Media training is a high stakes field with visible results: Flawless public appearances are impressive while faulty performances can be devastating. We recently checked in via email with three media training specialists at PR agencies for their perspectives on the latest techniques, challenges and trends. Here’s the lowdown.
Training strategy is “about media mastery,” according to Leslie Linton, SVP media strategies at MWW in New York. “It’s about taking control of an interview, reacting quickly and effectively in a breaking news or crisis situation.”
Traditional and unconventional methods are used. “Clients increasingly recognize the importance of video training,” reported Ryan Richert, SVP media services at Edelman in Chicago. “You never know when a veteran print journalist will pull out an iPhone to record video of an interview. The New York Times’ new CEO comes from the BBC and embraces video storytelling.” Richert foresees journalists across major outlets using more video.
Linton strongly agreed with Richert on the value of video. She also utilizes “positive and negative sound bite examples and concentrates on bridging techniques to help clients out of troubling questions.”
“Our training program uses unexpected techniques,” said Stephen Brown, managing director at Cohn & Wolfe in Atlanta. “These range from ‘surprise calls’ from real or mock reporters during a session to surrounding interviews with props or lifelike set pieces.” He described another technique where a trainer writes a wire story in real-time during practice interviews, then shares the story so clients understand their statements’ immediate impact.
Media training adapts to rapid news cycles and social media networks. “Sound bites are shorter, simpler, and crisper,” Richert explained. “Watch the evening network news and you don’t see any more 15 second sound bites; most are about half that length. In the age of 140-character comments, executives can’t afford to be wordy, so I focus on helping our clients tighten up their talking points and cut to the chase.”
Training assignments involve multiple challenges. For Linton and Brown, the most interesting and difficult training sessions involve simulated crisis situations. Brown emphasized that they conduct research and ask tough questions so spokespeople won’t be caught unprepared in real-life scenarios. Linton said this type of training is done on location with spokespeople across the country. For example, certain clients like airlines and department stores simulate mock accidents and fires.
Richert offered another perspective. “The most challenging trainings involve helping clients answer a reporter’s basic softball question: tell me what you are announcing today. You can’t wing it. You must be prepared to highlight your key points in the first few seconds.”
Clients’ interest is increasing. “As the economy improves, the frequency of media trainings for clients escalates,” Linton stated. “The current media environment has also pushed companies to be ready and in control rather than get caught off guard.”
Brown concurred, adding, “We’ve seen an uptick in interest for media training, especially with the rise of video news being used across so many platforms and with hyperlocal stories becoming immediately international.”
Different types of professionals are being media trained. While more of their clients are large corporations, start-ups are using training more now, Linton and Brown mentioned. The C-suite comprises most of Linton’s customers, in addition to some law firms. Brown counsels executives ranging from director level to CEOs, along with subject matter experts.
Just don’t call it media training. Still, Brown cautioned, “The other secret is what you call the training; because some potential trainees are fearful of on-camera interviews. You increase the chance of attendance by calling the session a ‘message alignment’ workshop or similar euphemism.”