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PR Professional as Media Trainer
By Mitchell Friedman   Printer Friendly Version

The age of overcommunication in which we currently practice public relations makes ""cutting through the noise"" a practitioner's most difficult challenge.

More often than not, the bottom line for ""cutting through the noise"" is all about publicity. The necessary skill set for the function is familiar: developing key messages; writing and distributing press releases, pitch letters, and e-mail; preparing offline and online press kits; making phone calls; arranging face to face meetings with editors; and monitoring resulting coverage.

Equally important is the need to train those individuals charged with speaking directly with the media. Any interview, whether with a regional newsletter, trade publication, local television station, or The New York Times, can go awry if the spokesperson is ill-trained to meet the reporter's needs as well as tell the story of his or her organization.

The benefits of media interview training are three-fold. First, training increases the likelihood that the spokesperson understands, internalizes, and communicates those main points that public relations staff would ideally like to see make their way into a journalist's story. Most spokespersons need to reshape the way they think and speak about their company to communicate these fundamental points.

Second, media training highlights the three primary roles of the organizational spokesperson -- first, expert; then, educator; and, finally, salesperson -- as well as how journalists do their job.

Third, media training done well inevitably impresses on both internal staff and external clients -- to an extent they haven't realized previously -- the true nature of challenges faced daily by media relations professionals in their efforts to secure press coverage at print, broadcast, and Internet-based outlets.

Media training increases the likelihood of reaping these benefits when the trainer sees himself or herself as primarily a catalyst for change. Successful training changes attitudes and related behaviors towards the media. As such, it inspires appropriate enthusiasm for the nuances of communicating effectively with reporters. Teaching skills and sharing knowledge of the way the media work certainly is important, but experience shows that successful spokespeople under- stand the journalistic process and carry with them the right frame of mind to deal with its infinite, and often frustrating, twists and turns.

More specifically, a successful media trainer:

  • Begins by eliciting feedback from trainees about their experience in being interviewed by the media, and their thoughts and feels about coverage of the company. Tapping into this pool of information cues the trainer to potentially sensitive points, subjects that require further explanation, and the personalities, attitudes, and skills that current or potential organizational spokes- people bring with them to the training.
  • Explains the publicity process and how reporters obtain and use information in as much detail as necessary. Depending on the particular needs of trainees, this step calls on the trainer to candidly share the good, bad, and truly ugly stories on ""how"" and the ""why"" of the newsmaking process.
  • Personalizes the aforementioned explanation by citing relevant industry and company developments, as well as media outlets and specific journalists most important for the spokesperson(s) to know.
  • Identifies critical issues the company needs to communicate to target media, as well as potentially difficult issues likely to be raised by reporters. Outlines questions based on these issues.
  • Frames these critical issues in the form of a main message and two to three supporting messages. Emphasizes the need to communicate messages clearly and concisely, adding details as needed based on the reporter's interests as well as on the demands of the particular media outlet.
  • Provides ample opportunity for practice in answering questions and communicating key messages. Simulates in-person and phone interviews through role playing sessions, with the trainer assuming the role of reporter. Tapes these sessions. Reviews tapes with trainees in painstaking detail, analyzing the reporter/spokesperson question and answer dynamic. Offers copious suggestions for improving how the organization's main message/supporting messages are communicated, and how difficult issues are explained. These suggestions include techniques for shaping responses to increase the likelihood of being quoted.
  • Where appropriate, cites third party resources on media and presentation skills training to support points. It's actual resources and other direction to trainees interested in learning more on their own.
  • Finally, creates a training environment that fosters avid participation by trainees, frank exchange of ideas, and absolute candor. Spokesperson(s), media relations practitioners, and the media trainer must work closely together to establish this kind of environment and ensure that the lessons learned are applied over the long term.

2000 Mitchell Friedman, APR


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