Media Training & Interview Tips

Having been in the public relations business now for more than 20 years, I have sat through more than my fair share of media training sessions, both as someone looking to improve and as the trainer for the class. Even today, I go through the class just to see what people that I respect recommend to their clients. I still want to hear their media training tips!

I believe I have been lucky in that while the classes that I have attended have touched on personal appearance, how to sit or how to engage with the reporter, my classes have focused on the harder issues that more often trip up clients, hard questions or off-topic discussions that can go horribly wrong.

In the trainings that I give, we focus on fundamentals during the first hour. That is the same first hour for a four-hour class or a two-day class. The fundamentals do cover how to dress etc, but that only takes a second, afterwards we focus in on learning about the reporter, type of medium (radio, print, TV or digital), the reason we agreed to do the interview and more. We don’t want to take anyone into an interview that isn’t prepared with talking points as well as an understanding of all the types of questions that may come out as well as knowing what isn’t to be shared or how to say no, without using the n-word (little n). {That’s right don’t get to excited.}

One of the key elements within training is finding out if the selected people in the class are indeed the best people for the job. If they are good candidates, it is critical to help them overcome any past negative experience or bias that they might have, so that they give a great interview (conversation).

One of the key pieces of information that I share with my clients is that reporters are just people doing a job too. If you help them do their job, they are more likely to be in a better mood for the interview. At the end of the day, we are all out there working, hopefully doing something we generally enjoy, to make money, so that we can go home and do what we really want to be spending our time doing. So whenever possible, just be helpful to the reporter.

While it is possible that you will run into a jerk reporter, that is no reason not to still be exceptionally polite to them, after all they are recording you or taking notes of what you said and if provoked they can be cruel in how they use that information.

I can remember one time when a colleague of mine got on the wrong side of a reporter and before long his reimbursement receipts from a trip made on the public dollar was on air and included toe nail clippers, gum and a new razor. The reporter simply put a shot across the bow for the perceived mistreatment that he had received.

Here are the Tips

  • Don’t just wing it – Before you ever sit down with a reporter, know who you are talking to. What they want from you? Have the answers readily available from memory and above all, be correct. If you don’t know, just say so from the start. Don’t wait until you get back to the office and call them to correct a mistake. But if you do make a mistake, correct if as fast as possible. Preferably before the story is ever run, but if it is critical, politely ask for a correction and explain why it was wrong.
  • Everything you say while with a reporter is subject to being reported either in that story or in some future story that has yet to be conceived of. Stay on topic from start to finish, stay in your lane!
  • Reporters will sometimes make a statement to see if you agree. If you don’t, speak up, this is your opportunity to tell your story. If you don’t correct a reporter then and there, you are leading them down the wrong road.
  • Make sure you understand what the reporter is asking. If you don’t understand the question, just ask for clarification. I have had to fix all sorts of messes over the years from reporters asking one thing and my client answering another. Do you know how hard it is to steer a conversation back after you go down the rabbit hole?
  • Never say anything negative about an individual or company. This should be a no brainer. An interview is for you to tell your story, not to untell someone else’s!
  • What are you the expert in? Now stay in your lane! If you are talking about widgets and the reporter starts asking about your doodads, let them know that you will have to check in to those and will need to schedule time for an interview sometime down the road.
  • Be respectful of the reporter’s time, show up on time and ready to begin. If at the end of the interview you have a couple things you want to add, even after the reporter indicates they are done, just ask nicely if you can add something more for their consideration.
  • Most reporters like facts, figures, trends over opinions, but sometimes you are literally being asked your opinion as an expert in the field. At that point, put on your engineer hat or your scientist hat and remember to stay in your lane. If the reporter asks when the bridge will reopen, and you are with the hazmat team, refer them to whoever is running the scene, probably the police.
  • Before heading out, let the reporter know how you can be contacted if additional information is needed.
  • And most important, never lie to a reporter, never mislead, never deceive. Be the honest person your mom and dad taught you to be while you are sharing your story.

When you work with a media trainer, make sure you are getting custom training for your industry, for your situation and for your teams’ level of expertise. My one hour of media basics helps me understand if I’m really dealing with a group of top dogs or if I was oversold and need to bring my baby wipes.

By Brian Murnahan

Media training is a service offered by Murnahan Public Relations and we would be happy to set up a consultation with you to discuss your situation, please find our contact information at the bottom of each page. Media Training

Read more at No Red Lights blog.

Additional resources:

10 tips to help you ace a media interview

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