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Media training front-line workers creates brilliant brand ambassadors

By Lesley McIvor

If your media training programme stops at director level, your business is missing out on the expertise and authenticity some of your brand’s greatest advocates can deliver.

The need for a company’s chief executive and board members to be media trained is clear – there are obvious advantages in knowing how to convey key messages to business journalists or handle a crisis management situation.

No one should ever go into those situations unless they are well-versed in interview techniques, know how to avoid the pitfalls and have been clearly briefed on the media relations messages they need to push.

For that same reason, I’d also make the case for training carefully selected front-line experts so they too can handle media interviews when the public relations need arises.

I’m talking about the people who are the everyday faces of your business, the indispensible cogs in the machine, the folk at the coalface. They know your business like no other, they’re relatable characters and their stories will resonate with ordinary punters.

Telling your stories

In short, they’re the ones who make your company what it is. So to have them talking about the company and what they do, telling your stories, is powerful.

People will more readily relate to someone who is doing the job than they will to the bosses. So using your employees in media relations gives your key public relations messages more authenticity in the eyes of the public. It also shows people outside of the company the faith you have in your employees and their abilities.

What’s more, having those colleagues involved in media relations has side benefits for morale. It gives them a bit of a boost because they see they are valued and trusted, and it shows other employees that the company recognises they are instrumental to business success.

Take the work we’ve done with clients in the higher education sector – the perfect example of the benefits of extending media training to front-line experts.

A university’s principal or vice-principal is great for addressing issues that affect the whole institution, from funding matters to policy. But when it comes to discussing a specialism, a particular course or a research breakthrough they’re not necessarily the best figurehead to use.

Communicate your ideas

Unis are packed with academics and lecturers who are respected experts in their fields and they’re who you want for that kind of story.

But being able to communicate their ideas to students or other specialists and being able to get across key points during an interview with a journalist are two very different things.

For one thing, journalists don’t have the time students have to learn – and they won’t necessarily have experience of the subject. They need information in accessible, bite-sized chunks.

So knowing a subject inside-out isn’t enough to prepare an academic for type of soundbites a journalist needs. This is especially the case with broadcast journalists, who quite often need 10 to 15-second responses that pack in the key messages.

And there’s more than content to consider. Even if they have that ability to boil down an answer, do they have the confidence to deal with the media, when the microphone is in their face or the studio lights are glaring?

The benefits of the media training process are clear. If your spokespeople are prepared, their key messages are more likely to trip off the tongue and will sound natural. And if they know the techniques a journalist will use, they will be able to react appropriately.

We help our clients’ spokespeople to realise that they are not at the mercy of the journalist, and that they can shape the conversation and bring it back to what they want to talk about – giving clients greater control of how each story is reported. It’s really important that they see interviews as opportunities and not threats.

The techniques journalists use

Our media training sessions take away the mystique that surrounds journalists and journalism. We explain how print, broadcast and online media work, what techniques journalists use and the tricks of the trade they’ll employ in an interview.

We’ll roleplay the different kinds of interview they could face, showing how an interview on camera differs from a chat over a telephone – and the highs and lows of each.

As part of the demystification, we show them how journalists are interested in good news as well as bad, and how to get positive messages through. We also discuss the techniques used by the media to extract extra info, and how to avoid falling into the trap of rambling once you’ve made your point.

We also talk about body language – its importance can’t be underestimated. Someone can give a perfect answer, packed with those key messages, but undermine it because their arms are crossed or their brow is furrowed. 

I’ve trained more than one person who was intelligent, charming and spoke in dream soundbites – but closed their eyes when they gave an answer and had no idea they were doing it! But with a little bit of training we turned them into the perfect interview candidates.

Clients build confidence

We don’t pull any punches – but we provide the type of feedback that helps our public relations clients’ spokespeople build confidence in their dealings with the media. They’ll perform brilliantly if they  understand what they could face, are ready to engage with journalists and can adapt to different demands.

That’s why it’s important to have media-trained specialists across your business, ready to address issues in specialised areas or to put a human face on a corporate story.

Remember, the success of a business is down to its people – the effort and abilities of everyone who works there.

Utilise that talent and showcase your stars. They know your business like no one else so let them show it off.

To find out how we push the boundaries of PR, marketing, digital and web design to get the best for our clients, call us now on 0800 612 9890.