The Harder They Fall

One of the foundational elements of any successful PR program: media training. Whether delivered in a group setting or via one-on-one role playing, it’s crucial to ensure your spokespersons are prepared – on message, fully engaged and flawless in their delivery.

For some of us, being told “you need media training,” conjures up images of crestfallen “wish I’d said that instead” moments coupled with sweaty palms. Adults aren’t keen to learn, especially something that feels like you already know it. After all, you live and breathe your company’s messaging every day.  Now, turn your attention to the questions you’ll be asked by a journalist. Can you rattle off the features and functions of your latest product launch, complete with three vetted customer references? Can you answer basics such as how many employees do you have, what percentage of your customer implementations are public cloud, are you really full enterprise within these customers or just in a business unit, and why did your VP of Sales quit and go to the competition?

Suddenly, you feel like a whipped puppy with your tail between your legs. You failed the test that you didn’t know you were taking. The journalist is frustrated, the resulting story sucks and you’re no longer a PR A-lister.

And yet, there are others on your team whose level of self-awareness and self-deprecation doesn’t mirror yours. They blithely go through media interview after media interview, blaming the outcomes on the slant of the publication, airport security and cell phone reception or the darn product manager who didn’t create their slides properly. Needing training the most; however, dismissing it as a waste of their time, they think they’re already that good.

Why are some people so resistant to being media trained? First, it’s humbling. None of us like to admit that we have much to learn – especially if we’ve already achieved an enviable place on the corporate ladder. Second, there’s a sense that subject matter expertise trumps little details such as knowing what resonates with the journalist. And there’s also that elusive messaging thing that companies struggle with – that is, if you speak to us on Monday, we’re this but if you catch us on Wednesday, we’re that – the proverbial rolling stone that gathers no messaging traction.

Consider a recent incident that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: a European-based company trying to break into the U.S. market. When encouraged to engage for media training to ensure clarity and consistency of messaging – and especially to gain insight into how the U.S. press works – the CMO responded on his behalf. In hushed tones, he said their CEO didn’t like to slow down for silly things such as media training. He was a “shoot from the hip” guy who “didn’t like to prepare.” So, it was no surprise to us when the much coveted interview with TechCrunch that we set up went sideways. The journalist was annoyed by being spoken to in an annoyed manner, especially when direct questions about funding weren’t answered directly. Guess what? You don’t get a second shot.

At Devon our job is to queue up that shot. The spokesperson needs to knock the cover off the ball. It’s a competitive world out there, so if you want to be the company that earns media coverage, prepare well. I meet executives that we media trained years ago  and they tell me how that training helped them create memorable sound bites, forge lasting media relationships and improve their presentation skills. A small investment of their time for lasting results.

So, regardless of your title, do yourself and your company a big favor. Take the training. Don’t be the know-it-all who thinks he or she can woo the press because “I was at HP” or “my cousin works for The New York Times.” In the end, it comes down to the same place. You cannot get to Carnegie Hall without practice, practice, practice.