I believe that most business leaders need to understand – at least at a basic level – how to talk to the news media in both positive and negative situations. Refusing to comment when media attention comes your way is simply not an option. You need to be able to successfully navigate an interview, put forward a well-thought-out response, and steer the conversation toward the topics which are important and relevant for you to talk about.
There are all kinds of excuses for avoiding professional media training, including:
• “I’m good on my feet. I can respond easily no matter what the situation is.”
• “No matter what I say, I’ll be misquoted anyway.”
• “I prefer to just not do any media interviews.”
• “I have great relationships with the media already.”
The reality is that even good relationships don’t stop a reporter from asking you tough questions if you become involved in a controversial situation, and even if you consider yourself to be a good speaker, you can still be caught off guard if the unexpected happens.
The truth is that everyone gets misquoted occasionally, but most reporters try to get their facts straight and to check their quote sources before printing or airing a story. So even if you have been misquoted at some point in the past, that isn’t a good reason to not spend a little time becoming more prepared for the next time. Media training is a bit like an insurance policy – it is there if and when you need it, and when you need it, you probably really need it.
In terms of choosing to not comment, that usually isn’t a viable option. By not commenting, you are relinquishing control over your message, which can be extremely problematic in negative or crisis situations. If the story is significant enough, the media will cover it whether you comment on it or not.
Here are questions which can help you decide if media training could be beneficial for you and your organization:
• Does the media currently cover your organization, and if so, are you satisfied with the coverage you get and with their portrayal of your business?
• What are some of your business risks, and if negative situations could occur based on these risks, do you know in advance how you will respond to tough questions?
• Are you planning any major changes that will attract media attention and that will need to be explained?
• Are you trying to increase awareness of your organization to either key audiences or to the general public?
• Do you want to become more of a thought leader within your industry?
• Do the people within your organization who represent your “public face” accurately reflect your desired public persona?
A successful training session will teach your spokespeople how to field a wide range of questions and to redirect those questions back to the answers you want to give. It will train you on how to adeptly and confidently defuse potential land-mine questions.
Professional media training usually involves videotaped mock interviews and critiques of those interviews. While this can help participants who tend to ramble, get off message and become confused on camera, it can also allow you to identify those within your organization who are confident and unflappable and who have the ability to represent your business with true credibility.
For most organizations, media training is a critical component of running a good business and of being prepared for whatever the future may hold.