — the professional ones anyway — will let you know what to expect. Wise PR people will ask for a list of questions (not likely to be given by a seasoned pro) or at the very least what the story is about and the subjects up for discussion.
Having been on camera or sitting on the other side of a recorder a time or two, I understand the pressure. If you fail to prep, you will fold like a cheap lawn chair when it’s show time. If you’ve gotten a chance to prepare, you now have a chance to plot your answers to anticipated questions. This is in your best interest, as you don’t want your client looking crazy on TV and it makes the editing crews’ job much easier, as they won’t have to try to make sense of gibberish.
If you’ve been dumping chemicals into the local water supply, you have reason to be apprehensive about going on the record. For the rest of you, act naturally. No one is out to get you. What the media is out to get, is a good story that plays well for their audience.
Media training is ongoing. And if it’s not, it should be. The exercises you put a client through should be harder than the conditions of a typical interview (better to over prepare than be caught up). Practice is extra necessary if you have a colorful client prone to say something… interesting.
Being on camera or in front of a microphone is natural, but preparing your client with background information, planning responses and practicing make for perfection.