Media Training 29: Conclusion

By Gerard Braud

We began this 29 lesson discussion with the admonition, “Don’t talk to the media.” The original admonition was that you speak through the media to your audience and the media’s audience.

But as we conclude, let me take this thought a bit further. We’ve poured out for you 29 lessons of best practices for dealing with the media. These practices are tried and true. They work. Please use them.

If you deviate from any of these lessons, you will likely face consequences that damage you, your reputation and the financial health of your organization, whether it be government, non-profit or corporate.

My mentors and personal business coaches always tell me that if I want to achieve higher successes, I should hang around with and learn from people who have achieved the success I would like to achieve. My personal business coaches are the people I turn to in order to learn skills I don’t currently have, or to coach me through improving certain skills that need improving. My coaches remind me also that just as great athletes and performers practice constantly, so must all of us practice a variety skills in order to be better at them.

Dealing with the media and doing interviews with the media is not easy for most people. Some make it look easy, but those are the ones who have great coaches and who have taken the time to practice on many occasions.

I hope the information in these lessons is useful to you. I encourage you to hire a personal media trainer or coach to take your skills to the next level. Don’t allow yourself to feel embarrassed because you are asking for help and be willing to exercise a degree of humility if you don’t meet your own expectations in the early stages of training. Furthermore, I encourage you to make training and practice a regular part of your professional career. Media training is not something that you put on a list, then check off as completed because you have done it once. Learning the skill of talking to the media requires a commitment to training over many years.

If, on the other hand, you chose not to take the advice that has been so freely shared with you in these lessons, at least take this piece of advice: Don’t talk to the media.

Media Training 28: Speaking Off the Record

By Gerard Braud

Never agree to speak off the record.

This lesson really could end with just that phrase: Never speak off the record.

Speaking off the record has been taboo among the wisest media trainers and public relations sages for decades, but rarely do I teach a media training class in which I don’t get asked if it is okay to speak off of the record. Furthermore, the question is usually asked by someone who thinks speaking off of the record is a good idea.

Let’s go back to 7th grade. Johnny likes Suzie. Johnny confesses to Suzie’s best friend, Mary, that he likes Suzie. Johnny admonishes Mary not to tell anyone. Within an hour the entire 7th grade class knows Johnny likes Suzie.

Now that you are an adult, do you think the rules and practices of confidentiality have changed? They have not.

Speaking off of the record is triggered by either an incentive from the spokesperson or a suggestion from the reporter. It usually happens when the interview reaches an impasse because the spokesperson knows that if he says more, his comments will compromise a relationship or expose confidential information. Sometimes the spokesperson would like the information to be known publicly, but not be associated with him.

When the discussion reaches an impasse, the reporter might suggest, “Would you be willing to tell me off the record?” Sometimes the spokesperson might initiate the agreement by suggesting, “If I tell you, can we keep it off the record?”

The inference is that once spoken, the reporter will simply sit on the information as though it helps paint a clearer picture of what is perhaps an incomplete story. Don’t believe it. Don’t do it.

A reporter will always, in some way, use the information. Perhaps in their report they’ll say, “confidential sources tell us,” then share the information. Anyone close to the topic can likely do enough deductive reasoning to trace the information back to you, which ultimately damages your reputation. Sometimes the reporter dangles your information in front of another source as an incentive to get the other source to say “on the record” what you would not say “off the record.” To me, it all adds up to bad ethics.

Some individuals will share information off the record as a way to get a reporter to attack an opponent or competitor. This often happens in politics and the corporate world. Again, to me it is bad ethics. If you have charges to level, say them for the entire world to hear and be prepared to back up what you say. If you can’t back it up, you shouldn’t be saying it.

Back in my days in journalism school at Louisiana Tech University, my mentors taught that as a reporter, if someone told you something off of the record, your only choice was to take that information to the grave with you. Using the information to pry information from someone else was unethical. Furthermore, we were taught that as reporters we should not ask anyone to go off the record, because someone else might tell us the same information “on the record.” If someone told us the same information on the record after we first went off the record with a prior source, the prior source might very well think we compromised his trust or confidence.

Speaking off the record creates a bevy of problems and sets the stage for a variety of ethical pitfalls, all of which can be avoided by always speaking only for the record.

Akin to speaking off the record is when a reporter will ask you to speak on background. This infers again that your comments will better help the reporter understand all of the facts, and in many ways infers the reporter will not quote you. It subtly implies confidentiality but really means the reporter will in fact use the information to garner more facts from another source.

I don’t like the vagueness of “speaking on background” and I would advise you to avoid this practice as well.

If you believe something and you have the proof to back it up, then say it. If you can’t prove it or support your position, then hold your tongue.

Let good ethics be your guide.

In our next lesson, I’ll tie up everything with some concluding thoughts.

Media Training 5: The Media are Biased

By Gerard Braud

There is much debate about whether the media are biased; especially whether there is a liberal bias. If you truly want to explore that subject, I suggest you read the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg.

It has been my experience over the years that much of what is perceived as bias is really the result of the following:

• Editors send reporters out of the door armed with only partial facts or rumors

• The reporters and editors have misconceptions or misperceptions about you or your issues

• A competitor or opponent of yours has approached the media and only told them half of the story

• Ignorance by the reporter

All four of the above result in the reporter calling you, asking for an interview, and asking you negative questions, putting you in a defensive posture.

Let’s break it down.

Partial facts are usually the result of rumors and innuendos. We all share rumors every day. “Hey, you know what I heard today…?”  In the newsroom, a reporter or editor turns that rumor into a research project and must confirm or refute it. “Hey Gerard, I heard a rumor today that… Why don’t you go check it out?”

That rumor would become my assignment for the day. If there is a rumor that the mayor is on cocaine, then I try to prove that the mayor is using cocaine. If he is, it is a story. If he isn’t, then there is no story.  If the rumor is that the married congressman has a girlfriend, then I try to prove the congressman has a girlfriend. If it is true, I have a story. If I can’t prove it, then there is no story.

You may not like it, but it is the nature of the business.

The next issue is very similar; it’s the impact of a misconception or misperceptions. Often this is purely subjective. Perhaps you are proposing a new development, but something just seems shady. Then the news report may likely reflect a tone of skepticism. The reporter may even seek out a 3rd party who is willing to cast further doubt on your project or credibility.

On the issue of opponents — I’ve watched many opponents make compelling cases and provide an enormous amount of supporting material and a hefty helping of innuendo. In the U.S. they’re often called “opposition groups” while around the world they are called “NGOs,” which stands for non-government organizations.

Usually the members of these groups are very passionate about a specific issue and those issues may be considered liberal issues. If a member of one of these groups makes a compelling case to a reporter, they could trigger a news report about you or your company. The reporter may come armed with reams of documentation supplied by the opponent, placing you in a defensive position. The resulting story could portray you in a very negative light.

And the final issue is ignorance by the reporter. Sometimes reporters just get the wrong idea about something and pursue it as a negative story. For example, most reporters look at steam belching from an industrial facility and think they are seeing pollution. Hence, they may do a story about industry polluting and fill the report with images of the stack belching what looks like smoke.

When you are faced with a situation like this, you need to apply all the tricks from lesson one, which includes explaining everything to them in simple terms the way you would explain it to a 6th grade class at career day.

Chances are the media are not “out to get you.” But somebody else may be out to get you and they are letting the media do their dirty work.

In our next lesson we’ll talk about how you can predict what questions are reporter will ask you in an interview.



Media Training in New Orleans, Baton Rouge & Louisiana

DSC_0076By Gerard Braud

Media training in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other cities in Louisiana carry a special set of challenges. Usually the training is for spokesmen – as in all men. Seldom is the media training for spokespeople, representing both genders. The spokesmen generally work in the oil and chemical industry. Most are not trained public relations professionals. Most are managers and supervisors in a chemical plant or an oil refinery.

In Louisiana’s industrial corridor, the bulk of the media training is to prepare someone for crisis response. Often companies call asking for crisis communications training or crisis management training. Seldom do they ask for media training because many do not know what the training should be called.

At the risk of generalizing, many of these spokesmen grew up as I did. We were taught to tell it like it is. Telling it like it is usually starts with negative information, followed by a justification for the bad news or event. After the bad news and the justification, Louisiana men often tell you what they are going to do differently.

Analyzed, it looks like this:

Bad News – Repeat the negative

Bad News – Repeat the negative

Good News

When I was a television reporter, I was often first on the scene when a chemical plant blew up between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Often the spokesperson would share too many negative details that should not have been shared. They might say something such as, “Well we’ve been having problems with the vessel in the hydrocarbon unit for the past month. We had one small fire that we put out last week. But we don’t know what caused the explosion today. But I promise you, safety is our top priority.”

To be an expert spokesman in media interviews, the fewer negatives you repeat, the better you will be. In media training, you need to learn to say positive news first and as little of the negative news as possible.

The statement above might have better been worded by saying, “Our goal is to always be protective of human health and the environment. What has happened here today will require us to investigate so we can find out what happened, how it happened, and how we can keep it from ever happening again.”

Are you up to the challenge for a media interview?

Media Training Tip: Don’t Leave The Audience Thinking “What Does That Mean?”

What bugs the ever living daylights out of me is hearing people speak in mumble jumble that they think means something, but it means nothing at all. This mumble jumble is corporate speak, buzzwords, jargon and government training gerard braud

I’m fortunate enough that people pay me an honorarium to speak at numerous conferences, corporate meetings and association meetings every month. I always make a point of listening to what other speakers say so I can incorporate their lessons into my presentation.

But many of the speakers fill their presentations with so many buzz words, jargon and mumble jumble that I find myself sitting in the audience asking, “What does that mean?” The speaker thinks they have said something profound, but they’ve really said nothing at all.

I hear things such as, “If we work in a customer centric capacity to increase productivity and to create a win-win situation for our partners in a collaborative fashion, then we can achieve our goals for the betterment of our strategic partners in the hopes of benefiting those with whom we do business?

What does that mean?

Were you trying to say put customers first?

What is a win-win situation? (With all due respects to Steven Covey…)

What are examples of collaboration?

What are the goals?

Who are the strategic partners?

Please, spell it out. Please give me meaningful examples. Please give me tangible examples. Please give me anecdotes. Please communicate with real words. Please put some emotion into your communications. Please make the communications more visual by describing who and what you are talking about.

Would those words work at career day with a 6th grade class? A friend of mine uses this test: If you said it to your grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner, would they know what you mean?

Let’s touch on one other important point that I find in the politically correct world, especially among non-profit organizations. There is a propensity to say things in a way that will not offend the people that you serve. However, in the process of crafting your statement with sensitivity, you become so ambiguous that no one really knows what you are talking about, including… and sometimes most importantly, even the people they are trying to help. That’s right — the people you are trying to help don’t know what you mean, because the organization is being so sensitive and so politically correct.

If you keep changing the labels and the terminology out of sensitivity, the audience, the reporter and the people you serve will be left asking, “What does that mean?” This could lead to you accusing the reporter of taking you out of context and it affects your bottom line when you use terms that your audience cannot understand because of the politically correct ambiguity.

Consultants and trainers are also guilty of trying to coin clever phrases. A few years ago my wife, who works at a small private school, mailed out the class schedule for the fall semester. Her phone started ringing off the hook because after years of promoting the school’s top notch computer lab, computer classes were no longer listed on the class schedule. She told concerned parents she would check it out and get back to them. As it turns out, someone on the school staff had taken the term computer class off of the schedule and replaced it with the term “information literacy.” Yes, it seems someone had gone to a summer workshop in which the trainer/consultant preached that “it’s so much more than just knowing the mechanics of a computer, the internet and the programs – It’s really about ‘information literacy.’” What does that mean? It’s a dumb term. Call it what it is. It’s computer class.

If you’d like more examples from my “What Does that Mean?” file I have a great PDF that I’d be happy to share with you so you can share with the offenders. It is available as a download at

Call or email me to talk about your media training and crisis communications training needs:

Direct: 985-624-9976


Lesson 2: The Big IF

By Gerard Braud

The Big IF is what I call my philosophy of media training.

I ask every executive that I media train this all important question: If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?

This is true for corporations that depend upon customers.

This is true for non-profits that depend upon donations.

This is true for government agencies that depend upon taxpayer and legislative approval for funding.

Say the wrong thing and your customers will buy elsewhere.

Say the wrong thing and your donations will dry up.

Say the wrong thing and funding to your government agency gets cut.

Say the wrong thing and lose your job. It is that serious.

Many executives are hesitant to carve out time in their schedule for media training. Why? Primarily because they think they are too busy. That translates into they are too busy doing things that help them or the organization make money (although, send them an invitation to a charity golf tournament and most will fit it into their schedule.).

Many people who do media interviews also let their egos get in the way. They are afraid to go through media training because they are afraid someone will see them mess up. It is for that very reason that I tell all of my media training students that at the end of class I insist they destroy the video tape used in our role playing interviews so that all of their mistakes stay in the training room.

The things I hear most often from executives who will not train are:

• I’ll just wing it.

• I’ll just be honest, shoot straight and tell them what I think.

• I don’t want to sound rehearsed. I like to be spontaneous.

My answer to that is that if you wing it, you’ll crash and burn.

As for honesty, I believe you should always be honest. The key to honesty is to choose every word carefully. For example, if we gathered a group of your biggest competitors in a room and asked you to unveil all the secrets to your business model and success, would you really tell them everything you know? Would you give them your playbook? It is a question of honesty after all. So if a reporter asks you the same question, will you tell them everything? They are going to print it and give it to your competitors.

As for being spontaneous, I spent 15 years in the media listening to people be spontaneous with me everyday. As they spoke, most days my general thought was, “I can’t believe this idiot just said that to me on camera.” By the time those comments were edited into my report and put on the evening news, most of those spontaneous, poorly worded comments were damaging to the spokesperson’s reputation, which also has a negative impact upon the organization’s revenue.

Was it fair for me to use the dumb, incriminating, negative things people said to me? Absolutely. After all, those people must have thought it was important because they said it to me. I’m just sharing their honesty with the public.

Let me also emphasize this. It’s one thing to look stupid in the news report. But the damage does not stop with the damage you do to your personal or organizational reputation. Every time you damage your reputation you lose money. How much you lose depends upon how big of a gaff you make and the specific topic.

When you say something stupid that gets in print, on the radio or on TV, you also destroy your credibility with your employees. You also cause embarrassment to your employees and you potentially have a negative effect on their productivity; that will cost you money also.

So I ask the question again: If you could attach a dollar to every word you say, would you make money or lose money?

A well prepared, well rehearsed, well internalized message makes people want to do business with you, buy your products or support your cause.

As for not wanting to sound rehearsed, it is important to realize that the old adage about practice makes perfect, is true.

Many people make the mistake of trying to memorize what they want to say. Memorizing means you only know the words in your head. The secret is to internalize what you want to say. Internalizing means you know it in your heart and you know it in your heart to be true.

In order to internalize your message, you first have to go through the process of learning it in your head before transferring it to your heart, then sending it from your heart to mouth.

If it is a lie, you cannot store the message in your heart and you will not be able to effectively verbalize it.  So internalizing your message means that it is a well worded honest message.

My final tip on this topic is to treat every interview with the same importance that you treat every business deal. Before entering into a contract, countless hours are spent in preparation and negotiations. Why? Because it affects the bottom line. Well, the same due diligence and time needs to be put into preparing for a media interview. That means you need to schedule time to anticipate questions, prepare well worded answers, and to train and practice until you get every answer perfect every time. Then and only then should you do an interview with the media.

Every interview is as important as every business deal.

In our next lesson, we’ll take a look at the wants, needs and desires of the media.