Posts Tagged ‘media training’

Media Training: Six Points About Ambush Interviews

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
Media Training

During media training, a department director walked through the doors of a conference room. I turned on a bright light, stuck the camera in her face and began asking a series of tough questions. During this mock ambush interview, I moved the camera around a lot and sometimes pushed it awkwardly close to her face.

  • In theory, reporters conduct ambush interviews because all previous efforts to get those crucial interviews were unsuccessful.
  • In reality, some media conduct unnecessary ambush interviews because they make for dramatic “good TV.”
  • If reporters you don’t know ambush you, stop and politely ask them to identify themselves and the stories they are working on. This creates a less tense atmosphere and gives you a moment to pause, catch your breath and gather your thoughts.
  • If reporters ambush you in an awkward or uncomfortable location, don’t be afraid to tell them you are happy to answer their questions but prefer to move to a different area.
  • If you are not allowed to answer reporters’ questions, explain why.
  • If you ignore reporters who ambush you or act angry and disgusted, they will most likely show this to viewers or describe your actions to readers.

Media Training: Don’t Expect Mercy

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Media Training

During media training for a business trying to improve its public relations, I asked one of the company’s leaders, as part of a mock interview, to confirm something about his fees. His answer focused on how someone determines those fees, but he didn’t answer my question. I asked my question a second time. His answer focused on why fees vary, but he didn’t answer my question. I asked my question a third time. He explained the information I asked about is possibly true. I asked if I understood correctly that he, as one of his company’s leaders, did not have the definitive information I sought. His answer returned to how someone determines those fees. At this point, I let him off the hook. Some reporters will quickly let you off the hook if you dodge their questions. Other reporters will not give in. Businesses often enter interviews knowing they will not divulge certain information, but continuously dodging questions and hoping reporters show mercy is a PR strategy set to backfire. Plan ahead and either answer the question or explain why you can’t answer it. The third option is my least favorite: Don’t do the interview. Have you seen this awkward type of scenario play out? How would you handle it?

5 Media Training Tips From Obama’s Economic Speech

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

President Obama’s economic speech offers media training lessons for business leaders.

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  1. Share stories to help deliver key messages. Don’t just deliver facts.
  2. Explain how issues impact you personally. Don’t speak as simply a business leader.
  3. Use your location to enhance your interviews. Don’t settle for boring offices and conference rooms.
  4. Relay how the topic impacts the local community. Don’t speak in abstract generalities.
  5. Fluctuate your voice and use your hands. Don’t only say the words. Show you’re passionate about them.

Media Training: Joan Rivers Returns With Comic Style

Monday, July 14th, 2014

After walking away from a CNN interview she didn’t like, comedian Joan Rivers jokes about the incident with David Letterman. A media training lesson for politicians and businesses:  Don’t go into hiding after controversy. Note:  Joan uses some strong language in this video. It is not appropriate for all viewers. 

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Joan Rivers’ Unfashionable Media Training Moment

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

When media ask tough questions, highlight the positives. Prepare ahead of time. Don’t be caught off guard. Keep your cool. Don’t leave interviews before they are over.

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LeBron The Media Training King

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Media Training KingFew athletes face more critics than LeBron James of the Miami Heat. Few athletes handle the criticism better.

This is one of the first questions a reporter asked LeBron after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals: “LeBron. Because you beat the Spurs in the Finals last year and won two in a row, you think seeds of doubt creep into their minds especially late in the game in the fourth quarter?”

This is one of the most dangerous questions a reporter can ask not only athletes but also businesses. The question cracks open a door for someone to level criticism against or pass judgment on a competitor. Under such circumstances, we’ve watched athletes utter comments that motivate opposing teams to respond passionately on the court or field. We’ve watched executives spew sarcastic remarks about competitors and then later regret their words. During media training mock interviews, businesses often struggle with questions about rivals.

This was LeBron’s response to the question:

“I mean that’s not our concern. All we worry about is what we can control and that’s just how we play the game, how we approach the game both physically and mentally and live with the results.”

Slam dunk! In general, don’t speak about competitors. Let them speak for themselves. Focus on your products and services. Highlighting your company’s strengths and advantages is a better play than trying to score points by breaking down a competitor’s values or ideas. The fact LeBron can calmly draw up such answers after feeling the heat from critics shows why, in this particular instance, he displayed skills of a media training king. For several weeks, reporters have hammered LeBron with questions that would irritate most people and persuade them to lash out. LeBron has stood steady. For businesses, running the right play is not so simple when reporters are playing rough and getting under your skin.

Media Training: AT&T Center’s AC Shot Clock Violation

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

In the NBA, a team must attempt a basket which touches the rim or scores before the 24-second shot clock expires. During Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the AT&T Center in San Antonio needed a shot clock to speed up the pace of releasing a statement.

The Center’s air conditioning broke during Game 1. ABC showed rows of fans fanning themselves. Players discussed the temperatures. For most of the game, the TV commentators discussed the problem regularly and analyzed how the temperatures impacted the players. While this storyline played out on national television, the commentators repeated they were awaiting a statement from AT&T Center.

ABC’s courtside reporter finally relayed the Center’s statement with about 9:38 left in the game. In essence, the statement explained the AC broke and the Center apologized.

This was crisis communications playing out on live television. So what took so long for a facility to craft and release a statement that a rookie PR pro could write? Why were we awaiting a statement? Why wasn’t ABC interviewing courtside someone with the facility who could explain the problem?

When preparing for big, national events showcasing your “house,” you hope people take every precaution to prevent lights from shutting off during the Super Bowl or the AC from breaking during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But we judge communicators, much like athletes, on how they handle adversity. PR pros should consider setting up their own shot clocks. They can set those clocks for longer than 24 seconds, but the goal is to respond quickly. And if you craft such a statement quickly and a broadcast network continues to tell a national audience it’s awaiting your comment, make a fast break to someone who can get the word out.

Media Training: Sour Note From The Partridge Family

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Media Training

In an episode of The Partridge Family, the 1970s TV sitcom about a musical family, band manager Reuben Kincaid tells the family, “I do know how to handle myself with the press.” The family sits down with Reuben and watches on TV how reporters ambushed him in a parking lot about a sensational magazine article on the family. One of the kids, Danny, supplied the magazine false stories to help publicize the family and Reuben didn’t know about it.

A reporter asked, “How much truth is there in the recent article concerning Shirley Partridge?” Reuben responded, “Article? What article?”

The oldest kid, Keith, watching this on TV, mocks Reuben as being a real pro. Reuben tells him, “I know how to protect my clients.”

Back on TV, the reporter told Reuben the magazine article claims Shirley once ran a school for exotic dancers. At least three microphones were in his face. Reuben snapped back, “You’re kidding! No comment.” The reporter followed up explaining the article also points out Shirley can’t resist men with beards. Reuben began to respond, “I never knew … No comment.”

Shirley, stunned, stands up from the couch and can’t believe Reuben offered a “no comment,” saying Reuben inadvertently made the false information sound true.

Believe it or not, real life often imitates art minus the laugh track, except the people laughing are viewers at home. It is not uncommon for reporters to ambush people in parking lots or outside offices. And frequently those people provide “no comment,” walking or driving away in disgust, providing the exact sensational shot some media want to air.

When reporters catch you by surprise, take a breath and respond, “I don’t have that information at this time. I will be happy to check into it and speak with the appropriate person and get back to you.” Don’t be afraid to explain you don’t have the answer at that very moment. You are not a walking encyclopedia or in today’s terms, a walking Wikipedia. The quickest way to land yourself in trouble is to provide answers when you don’t have them.

Another lesson is the mistake of providing “no comment.” Some of the world’s biggest businesses that we assume hire top marketing people continue to provide media outlets with “no comment” on a regular basis. As Shirley Partridge points out, “no comment,” fair or not, often indicates the claims might be true. There’s always something better to say than “no comment,” even if your words are simply, “Our policy is not to discuss those details publicly, but what I can tell you …”

The media have changed a lot since the early 1970s. But how people respond to them has not. And the results are often no laughing matter.

Media Training: Mark Jackson’s Excellent Shot

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Media Training

This season, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors fired coach Mark Jackson. The firing surprised analysts, who believe Jackson had led the team in a positive direction. But he didn’t stay clear of the court for long. Jackson helped broadcast game one of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

After a commercial break during the game, Jackson’s fellow broadcaster Mike Breen asked him about his experience at Golden State and how it ended.

“Well, I’d rather not look at how it ended,” Jackson said. “I’d rather take it as a whole and see what took place. We won 23 games. We won 47 games. We won 51 games. We went to the second round last year. We took a dangerous Clipper team to a game 7 this year. I’m grateful to the organization, the intelligent fan base and the awesome players that I had the privilege to play. I love them to death. I’m extremely blessed. I like to think about the great times. It’s good to be back.”

Sports figures often build their own headlines by uttering something stupid about upcoming opponents. But Jackson exemplified with great composure how to answer questions about controversy. His response serves as a lesson for business leaders.

Executives often can’t prevent themselves from publicly criticizing or taking cheap shots at competitors. They mock a competitor’s new product then watch it wildly succeed while their cynical sound bite turns into an embarrassing YouTube hit.

Executives also sit before media to promote new programs they created to solve past problems. When reporters drudge up the details of those past problems, executives stumble and miss an opportunity to focus on the positive future.

Mark Jackson didn’t comment about how his tenure with Golden State ended, but he skillfully recited his increasing victory totals to demonstrate his success. He shared facts and highlighted the positives of an experience that ended negatively. He got his point across without providing bulletin board material for any further controversy.

Well played Mark Jackson. You may have provided us the game’s greatest move.

Media Training: Did UPS Need Better Delivery?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

media training

By Keith Yaskin

During a media training session, we warned participants about providing answers that appeared to be guesses. Their facial expressions indicated they were contemplating the answers on the spot. In some instances, colleagues provided different answers to the same questions.

A New York Times article about United Parcel Service reminded me about that media training session. The story discussed how a passport shipped by UPS went missing for about two years. What happened?  The writer described a company spokesperson’s statements as theories. When the writer questioned the first theory, he said the spokesperson offered another possibility. Perhaps the spokesperson was attempting to be helpful and transparent, but, according to how the writer related the story, we inferred the spokesperson set herself up for cynicism. After the spokesperson offered her first theory, the writer pointed out UPS’s substantial tracking technology as if  to question how in the world the company lost a passport.

I talked on the phone with Susan Rosenberg, UPS Public Relations Director. She is who The Times quoted in the story. Susan told me she had worked with this journalist before and frequently speaks with consumer advocate reporters. She said it’s not uncommon for some of those reporters to initially approach their stories from negative points of view. She told me this writer’s story was cynical but she expected that from the beginning. She said she tried to be as helpful as possible for the reporter and explained the company went through exhaustive efforts to learn what happened with the passport. She explained the writer requested a substantial amount of data that the company did not provide. And she pointed out the story brought up the positive of UPS’s sophisticated technology

I was most curious if Susan regretted offering the writer educated guesses in contrast with saying something to the effect of, “Despite our exhaustive search, I’m afraid we are not sure why the passport went missing. We are still looking into it.” Susan told me she wasn’t interested in having a 20/20 hindsight type of conversation.

I have mixed feelings about Susan’s approach. On one hand, I applaud her willingness to apparently take extra steps to answer the reporter’s questions. On The Flip Side, I inferred the writer used Susan’s educated guesses about what happened to the passport as a launching pad to cynically question whether he received reasonable explanations. In general, we believe saying, “I don’t know” is a better approach than speculating. Don’t be afraid to tell the media you don’t have certain information and that you need to do further checking to get the details. You will be happy to get back to them later.

If you offer speculation, be prepared for a reporter to ask a follow-up question that questions your logic. You might be placing yourself in that situation and opening yourself up to a line of additional questioning that might not even be relevant. Don’t increase a reporter’s opportunity to lead you into a trap and revel in gotcha moments. In general, educated speculation leads to too many potholes.

That’s what media training can do for you.