4 Media Training & Interview Tips Courtesy of Jeb Bush & Megyn Kelly


By Gerard Braud

Media training is not just about being an expert when it comes to answering a question. Media interview skills also require you to know how to ask questions of the reporter. The fuss about presidential candidate Jeb Bush is a case in point, based on an answer he gave to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly when asked about the Iraq War. What happened to Bush, can just as easily happen to you or an executive who serves as your spokesperson.

Here are some tips that will help you in your next interview:

Lesson 1: Listen to the question.

Lesson 2: Discern whether there is a question behind the question.

Lesson 3: Anticipate how your answer might trigger a dangerous follow up question.

Lesson 4: If you don’t truly understand the question or where the question might take you, ask the reporter to clarify. It is okay to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t fully understand your questions. Can you restate it?”

Bush’s failure to do this is costly. It can cost him in the polls as well as in financial contributions. In business, it can cause you to lose customers and sales because it damages both your reputation and your revenue.

Book quote(For those of you who rely on my book Don’t Talk to the Media Until as your executive media training guide book, this lesson relates directly to Lesson 2: The Big If on page 3, in which I ask the question, “If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?”)

Here is how the interview went down:

Kelly: “On the subject of Iraq, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

Bush: “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind every body and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

But Kelly’s question is not about going to war based on the intelligence provided at the time, yet Bush’s answer is. Essentially Kelly’s question is, “If you were president and you were told there are no large supplies of chemical weapons in Iraq, would you still invade?”

That isn’t the question Bush was answering. Bush thought he was being asked, “If you had been presented with the same intelligence your brother was presented with as President, would you have made the same decision to go to war that he did?”

The presidential campaign season is just getting started and the media are looking for every little flaw in every sentence that is spoken by a candidate. They do the same in interviews with you or your executives who serve as a spokesperson.

Bush’s faux pas is proof that even media interview veterans have to keep their skills sharp by listening to each question carefully, clarifying the intent of the question, and parsing every word of your answer.

It is amazing how many people create negative headlines for themselves because of something they said in a media interview that wasn’t perfect.

My advice is that regardless of how powerful you are and how busy you might be, to do a solid interview you should:

1) Have a media training coach that you love to work with

2) Set time aside at least once a year to allow that trainer to grill you on camera with an honest evaluation

3) Roll play with a coach or colleague before every interview with every reporter, so that you get your head in the game moments before the real questions begin.

Never allow yourself to get complacent. Don’t think because you’ve done so many interviews that you can eliminate the training that keeps your skills sharp. One misplaced word can cause serious harm to your reputation and your revenue. Can you afford that?

Bruce Jenner: 4 Media Lessons in Teasing, Ratings & Public Relations Pitching

bruce jennerBy Gerard Braud –

Pitching a story to the media is hard. Today I’m making a presentation to a group of public relations students at Loyola University in New Orleans. They want to know about secrets to pitching stories to the media. Their instructor wanted me to share my perspective since I have been both a working journalist in print, radio, and television, as well as a working public relations strategist for more than 20 years.

Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC presents a great perspective on what the media consider news and who the media consider news worthy.

Here are 4 lessons:

Lesson 1: Who you are matters. The more famous the better. The Kardashians and their team are pros at publicity and notoriety. Jenner’s notoriety from reality TV makes him a ratings getter. Did you hear that? A ratings getter. The ratings sweep period is beginning and ABC News knows that the celebrity persona of Jenner will bring in viewers. If you have to pitch a story to the media, you need to pitch it in a way that draws viewers to television, listeners to radio, readers to print, and visitors to the web. If your story helps to grow the media’s audience and advertising revenue, then you are more likely to get coverage. It is easier with celebrity status. If you are not pitching on behalf of a celebrity, then you must demonstrate that your story will attract a large audience for the media outlet.

Lesson 2: The power of the tease. There has been a mystery about whether Jenner is transitioning to become a woman. It is tabloid fodder, but tabloids wrote the book on building a readership centered around celebrities, innuendos, and rumors. Jenner’s story is a perfect match. In Jenner’s case, the mystery makes it easy to tease the interview program, which further drives buzz and ratings. My cynical side says Jenner and his team have carefully crafted the mystery so they can spin off a reality program about Jenner without the Kardashians.

Lesson 3: Timing. The LGBT community has worked aggressively for nearly 20 years to make stories about being gay a front page story in every publication in the world. Their goal has also been to add gay characters to television programs. They LGBT community has mastered media relations. First came stories of gay males, followed by stories of lesbian females. In most cases, the community worked to identify high profile people to tell their story. Again, a gay celebrity has more clout than a non-celebrity. Ellen’s coming out on her sitcom marked a turning point in the movement. I noted to my wife just two years ago that I was expecting a shift in story telling to the transgender topic since the L and G story lines of LGBT were fading. Shortly there after Orange is the New Black became a hit and Lavern Cox made the cover of Time magazine. The T story is the hot story now. The bi-sexual story line will soon follow after the transgender story line has played out.

Lesson 4: Be opportunistic in pitching your local media. If you are in public relations or represent a cause, brand, person or company that has a transgender connection, today is the day that you should be pitching your story to your local media. Local media love to be copy cats. Friday night’s 10 p.m. news on ABC stations will all feature a recap segment about the Bruce Jenner interview. All that is missing for them is a localized version of the story. I can hear the anchor now saying, “And while Bruce Jenner captured America’s attention tonight, we would like to introduce you to a local man who has a similar story to tell.”

Here are some examples of people or organizations who could be pitching a local version of this national story to the media:

  • Local LGBT support groups
  • Local man or woman activist who is transitioning
  • Local therapist
  • Local university expert on the topic
  • Local surgeon who does reassignment surgery
  • Local plastic surgeon who does cosmetic surgery for transitioning individuals
  • Local boutique that might serve transgender customers, with things such as clothing, wigs, make-up, etc.
  • …the list could go on.

Pitching is very much about relevance, ratings and timing. It isn’t easy, but it is fun to observe and learn from when it is done right.



Media Training Case Study: Political Season Is Upon Us

Hermain CainBy Gerard Braud

In yesterday’s article I mentioned The New York Times called me Friday for a comment about Rand Paul’s hostile interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. When the Times starts calling for observations, that means the political season is in full swing.

You can learn a lot about your own media interview dos and don’ts during campaigns, especially the presidential campaigns. We’ll take some time this week to look at a few lessons from the current presidential campaign, as well as the last campaign.

We can learn two lessons from the 2012 failed campaign of former pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Lesson #1: Always consider the financial impact of your words. (See Chapter #2 of Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Lesson #2: When you have big negatives in your past, you must be ready to explain them to the media the day you decide you want to be a candidate. Therefore you must spend time to craft your answer, then practice that answer, and be able to deliver it flawlessly the day you get asked about it.

Lesson #3: Don’t be in denial about your negatives. The media will eventually find out, ask you about it and you’ll need a perfect quote and explanation.

The Herman Cain lesson begins with the fact that he had, according to reports, been accused by several women of sexual harassment. His employer at the time settled out of court and the accusers signed a confidentiality agreement about the settlements. However, before the settlement was signed, it is possible that these women discussed their cases with their friends. You can also bet that opposing campaigns hired opposition research experts who would eventually discover this. Those researchers will look for an opportunity to leak it to the media. The media_If you could attach a dollar to every-1 eventually asked Herman Cain the question, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?” Cain replied, “Well have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Really Herman? You wanted to be the President of the United States and on the day you announced your candidacy you didn’t know how you would answer your toughest question? This is such a rookie mistake, yet also a typical mistake of high powered people.


Regarding Lesson #1: The day after this quote aired, Cain told everyone it wasn’t hurting his campaign and that checks were still coming in from supporters. The reality is checks were arriving from people who wrote them before the bad quote. The checks stopped rolling in later that week and the campaign ended. My opening sentence in each media training class I teach is the question, “If you could attach a dollar to ever word you say, would you make money or lose money?” Herman Cain’s situation proved this point.

Regarding Lesson #2: The day a candidate launches their campaign, they must have their quotes written and practiced for every negative in their lives. Failure to do so is unprofessional. In public relations, failure of a PR person to do this for their company and failure of the C-Suite to know the answers is unacceptable and amateurish. It is the job of the PR team and the job of the executives to be prepared. As a public relations person, you must be willing to push your CEO hard enough that if he or she doesn’t listen, you are willing to quit your job.

Regarding Lesson #3: Every candidate has negatives, just as every company has negatives. It is only a matter of time before an opponent learns of the negatives and tips off the media. It is better for you to acknowledge this and prepare for this than to live your life hoping it never gets discovered. Hope is not a public relations or crisis communications strategy.

Next, we’ll apply these lessons to Hilary Clinton.

Did New York City Overreact? A Crisis Communications Case Study

junoYesterday’s crisis communications blog regarding the winter storm Juno and the #Blizzardof2015 promoted the idea of managing the expectations of those who will be affected by a crisis.

Today, some critics are saying New York City overreacted.

Two observations:

1) The people who complain about “overreacting” are idiots. These would be the same people who would criticize their leaders if things had gotten worse than predicted.

2) One way to proactively address the potential critics during your initial media statement before the storm is to use language like this:

Experts tell us this may be the worse storm we have ever faced. As a city (community) we believe the best course of action is to err on the side of caution, rather than to have anyone get hurt or put in harms way. We are putting safety measures in place based on the best information we are getting from experts at this hour. However, ultimately mother nature is in charge. Sometimes she sends us weather worse than we expected; sometimes it is not as bad as we expected. For that reason, we ask your forgiveness and understanding in advance, if we institute safeguards and ultimately those safeguards are not needed. However, at this time, the best information we have indicates that we should shut down the city…

I’ve noticed several government officials on the news already defending their position, as they should. One governor pointed out how few accidents took place in his state. New York City quickly re-opened this morning after being shut down. Meanwhile, locations in New England are getting slammed, as predicted.

As I’ve learned as a storm chaser in pursuit of hurricanes, the slightest change in tracts means the difference between safety and disaster. If the eye of the storm moves just 10 miles off of the predicted tract, it makes a huge difference.

The bottom line is communicate often and communicate forcefully. Communicate before the event, during the event, and after the event.

By Gerard Braud

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 26: Looks are Important

By Gerard Braud

Looks are important. With just three lessons left to go, I would be remiss not to cover some important basics, such as how to dress for a news conference.

Dress for men has always been easier than dress for women in the world of media. That’s because men’s fashions tend to remain basic such as a coat and tie. About the only thing that changes much is the width of jacket lapels and the width of a tie.

Women, on the other hand, constantly face changing trends in clothing, ranging from sleeve types, to skirt lengths, to neckline styles. All of that is further complicated by shoe styles, hair styles and make-up styles.

As a basic place to begin, if you are in a formal news conference setting, traditional business attire is best. For men that is a business suit with neck tie. For women it is a traditional women’s business blazer with business skirt or business trousers. Both men and women should consider basic colors such as black, charcoal gray and navy blue.

What you wear affects you in two respects. In one respect, you have to consider how the audience perceives you based on your appearance. In another respect, you have to consider how you photograph and whether your wardrobe cooperates with cameras.

From the perception of the audience, consider that while some women look great in a red suit, some audiences may perceive red as the sign of someone who is power hungry. While certain women’s clothing may be trendy and acceptable in a social setting, in a business setting it may be perceived as too provocative. Women are likely to face greater challenges in this arena than men.

From the perspective of being photographed, many photographers complain that white shirts beneath a jacket make it difficult for them to compensate for the lighting on your face. This is less true today than in the past. As a rule, I think that especially for men, a white shirt is great under a business suit. Men have greater leeway with a white shirt than women do because it is broken up with a neck tie. Photographers often advise that a light blue shirt is often best for photography. From a lighting perspective it makes their job easier, but a blue shirt isn’t always as professional looking as a white shirt.

Excessively bright colors, flowery fabrics and fabrics with intricate patterns should always be avoided. They may look great in the mirror, but they look especially bad on television. Such designs tend to glow or create what is called a “moray” or “zebra” effect on television, which becomes a distraction to viewers. Soon the viewer is paying more attention to your glowing wardrobe than they are to your words. I have to leave many of my favorite neck ties home when I’m going to be interviewed for television.

And as for television, standing to be interviewed on television is less of a wardrobe challenge than sitting. While sitting in a news studio you are likely to be seen from your head to your toes. For men that means making sure your shoes are shined and that your socks fully cover your legs. Men should not have a gap of leg showing between the top of their sock and where their pant hem starts. Large men especially need to make sure their suit fits well. Too many men put on weight and don’t buy a new suit. This especially becomes obvious when their jacket doesn’t fit well when they sit. As you practice and media train the day before your interview, you should review your clothing and how it looks on camera.

Women on camera should select a conservative shoe that is not too trendy. Most women on television select to wear a skirt rather than pants. Selecting a skirt means you need to consider where the hem line rides as you sit. You also need to consider whether you have attractive legs on camera, as they are part of your image. Exposed veins and bumps and bruises become a visual distraction, detracting from your words. As fashion trends vary, hosiery may or may not be in style. However, on camera, hosiery is the equivalent to make-up for the legs. Just as foundation and power can cover skin blemishes on your face, hosiery can cover skin blemishes on your legs.

In considering these tips for women, keep in mind that television news anchors are increasingly breaking these trends, wearing trendy shoes, trendy dresses with little or no sleeves and often no hose. Some look downright silly and amateurish. Some can get by, for example, without wearing hosiery because they are still in the 20s and the skin on their legs has not yet betrayed them, as it often does to women beyond the age of 29.

For news events held outside of a news studio or a news conference room, a good rule to follow is to dress for the occasion and location. If you are in a factory, dress as a factory worker might. If you are volunteering at an outdoor charity event, a polo style short sleeve shirt or an appropriate long sleeve shirt with khakis may be appropriate. Both men and women should refrain from wearing shorts at such events. Likewise, don’t wear hats when being interviewed or photographed because the hat brim often shades a portion of your face while leaving another portion in bright sunlight. Such a lighting contrast is especially hard for photographers to deal with.

As a final thought to appearance, yes, it is true that both men and women should wear make-up if you are being interviewed for television. This is especially true if you are in a television studio with harsh lighting. You’ll notice that the news anchors are wearing a ton of make-up. The concept of make-up is often embarrassing to men, but you need to get over it and do it. When in doubt, hire a make-up artist who knows how to do television make-up. Keep in mind there is a big difference between general make-up that a woman may wear daily and how make-up is applied for men and women in a television studio. You may want to go the extra length and test out the make-up during your media training prior to your actual interview.

If you are outside and on television, a little press powder goes a long way to eliminate shine from oily skin. Balding men face an even greater challenge both in the studio and outside in the sun as the skin on their expanding forehead shines.

So in conclusion, in this lesson I’ve likely insulted both balding men and women with varicose veins. Sorry, I mean no offense. I’m just an old truth teller trying to offer you the most professional guidance possible.

In our next lesson, we’ll examine a question I get asked all the time: “Is it safe to speak off the record?”  Well, in the next lesson I’ll answer that question, if you promise not to tell anyone.




Media Training 24: Death by News Conference

By Gerard Braud

Many reporters fear what I often call “death by news conference.”

In lesson 17 we discussed the concept of committing news as a premeditated act. Reporters hate to cover news conferences for two main reasons. The first reason is because usually there are way too many spokespeople saying little if anything newsworthy, and secondly, because the location and setup are so poorly managed that it makes for a bad visual setting, especially for television.

Over the years I’ve witnessed three main approaches to news conferences. There is the news conference held in a conference room or pressroom; there is the news conference held outside under a tent; and then there is the news conference that I would describe as a show and tell event.

I like show and tell events the most. I hate outside under a tent events. The conference room or pressroom events vary.

What I like best about the show and tell events is that they are more visual. In lesson 17 I describe a media event that was held at a boat launch. The spokespeople did dockside interviews; then we put the spokespeople in boats with reporters, where the spokespeople were trained to deliver key quotes while in the boat and especially while on camera.

When planning a show and tell event, location and logistics are critical. And because these events may be outside, you need to consider weather forecasts and what your contingency plans are if you are sacked by inclement weather. Some show and tell events may be inside a factory or distribution facility. In these locations, sound and lighting may become problematic. If it is too noisy, reporters may not be able to hear the spokesperson and the background noise will be problematic for both radio and television crews trying to record audio. If the facility is dimly lit, has too much florescent lighting or a mix of both ceiling lighting and sunlight through doors and windows, photographers for television and print may have difficulty getting the images they need without adding their own complicated lighting to the mix.

My suggestion is that when planning a show and tell event, hire both audio and lighting experts to assist with the planning to make sure you meet the needs of news crews.

Under a tent events tend to follow ground breakings. A ground breaking is not news, yet many executives continue to think it is news. Usually the ground breaking is preceded or followed by a news conference under a white tent, in which the top executive serves as key spokesperson and master of ceremonies, and includes a thank you to every person under the sun (or under the tent). Then the executive turns the microphone over to an army of politicians who will do anything to get on camera. To add insult to injury, usually the tent shades the spokespeople and the daylight behind the spokespeople creates what photographers describe as a back lighting nightmare. Bright sunlight behind a spokesperson makes their face look dark. It is nearly impossible to add enough light to compensate for the bright sunlight. The problem gets even worse when the spokesperson has dark skin.

A few other notes about these ground breaking events. Most are really geared toward an internal audience of close associates who need to receive a thank you. That is not news and don’t ever believe the media will include that in the news. Additionally, know that many reporters go to these events only because they need to ask a politician a question about another issue they are covering. That politician can often overshadow your event, and in many cases, will create a negative association that you should avoid.

As we move inside to the pressroom or conference room event, we face two extremes. One extreme is the blank wall seen behind the spokesperson, and the other extreme is the attempt to place logos either on the lectern (podium) or behind the speaker. Logos are designed to create greater awareness of your organization and brand. As a rule, when there is bad news to discuss you do not want your logo seen anywhere. Conversely, when there is good news to share, the best option is to have a series of small logos on a wall size, non-reflective banner behind the spokesperson. Professional sports teams usually do this well, combining their logo with that of a corporate sponsor. Of course, before sponsoring any organization and splashing your logo behind a spokesperson, you should consider whether you really want to be strategically associated with that organization. If the team wins, you win. If the team loses, do you lose by association?

Government agencies tend to fall into a unique situation with their briefing rooms. The White House and Pentagon are good models to follow, with a blue curtain behind the spokesperson and a lectern logo.

When hosting a full-blown news conference, consider hiring an audiovisual company to provide professional lighting and audio. Professional lighting will keep the media from having to set up their own lights, which can be very harsh and make the spokesperson look bad. Professional audio means that one microphone can be placed on the lectern, with a single audio cable running to a multi-box where the television and radio crews will set up. Each news crew then takes their audio from the multi-box, eliminating the need for news crews to place their microphones, microphone stands and massive microphone logos on the speaker’s lectern. When a lectern is crowded with microphones, three things happen: often the speaker has no place for his or her notes; the speaker attempts to adjust one microphone, causing an avalanche of falling microphones; or as the first news crew gets bored, they attempt to remove their microphone while the spokesperson is still speaking, breaking the spokesperson’s concentration.

So, to recap – commit news, make the event visual and consider the needs of the media when it comes to location, sound and lighting.

In our next lesson, we’ll discuss Social Media Training and how the internet should affect your behavior.


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 16: Practice, even if you only have 5 minutes

By, Gerard Braud

In our last lesson we talked about how to structure a media training class and how I always tell the executives I train that they must practice before every interview, even if they only have 5 minutes.  I’d like to expand on that and explain why this is so important.

I was training an executive who is the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. As I often do, I asked to see some video tape of his previous interviews so I could know more about the person I was training and his natural strengths and weaknesses.

A video tape arrived at my office, featuring the CEO conducting a news conference at a major trade show for his industry.  It was downright painful to watch. This executive was rambling extensively. There was little or no emotion in his voice. He seemed to be reading a long laundry list of accomplishments and corporate goals. For all practical purpose, the news conference had no focus.

At the start of our training session I pulled out the video tape and suggested we watch it.

“Oh you don’t want to watch that,” he said. “I was terrible in that. Trust me… I did that presentation 3 times that day. The third time I was great.”

So I asked him to break down who was in the audience for each of the 3 presentations. As it turns out the first time he did it, the audience was composed of stock analysts. The second news conference was held for mainstream media. The third news conference was held for trade publications.

As he explained who his audiences were, he quickly realized that his worst performance was for his most critical audience. He failed to perform at his best for stock analysts who can potentially have the greatest positive or negative impact on his company. If you think back to lesson 2 you’ll remember my admonition – If you could attach a dollar to every word that you say, would you make money or lose money.

I asked if he practiced the news conference at all on the day before. He told me no, because he didn’t have time. I then pointed out to him that if he had practiced 3 times the day before, his would have done a great job in front of his most financially critical audience.

Practice makes perfect and even if you have only a few minutes before heading out to talk to the media, you need to practice and role play with a colleague or coach.

What we want to say, what we think we’re going to say and what actually comes out of our mouths when we start talking are all very different.

A “back stage” practice changes all of that. It only requires someone to ask you a few questions, starting with the very basics. You really want to make sure you can nail your opening lines and command the audience’s attention. You want to make sure you can eliminate any of the stutters, stumbles and misspeaks that often happen in the first sentence.

I find that if a spokesperson can have 2 good practice sessions, their third time – which is the real event – will go smoothly.

Obviously, in an ideal world I would like to see the spokesperson practice for more than just 5 minutes, but 5 minutes is better than nothing.

So often, spokespeople fail to spend any time in preparation, especially if it is a good news story. As often happens, they attempt to “wing it.” As a result, their good news story may get little or no coverage because they failed to deliver a great opening statement and then failed to really clearly state their key messages in great quotes. Generally, the spokesperson who does not practice in advance will have a monotone delivery and like my CEO friend, will stand at the podium and offer a long laundry list will very little focus

The bottom line is, you need to always carve out time to practice, because what you say will affect your organization’s bottom line.

In our next lesson, we’ll take a closer look at good news stories and how you can get the media to say Wow!

Media Training 13: The Vote of Confidence or No Confidence

By Gerard Braud

In lesson 11 we discussed the fact that when there is an industrial accident and a spokesperson does not appear in a timely manner, reporters often go looking for facts and quotes from other people, such as the ones with no teeth who live in trailers.

Something else happens, which also ties into lesson 5 on bias.

When a reporter arrives on the scene of a disaster or crisis they immediately began sizing up the situation and deciding whether they have confidence in you or no confidence. I often like it to the European parliaments that will cast a vote of confidence or no confidence in the Prime Minister.

If disaster strikes and no one is around to tell the reporter what is going on, the reporter will cast a vote of “no confidence” in you.

The result is ugly. They question whether you have your act together. They question whether the situation is potentially more dangerous that it actually is. I remember thinking as a reporter, standing outside of a burning chemical plant, “These people don’t have their act together. This is going to get uglier before it gets better. We’re all going to die.”

As a result my cynic filter, as discussed in lesson 12, would be set off and bias would begin to creep into my report. In a live report you might here the cynicism in the tone of my voice or hear a tone that sounds sarcastic. Additionally, the words I put in my script would become slightly more inflammatory.

If I was forced to go for an extended period of time without official information from the company involved, then anger would begin to creep in. I had editors and managers yelling at me wanting me to deliver the facts and no one from the company was actually helping me. Remember in lesson 3 we discussed the fact that it is about me. And when you don’t help men that is also when I would head out to the local neighborhood to begin asking neighbors what happened, whether they were afraid and what their opinion was of the company.

This is when I would usually hear comments such as, “They have explosions over there all the time,” “There’s no telling what’s in the air,” “I’m afraid to live here,” “My eyes are watering and my throat is scratchy,” and my all time favorite quote, “It blowed up real good.” (Yes, I actually had someone tell me that on camera one day.)

Sometimes the no confidence factor went even higher when a security guard would show up and tell us to turn off our TV camera, even when we are standing legally on public property. I’d always make sure we showed the security guard on the evening news because his actions or words clearly said this company had something to hide.

The ugliness of no confidence continues because when the official spokesperson finally comes forward, the reporter’s question will be far more negative, sarcastic and downright lethal.As a corporate coach and trainer I understand that perhaps no one came out to speak to me when I was a reporter because everyone in the facility was busy fighting the fire. But let’s be honest. I don’t care. One person needs to be designated as spokesperson. It is part of your corporate responsibility to have a well trained and well qualified spokesperson, just as it is your corporate responsibility to have a well trained and well qualified team of emergency responders to fight the fire.

On the other hand, if I arrived on the scene of a burning factory and was met promptly by a courteous spokesperson with only the most basic facts, my confidence in the company went up astronomically. I immediately thought, “wow, these people have their act together.” That would make me cut them some slack and grant them some forgiveness. The questions to the spokesperson were much kinder and gentler. The tone of my voice in the live report was more fair. Sarcasm was removed from my delivery. Additionally, because I had facts and quotes from an official source, I had less need to knock on doors in the neighboring community to ask ill informed eye witnesses what they saw, heard and feared.

So in summary, be ready to have your spokesperson on the scene quickly with a well worded statement as part of your crisis communications plan, as we discussed in lesson 11.

In our next lesson we’ll look at how to deal with reporters who want you to speculate.