Have you put a spokesperson through media training only to have the news report turn out less than favorable? Have you ever put a spokesperson through media training, only to have the interview miss its mark?
If you answered yes to one or both of these, it is time to adopt maverick media training.
What is maverick media training?
Recognize the failing point of an interview. Bad ad libs are the leading cause of interview failures and news report embarrassment. Yet most media trainers still use the same old technique of giving a spokesperson three key messages, with instructions to ad lib about the key messages. The key messages are usually bullet points or slogan type phrases. They lack the parsing that leads to perfection in word choice.
Maverick media training relies on more preparation by a brilliant writer who can think and write like a reporter. Elements include first writing a strong preamble statement that adds immediate context when spoken. It must explain how your organization serves the greater good of humanity and the primary ways you accomplish this goal. The preamble statement must be written in a conversational tone and must foreshadow the aspects of the organization that the spokesperson is capable of discussing. This should then be followed by a series of paragraphs that simplify complicated issues, adding slightly more detail as you go.
Think of the writing process as a large tree, anchored by a solid tree trunk, that supports three solid branches. In maverick media training this is known as the key message tree. The more you grow your tree with well-worded, easy to internalize sentences, the greater likelihood you have that the spokesperson will internalize and use the sentences verbatim, thus replacing bad ad libs with great, quotable content.
Recognize that a direct answer to a direct question leads to failure. That’s because a direct answer has no context. This mistake is the primary reason spokespeople complain that they were taken out of context.
When you use the preamble and key message tree system described in step one, the spokesperson can add context with the preamble and transition from there to answering the essence of the reporter’s question.
If the actions of your organization are always in line with and congruent to your preamble, your interview will always go smoothly. If someone has done something wrong and created a crisis, the preamble can be modified to include an apology for failing to live up to the goals and standards of the organization. The apology can then be followed by an explanation of what corrective actions will be taken to avoid similar failings in the future.
Focus on the final edit. Many people lament that, “You can’t control the edit.” That is false.
If you recognize that every news report has a headline, a synopsis sentence known as a “lead,” and at least one quote from your spokesperson, then you can begin to control the edit.
Maverick media training stresses to the spokesperson the need to begin answers with a series of well-worded, well-written and well-internalized verbatim phrases that mimic the headline, lead, and quote. In essence, the key message tree mimics what reporters call the inverted pyramid. The inverted pyramid focuses on generalities first and adds more details as the news story progresses.
Ultimately, there is a psychology to greater success in a media interview. It involves thinking like, writing like, and speaking like a reporter. If you give a reporter the elements needed to do their job, in the very order and sequence that they need them, your victories in interviews and news report edits will rise exponentially.
If media interviews in the past have failed you and your spokespeople, or you are unsure about the logistics of a potential future media interview, be a maverick and adopt new media training techniques.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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