Coaching a “Newbie” in Media Relations

Properly prepping a consultant for a routine, non-controversial (we’ll address responding to risk-laden media calls in a later column!) media interview can make a huge, huge difference. What might otherwise be a ho-hum mention of your firm can be elevated to a powerful third party endorsement to leverage in selling your brand for years to come.

Formal media training, done by a professional outside of your firm, is by far, the best way to equip a spokesperson with the right tools, and the right combination of confidence and humility, to speak to the press. But there isn’t always the time, the budget or the opportunity to conduct full-blown training prior to putting a novice in front of a reporter.

So, when you coach a newbie on a specific reporter’s inquiry, make sure, first and foremost, that you know (or can anticipate) as many of the reporter’s questions as possible. Many reporters, particularly those who write for trade journals, are more than happy to discuss the topic and what they hope your firm will specifically address in advance. So ask them. But always prepare for surprises and coach your newbie on how to respond.

Then, strategize no more than three key messages that directly relate to the inquiry. This will enable the newbie to progress from merely answering questions to offering incisive and crisp messaging that affirms your firm’s superior position on the topic at hand. Ideally, these messages need to

  • Link to projects your firm can sell. Common sense says there’s no use in developing messages that will not sell your firm’s products and services (even if they are more interesting than what your firm does!)
  • Be relevant to the news topics of the day. By linking messages to events/themes in the current business environment, you have a better chance of getting quoted…and sounding smarter
  • Are supported by documentation/data. Each message needs to include “proof statements”
  • Are intriguing, offer a point of view. Assuming there are no risks involved (see the next bullet point) messaging can even be provocative or contrarian
  • Are non-controversial for the firm. If you are worried that a particular message might boomerang into a topic you are NOT comfortable discussing, don’t even bring it up

Once the messages are developed,

  • Rehearse with the newbie to be sure he/she can articulate the messages in a concise, confident and coherent way
  • Conduct a post-mortem after the interview to determine whether there was anything else that you could have done to make the outcome more positive.

And, finally, always call or send a thank you note to the reporter.

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