5 Crisis Communication Tips to Prevent Secret Service Style Delays

clancyBy Gerard Braud

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said it took five days before he was informed that a car carrying two agents struck a security barrier outside the White House.

How long does it take in your company for you to find out about an event that could be a potential crisis that requires you to implement your crisis communications plan and begin communicating with the media, employees, customers and other stakeholders?

Most public relations people tell me it is a constant challenge for the home office, leadership, and PR staff to find out what is going on in the field. Often, you find out only because the rest of the world has already found out and the issue is getting negative attention on social media or with the mainstream media.

How do you change this? It begins with new policies and procedures, supported by employee training, as outlined in the five tips below.

The reality is that the average employee, supervisor or manager is mostly afraid that they will get in trouble if they report a problem, large or small.

But an unreported problem creates problems for those of you who are the company expert in public relations, crisis communications and media relations.

Ultimately, you need to know about events that could damage the company’s reputation and revenue.

What are your solutions?

Tip 1: Conduct training programs that inform employees about the need to protect the company’s reputation and revenue through good reporting. Many employees and leaders never really make the full connection to the bottom line. Help them.

Tip 2: Establish an easy way for employees to notify the home office of a potential problem.

Tip 3: Train employees to get in the habit of using that notification method.

Tip 4: Provide positive recognition for employees who use the reporting mechanism and appropriate repercussions for employees who fail to report an event that could damage either reputation or revenue.

Tip 5: Do your part to speed communications by spending time on a clear sunny day to write a library of pre-written, fill-in-the-blank news releases so that you are not responsible for delaying crisis communications.

Crisis communications is a team effort and the team needs to be built for speed, both in the field and in the public relations office. One way to address this is to use the current Secret Service headlines to open a discussion with your executive staff.

If you have a great system you’d like to share with your public relations colleagues, please send me your thoughts in a guest blog post. gerard (at)

If you would like to discuss best practices for a public relations and crisis communications team built for speed, feel free to call me at 985-624-9976.

Brand Judgment Day

Racist chantBy Gerard Braud

Judgment day in the Biblical sense is the Godly determination of your fate at the end of time.

We’ve been taught that we do not know the hour or the day of our death or judgment.

But in the world of your brand, your products, and your services, we do know the day and we do know the hour. In fact, we know the minute.

The time is now. Social media and the throngs of participants on social media could be described as the most judgmental slice of humanity that civilization has ever seen.

Last week I watched two national stories unfold that led to a lot of online judgement. The first was the story about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a song filled with racial slurs. The second story babyswaddled in american flagwas about a photographer who posted a picture of a baby swaddled in an American flag.

[My goal is to interview both the fraternity brothers and the photographer to learn more about their experiences of being judged so harshly and so quickly. If you can introduce me to any of these folks, please call me.]

Swift social media judgment is a rather interesting phenomenon, considering the societal emphasis placed on political correctness. The political correctness movement had its roots in the 1990s.

When you think about it, an entire generation of young people have been taught that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin, or their ethnic background, or their religion. From there it grew into not criticizing someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Perhaps an unintentional consequence of the political correctness movement is that many people feel compelled to correct everyone else’s speech or behavior. Essentially, people anointed themselves as the police of appropriateness. Individuals became self-ordained. Many attempt to shame the rest of the world into adhering only to thinking as they do and approving only what they approve.

So would this also be true? Would it be true that as the political correctness movement spreads, parents, teachers, and well-intentioned folks enable a new breed of judgment that replaced the kind of judgment they were actually fighting against? Did they endorse and encourage judgment? And was the new judgment harsh?

For a large segment of the population, every day is the day they judge everyone around them. Hence, everyday is judgment day.

About this same time political correctness judgment took hold, talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh began their own breed of judgment. This opened the floodgates of copycat radio shows, which made many older adults also increase their level of harsh judgment and verbal criticism.

As this age of judgment was born, unto everyone was also born the Internet, social media, and technology.

Blogging and anonymous comments on blogs represented phase one of judgment. Phase two of judgment began when media news websites opened their doors to anonymous comments. Then phase three emerged with the birth of Facebook and Twitter.

Specifically to Facebook and Twitter, what could be a platform for sharing joy and goodness has become the trolling grounds for those who judge, hate and comment negatively with gusto. Social media can be a real hellhole for your brand.

The truth is, we all judge and pass judgment with every thought. You have thoughts about the products you buy, services you contract for, people you encounter at work, etc. You also have thoughts about every person you see. Your mind creates a near immediate impression as to whether you initially like someone or not. Your judgment on that may change within moments. You make judgments based on what a person is wearing, their body type, their ethnic background, and what they say.

You are in judgment of others, regardless of whether you have pleasant thoughts about a person or negative thoughts.

But do you verbalize every conceivable thought you have or have you been taught the art of self-control?

Many of us were taught the adage, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all.”

The political correctness age shifted that to, “If someone says something that is not nice about someone you should correct him or her and put them in their place.”

That is called judging those who judge.

This has all morphed into a self-ordained right to comment on social media about everything in society. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.


The Self-Centered Media and How it Affects You  

By Gerard Braud

gerard braud ron burgundyThe media love their gadgets. They also love promoting their gadgets.

At KSLA 12 in Shreveport, Louisiana, LifeEye12 was our mother ship. That is why I laughed so hard when the opening scene of the movie Anchorman shows Ron Burgundy stepping out of his helicopter. I’m not, however, laughing at CNN’s disgraceful coverage of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

Disgraceful, I say, because of CNN’s coverage of their drone video of an empty bridge.

KSLA Gerard Braud HelicopterFlashback to the 1970’s and 80’s — a news helicopter was the epitomy of status and the gadget of all news gadgets. At KSLA, it was
so important for us to mention and show the helicopter that I was almost fired as weekend anchor because I failed to show our anchorman landing in LifeEye12 at a local festival. Silly newsman and journalist Gerard Braud thought it was more important to report on the four different stories involving fatalities that day than to feature our helicopter. CNN is the latest sinner. CNN is using a drone and they are supporting my premise of the media making it all about them. (See Chapter 3 of my book Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Jon Stewart did a brilliant job of calling out CNN for their excessive coverage of the fact that they were using a drone to photograph the Edmund Pettus Bridge, even though there were no people on the bridge. If you haven’t seen it, watch this clip four minutes in. He calls out their sin better than I can even dream to.

gerard braud drone story

Click to watch video

The lesson for all of you is that each day it becomes harder to get the media’s attention. CNN would rather spend valuable airtime talking about themselves and their drone than reporting on the issues of the day. And because media copy media, you can expect to see valuable airtime on your local television station wasted as your local media praise themselves for buying, owning, and using the same toy that all of us have access to.

Selecting the Right Spokesperson: Should it be Multiple People?

DSC_0114Who should be your media spokesperson? In this series of blogs, we have reviewed the argument for the CEO serving as the spokesperson and the PR person serving as the media spokesperson.

Consider option 3: Should a Variety of People Should Serve as Your Media Spokespeople?

A subject matter expert, with proper media training, can be a great spokesperson. In fact, an expert in the subject is often the most credible with the media and the audience.

Numerous people should be media trained as spokespeople, with each ready to go when called upon.

In a crisis, the PR person should speak during the first hour of the crisis, as explained in our previous article. By the end of the second hour of the crisis, a subject matter expert should serve as the spokesperson. If needed, the subject matter expert can remain the spokesperson if the crisis is ongoing. The final news briefing of the day may be the best time to feature the CEO as spokesperson, as explained in our previous article.

Think of your spokesperson selection process the way sports teams operate. You have stars and strong people on the bench, ready to step in as needed.

Media training helps identify your star players and secondary players. Most of all, never let anyone speak without intense training. Media play hardball. Don’t send out an untrained person with little league skills.

Train your CEO. Train your PR expert. Train multiple subject matter experts. The number of experts you train is based on the type of organization you represent. A hospital, for example, could have multiple doctors from multiple fields, as well as one or two nurses. An electric company could train multiple supervisors and line workers, as well as someone who is an energy conservation expert.

The key to effective media training is to help these subject matter experts learn to put their daily jargon aside and learn to speak at a level that a sixth grader could understand. This is especially true for persons with an analytical mind, who have a propensity to focus on tiny, technical details, rather than focusing on the big pictures.

Who will be your media spokesperson?

About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is a media training and crisis communications plan expert. He has helped organizations on 5 continents. Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter.

A PR Epiphany About Your Value As a Public Relations Expert

Gerard Braud Epiphany PR

Watch today’s video about Gerard’s latest public relations epiphany.

Did you find your moment of public relations epiphany following yesterday’s blog and BraudCast video? I’d love for you to write me at and tell me what it is.

In addition to yesterday’s epiphany, there are several others I’d like to share with you as we all work together as communications professionals seeking to achieve effective communications in good times and in bad.

I had a huge epiphany when I realized how undervalued communications is in most institutions and companies. You are an expert at what you do, but you are undervalued in your workplace. Yet in your heart, in your head and in your gut you know there is a high value to effective communications.

While many of you can be considered an expert in the broad areas of public relations, my area of expertise is narrowly defined in crisis communications plans and media interview skills. Crisis communications and media interviews are even more undervalued than broader areas of public relations that the vast majority of you practice. And while strides have been made to measure the effectiveness and ROI of public relations to a brand, the reality is it is still undervalued. Many companies don’t want to spend the money to measure something they don’t believe in anyway.

The reason in part goes back to yesterday’s epiphany based on personality types and personality profiles. Many people who hold executive positions in companies come from an analytical and process oriented background, such as accounting or engineering. These personality types want everything quantified. But the reality is that in public relations many of you have seen enough case studies to know how to do what we do, the right way.

Yesterday I introduced you to the King’s Cake, so let’s use this as a metaphor. The cake has a small plastic baby. You hide the baby in the cake. Then people in the office cut slices. If your slice has the doll then you must buy a cake and bring it to the office tomorrow. Based on my experience as a New Orleanian, I can safely predict that someone will get the doll. For me, previous case studies are proof enough.

But an analytical person may undervalue my base assumption and want to have statistics to back up my belief. They may even want to establish probabilities of which color icing is most frequently sliced first, or whether people most frequently cut in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, or even whether the baby is most frequently hidden under a specific color of icing. And the people who think like that will completely undervalue my assumptions, regardless of my vast experience as a King’s Cake expert.

Everyday you fight a battle against executives who will spend money to promote and market a brand because they expect it to achieve a return on investment for both reputation and revenue. Yet most are in denial about how quickly they can see their brand reputation and revenue destroyed by a crisis or even a poorly worded quote to a reporter.

Today’s revelation is that we are undervalued and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Yet your job is to do your best and keep striving to make your case that PR on a good day and PR on a bad day are great ways to protect the brand’s reputation and revenue.

I value what you do. Keep doing it and do it well.

By Gerard Braud

(To order a King Cake for your office, visit Haydel’s Bakery online.)




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 23: Selecting the Right Spokesperson

By Gerard Braud

Picking the right spokesperson really depends upon the situation.

Many organizations tend to have two extremes in selecting spokespeople. Some organizations always send out their top PR person while other organizations insist that only the CEO speak.

I endorse neither of these approaches as perfect and will suggest that sometimes the top PR person is a great choice and likewise in some cases the CEO is a great choice.

But in many cases, neither of these people is a good choice.

In fact, if you think back to lesson 12 in which we talk about passing the cynic test, many reporters cynically will think that the PR spokesperson will be too polished, slick and rehearsed, and is therefore serving as a buffer to protect executives who are afraid to talk and who are vulnerable to difficult questions. Conversely, if the cynics see the CEO out front as the spokesperson for certain events, they will assume that the event is more serious because the CEO is having to handle the situation.

As a reporter, I generally wanted to talk to the person closest to the story or issue I was covering. If a hospital has a new procedure to announce, I’d rather speak to a front line doctor than either the PR person or the CEO. If the news report is about a non-profit agency, the best spokesperson for the story might likely be a volunteer. If a company is accused of wrong doing, I’d like to interview the manager who is closet to the issue at hand. If there is a fire and explosion, I’d rather speak to an eye witness or line supervisor.

The closer you can get the reporter to the person closest to the issue or event, the happier they will be.

Of course, this means that when it comes to media training, you need to use the same principle that a great sports team uses. You must train lots of people and build bench strength.

Training deep means managing budgets and calendars such that you can do both primary training and refresher training on a regular budget. Usually, budgeting time and funds is proportionate to the size of your organization. In proposing deep training and budgeting, just remember that the value of a single news story can easily pay for a single media training session. In fact, in most cases, the relative ad value of a single news story is 3 to 9 times greater than the cost of a media training class.

As an example, a 30-second TV commercial during a newscast may cost $4,000 to $5,000, which might also be the cost of a single media training class. However, according to the rules of relative ad value, a 30 second TV news story is considered 3 times more believable than a 30 second advertisement, hence the relative ad value of a 30 second news story could be $12,000 to $15,000. Most news stories run 90 seconds, which could increase the relative ad value of a single TV news story to $36,000 to $45,000 dollars or more. To take it one step further, most towns have one newspaper, 3-5 television stations and multiple news radio stations. Hence, the relative ad value of a news event could easily be worth $300,000 or more, depending upon which city you live in and the price of a 30 second commercial. More modern measurement methods can be even more precise in measuring relative ad value because they calculate the positive and negative nature of the story. The bottom line is that you can easily justify investing funds to train multiple spokespeople based on the positive financial impact it may have. Remember our rule about, “if you could attach a dollar to every word you say, would you make money or lose money.”

Hence, develop bench strength so you can have a large number of spokespeople to send forth and not just the head of PR or the CEO.

As for using the PR person, in Don Henley’s song, “Dirty Laundry,” he speaks of the bubble headed bleach blonde news anchor who comes on at 5 p.m. and how she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. Well the same is true of many PR spokespeople, which makes them not my choice on many occasions as spokespeople.

Regardless of whether news is good or bad, some spokespeople are able to stand before reporters and maintain a bubbly persona as though all is well, even when it isn’t. Their answers are often glib, superficial and poorly rehearsed. I hate that and so do most reporters and that is why many times I don’t want a PR person to be the spokesperson.

At the same time, many CEOs attempt to be too serious, attempt to communicate way too many details and generally look like the world’s biggest grump. I hate spokespeople like that.

The one time when I always want the PR person and the CEO ready to both act as spokespeople is when I write a crisis communications plan for an organization. I generally ask that the PR spokesperson and CEO both be included as spokespeople, along with a host of other executives.

Generally, in the first hour of a crisis, when information is still limited and most executives are busy managing the crisis at hand, I suggest that the PR spokesperson read what I describe as the “First Critical Statement.” This document lays out the very basics of what is known until more details are available.

Generally, I follow the initial statement one hour later with a more detailed statement delivered by a manager who has more expertise and knowledge about the subject at hand. This is one of the reasons why mid level executives need to be media trained.

Many companies will have sent out their CEO by this point to serve as the point person and lead spokesperson. I do not agree with this approach because I would prefer for the CEO to be leading the crisis team during the crisis. Furthermore, if a company uses a CEO as their spokesperson and the CEO misspeaks, who will come behind the CEO and clean things up if the CEO makes a mistake. Generally, I save the CEO to be the final spokesperson when the crisis is over. It both allows the CEO to clean up after any misstatements by middle managers and it allows the CEO to be portrayed as a leader who was managing the crisis.

Words are important, but you also send signals to the media by whom you select as your spokesperson. Choose wisely.

In our next lesson we’ll discuss the do’s and don’ts of a news conference.

Media Training 18: Practicing for the Big Negative News Story

By Gerard Braud 

So far we’ve discussed what an ordinary media training program includes and we’ve discussed the need to practice before every interview. But if you are being interviewed about a negative issue by an investigative reporter or a major publication or network news magazine, you need more than your average media training and quick practice session. You need to prepare as though you are going to war.

There are two main steps you need to take:

1)  Your PR or communications team needs to become the investigative reporter

2) You need to train until you know the answer to every question.

Let me explain what I mean.

When I’m asked to prepare someone for such an interview, we usually have one to two weeks to prepare. Major publications and networks often spend weeks and months working on a story.

Preparation includes numerous phone calls with the reporter or producer to find out exactly what their story is about and what they want to know.  Reporters are very coy and really don’t want to tell you too much about the story. Ideally, they want to catch you off guard because they think you will be more honest if they catch you unprepared. In most cases reporters are very vague.

If you are a retailer, for example, the reporter may tell you they are doing a story about computers, when really the story centers on allegations of questionable behavior by your computer sales team. If you are with a non-profit, they may tell you the story is about donations and how the money is used, when the real story is about high executive compensation and justifying a 6 figure salary funded by donations. If you are with a government agency, the reporter may tell you the story is about helping tax payers, when the real story is about a long list of tax payer complaints.

The first rule you should apply is to look in the mirror and to realize that the good Lord gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth and that you should use them in that proportion. In other words, you should be asking the reporters more questions than you answer. You need to learn to ask them probing questions about the possible report, then stop talking and start listening. Listen for not just what they say, but what they don’t say. You must become an expert in reading between the lines.

Among the questions you should ask are:

• Tell me a little about the genesis of the story?

• Is the story about something that we do well or something that you think we could do better?

• Ultimately, what do you want your audience to take away from the story?

• Who else have you talked to?

• What have those people told you so far?

I have a total of 3 pages of questions like these that I provide privately to my clients. It would be a disservice to print them here and tip our hand to the media.

After you ask the question, sit back and listen. Too many people think they need to do all the talking when dealing with a reporter. In this case, you want the reporter to do all the talking. And on the topic of talking, be aware that even though you may be doing advance work for the primary spokesperson, everything you say can be used in the final news report.

After doing exhaustive questioning of the reporter, the next step is for you to write the story the way you think the reporter would write the story at this very moment in time, based on what they said and didn’t say. Be brutally honest, cynical and sarcastic as you write the story. Next, share the story with your executive team to get their attention and commitment to do whatever it takes to fight the good fight, including more research by a team of people, designating a spokesperson, and a full commitment from the spokesperson to clear his or her calendar for media training.

With the executive team you should then pick apart the story to separate fact from fiction and perception from reality. Quickly identify where the reporter is off base in his or her assumptions. Identify the source of the story and what you know about the person or persons who may have given the story idea to the reporter, as well as what you know about the other people the reporter has already interviewed.

Next, develop a long list of questions that you think the reporter might ask. Do not be kind in crafting these questions. Make them very direct.

After that you’ll need to research the true answers to each question, gather background material to support your position, then begin writing answers to every question. The answers must all be quotable and written in the key message tree style that I described in lesson 9.

Media training for this type of interview may take 1 or 2 days. Generally such training will include a 45 minute role playing interview recorded on video, followed by an extensive critique and then more long interviews. This goes on non-stop until we’ve flushed out every question and until the spokesperson has perfected every answer. Remember, this is serious stuff that could affect your business and your bottom line.

Often I run into cynics who say you can’t possibly know every question you’ll be asked, nor can you know all the answers. I beg to differ with them. I have and you can.  In fact, the greatest compliment I get from clients after their interview is, “Gerard, you nailed it.”

You can nail it too.

If you get in a jam, you can always send an e-mail to me and track me down at

In our next lesson we’ll examine media training for a desk side visit.

Media Training 15: How to Structure Media Training

By Gerard Braud

One of the most difficult challenges I have in my job as a media trainer is to get executives to carve out time in their schedule for training. As mentioned in lesson 2, some don’t see the financial benefit. An even greater percentage are afraid of what ever embarrassment they may go through during the training. 

Admittedly, it is difficult for high powered people to intentionally put themselves in a vulnerable position.  But media training requires an executive to exercise a little humility and to recognize that training is a great time to learn a new skill or perfect an old skill.

So here are some suggestions whether you are the executive who needs to be trained or whether it’s your job to convince an executive that he or she need media training.

Everyone needs to understand up front that the day needs to be fun and that they need to be ready to laugh at themselves and their mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning, i.e. you learn from your mistakes.

Just the same, I try to create a safety zone for the student. If the person being trained is the CEO I prefer that we are the only two people in the room. At a minimum we can expect the class to take 4 hours. And as a sign of good faith, I always promise to destroy the video tape that we used to record mock interviews during the training.

Basic media training familiarizes an executive with the concept of media interviews, I’ll generally conduct 3 interviews during the course of the training. The first interview is a simple baseline interview. It let’s me gage the executive’s natural skills and personality type. I’ll determine quickly if the student is prone to give too many details, for example. I’ll also test their ability to stay on topic or whether they are easily distracted and get off topic easily.

The interview is recorded on video so it can be played back, evaluated and critiqued, even if you are practicing for a print interview.

I’ll then introduce the concept of using key messages to stay on topic and control the interview, then we will do a second interview on camera, followed by another evaluation.

My third interview begins to introduce negative questions and is designed to teach the concept of blocking a negative question by bridging back to one of the key messages and then hooking the reporter with new information.

I conclude the training with four things.

  • First, I let the student destroy the video tape as promised
  • Secondly, I give the student instructions that in order to truly master the skill they must begin using key messages every day in ordinary conversations.
  • Thirdly, I tell them they must role play with someone before every interview. Even if you only have 5 minutes, you need to get your head in the game and your mouth in gear.
  • Finally, I let them know that media training is not a one time event in life, but something that requires practice and more training.
Hopefully top executives understand the concept of having personal success and life coaches. I suggest an ongoing approach to media training with a refresher course taught ever 6-12 months.

For groups of vice presidents, managers and directors, the choice is yours as to whether you offer them a private 4 hour training, or whether you combine them into small groups for a full day of training. It is my personal preference to have no more than 4 people in a full day training program. When you add additional people you may need to add a second video camera and interviewer in order to complete all 3 role playing interviews in the allotted time.

In some cases, clients will ask for a training program to familiarize large groups with media training and the do’s and don’ts of media interviews. Such classes are possible. I’ve conducted programs with hundreds of people in the room. You can teach them all of the same lessons you would in a small media training class, but you are obviously unable to do personal role playing interviews  with everyone. Generally I’ll bring a volunteer to the stage to show everyone how an interview should be conducted. Then I ask the audience members to partner with the person next to them to conduct an interview. The audience members each take a turn to ask questions and to answer questions. Then I lead them through the process of giving each other an evaluation.

Finally, one way to get hesitant executives to train is to incorporate presentation training into the program. Many of the skills used to make a good presentation are some of the same skills used in an interview.

I always remind my students that Michael Jordan did not become the best basketball player of his day after a single practice, nor did Tiger Woods become a great golfer after taking a class at a Putt-Putt course. Likewise, to truly master the skill of being interviewed, you have to practice on a regular basis and find a coach and trainer who is a good match for your organization.

In our next lesson we will look at the big difference a little practice makes.