One of my favourite things to do at Curve is media training.

As a former journalist and a TV producer, one of my jobs was to get people to give reporters answers to questions that they REALLY didn’t want to answer during a news interview.

Those tactics included wording questions in a very specific and strategic way so that you get the answer you need or want, or leaving a gap when people have finished speaking because very often – due to an abject fear of awkward silences in conversations – people will start speaking again and say the one thing they shouldn’t have said into a microphone.

Now I’m on the other side, it’s my job to prep potential interviewees for their close-up, and to keep them on message, no matter what is thrown at them.

Something for all medium-to-large businesses to remember is that your CEO isn’t necessarily the best person for the job. Sure – they’ve got the title, but if they’re uncomfortable in an interview situation – especially when they might be grilled – things could go disastrously wrong, meaning there could be consequences for the entire company. Often when I’m doing media training, it’s to a room full of people rather than just one-on-one, since more than one person should be prepped for different scenarios. After the group sessions wrap up, whether I’m asked or not, I tell the person who booked me who their go-to person should be if the media ever comes knocking.

Things your media spokesperson should be able to do:

  • Have the ability to be amiable – not patronizing – in a one-on-one situation
  • Be able to repeat key messaging when answering questions, rather than being sidetracked or getting emotionally involved in a conversation
  • Convey a calm-in-a-storm personality that conveys control, even (especially!) in a crisis

Once you’ve got your ideal spokesperson, the next thing to do is get them to memorize the company key messaging. If you don’t have key messaging, then what’s the ONE thing you would want to come out of the interview? Maybe it’s something like:

“The health and safety of our employees and our customers is the top priority at all times, and we’ll do whatever it takes to enforce that.”

…but whatever it is, this statement should be repeated in EVERY answer that’s given in the interview – for a pre-taped interview anyway! Chances are the reporter will only use one clip, and you want that message to be included in all answers, so that it gets used. In fact, when it makes sense to do so, make it the ONLY thing you say as an answer. But stick to your key messaging, and if you use the phrase at the end of the answer, it will also discourage you from continuing to speak and saying something that’s NOT on brand.

Try to find out if the interview is on camera. Even if it’s an interview for print or online, there’s still a good chance it will be recorded on a phone – which has a camera. Content is key for media, so assume people will be seen, and prep accordingly. Just because Boris Johnson gets away with it, doesn’t mean anyone else should!

If there’s a question where the answer isn’t known, be honest. Trying to fudge an answer will sound WAY worse than saying: “I don’t have that information right now – but I’ll try and get it for you later – can you call me in an hour?” Then you have control of when and how that information is disseminated.

And finally – although maybe this should have come first – be open. Putting someone out there to talk to media – even in the worst situations – will put you in a much better light than not commenting on things at all. As long as you control the messaging and have a strong spokesperson in place, you shouldn’t need to worry. And as always, if you need help, we’re here for you!