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Don’t be afraid of the media

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The calamitous gag Gerald Ratner cracked in public in 1991, referring to his company’s cheap jewellery as “crap”, cost him a personal fortune of £500m and has sadly left its mark on following generations concerned about negative media interpretation.

Those who handle the media well like Sir Richard Branson or Stuart Rose of Marks and Spencer can attest to its power and have reaped the rewards. Others simply look on enviously, wary of the perceived risk involved. This is where media training comes in.

Companies and organisations can only interest the media, and therefore influence their customers and/or stakeholders, by understanding what the media wants and how to deliver it. There are 1,500 hours of news a day on terrestrial and digital channels waiting to be filled; however, my experience is that most people don’t have a clue about what makes news.

Executives of some of the biggest companies in the UK struggle to communicate, whether it is to journalists or through public speaking. But with training, practice and discipline you too could be creating the public ‘feel good factor’ that has helped build the Virgin brand and revitalised M&S. Quite simply, anyone who has any chance of meeting the media, even at a trade exhibition, plus the CEO and senior board members, should be media trained.

When looking to outsource training, there are a few things that businesses need to consider. Training should cover how to talk to print, radio and television journalists in several interview formats, including telephone and video links. Interviewees should learn how to develop key messages, how to deal with awkward questions and the correct vocabulary that will enrich their comments. Delegates should also be able to handle the media in a crisis and learn the techniques for issuing a statement, giving interviews in highly-charged conditions and hosting a full-blown media conference.

But how can you identify a good media trainer? A proven journalistic record creates instant credibility, but a famous face is no guarantee of quality. A good trainer needs charisma and an ability to handle group dynamics. Anyone wanting media training should look at a provider’s background and client base, looking for named testimonials or word of mouth referral.

As much of the media becomes more and more superficial and the ‘sound-bite’ rules, spokespeople need to make their key messages sharper, more succinct and more passionate. The way people look and sound and their body language is incredibly important, worth up to 93 per cent of their impact, according to one eminent psychologist (the other 7 per cent being what they actually say!). So trainers need to emphasise the importance of performance.

My one top tip? Delegates should undergo as many mock interviews as possible throughout media training. They must come away ‘winning’, that is feeling assured they can handle the process for real, even if they may need a little further practice.

*George Dearsley is an ex-journalist with more than 20 years’ experience in media training. He is currently running bespoke workshops for businesses with Birkbeck, University of London.

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