Media Training: it’s not just for interviews

If you’ve ever been through media training, you understand how a seemingly easy task becomes nerve-wracking when the camera and lights turn on and you’re being asked unrehearsed questions.

Suddenly, the value of practicing an interview in front of a camera becomes very clear. It’s infinitely smarter to learn the skill of interviewing in a controlled (and friendly) environment than cutting your teeth during a live interview with a reporter.

Even if you may never speak to a reporter, media coaching can teach you how to think on the fly, respond so you get your message across, and project the right demeanor. There’s nothing quite like seeing yourself on video to realize the importance of this kind of training.

We’ve used media training to help prepare executives for all kinds of scenarios. Some of the most popular include:

Crisis communications—A crisis can impact a business at any time, so executives who may not normally talk to the press need to be prepared with interviewing skills. This often includes leaders in HR, security, fleet, product development and IT, to name a few. Media training helps these leaders feel confident knowing they are prepared if they are ever called on to help during a crisis.

Speaking opportunities—Not every executive is a natural presenter. Media training prepares leaders to deliver engaging presentations in front of audiences both large and small. Body language and presentation cadence often suffer when an executive is nervous, and training can make leaders feel more comfortable and confident. Since many speaking opportunities include an impromptu Q&A session, training also helps executives deliver thoughtful answers in that situation.

Investor presentations—When raising funds for your business, how you pitch your idea  to investors and think on your feet can be the difference between getting funding or not. Media training can help executives develop rapport with investors and be prepared to answer the toughest of questions.

Depositions—Depositions are among the most unusual scenarios for which we’ve provided media training. Instead of training these witnesses to talk with reporters, we work with them on being likable, understandable and believable by a judge or jury. This includes working on demeanor and language so answers are to the point and the witness exudes confidence.

The essence of media training is developing the skill to confidently tell your story in clear, compelling language in a stressful situation, and that’s a skill that can be used in many scenarios.

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5 Ingredients of Killer Messaging

When it comes to company messaging, journalist Sydney J. Harris got it right when he said, “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Unfortunately, a lot of company messaging tends to be information-giving as opposed to communicating. Having worked with close to 100 companies to craft their messaging, I can say that most try to cram as much information as possible into the messaging platform without much thought to whether their message is understandable or effective.

Creating an effective messaging platform capable of communicating what makes your company unique often takes a good deal of thinking and refining. Outstanding messaging contains these five ingredients:

The right format. Format is crucial when it comes to messaging because it will drive how your executive team reaches consensus on messaging statements and even language. I’ve seen many types of formatting over the years—from pyramids to traditional vision-mission-position statements. The format we use follows the 5W1H that every journalist learns: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. This makes sense for our clients because they often follow messaging creation with a media relations effort. During interviews, our clients then have the information on hand to answer typical questions, such as: who are you, what do you do, why is this important, how are you different?

Knowledge of your audiences. Messaging can have many audiences, including customers, employees, investors and journalists. Understanding what each of these audiences finds important, and identifying the common links, will provide a good basis to drive messaging. For example, a start up company that is backed by an experienced leader and/or venture capital can allay fears of failure that concerns all these audiences by referencing the experience of the backers. This message should be front and center.

A focus on benefits. The main mistake I see companies making when devising messaging is talking about what their company or product does instead of how it benefits clients and customers. Generally, people don’t buy features; they buy problem-solving. This is especially true for business-to-business companies. Instead of describing a feature, ask yourself one question: “Why does anyone care?” The answers to that question should be the foundation of your messaging.

Simple language. Boil down your messages to their essence, then use concrete, action-oriented words that people understand. Fight the tendency to pack messages with lofty ideas and jargon. While using some of these terms may seem cutting edge, they are used at the expense of true communication. Pick and choose the most important things to include in messaging, then use language to make it so enticing that people will say, “Tell me more.”

Affirming anecdotes. Some of the most effective messages are told from the perspective of people outside your organization. To really make an impact, include independent research, customer or analyst statements, and examples of how people use your product/service. This is especially helpful in statements that describe why your company/product is important (what problem it solves).

Finally, test your messaging platform on various audiences to make sure your messages are communicating. As George Bernard Shaw so wisely put it, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

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Ask the PR Pro: How do I become a thought leader?

Have you noticed that it seems the same people are regularly quoted in industry publications? Have you ever thought, “Hey! That should be me!”

If you have strong industry knowledge, a knack for distilling information and a thick skin, you too could become an industry thought leader. But, it takes time and effort.

For starters, set realistic expectations. Since reporters often reach out first to sources they trust to provide background and information about timely topics, it’s important to focus on gaining the trust of a few key reporters. Trust is built over time by responding quickly to reporters’ needs, and providing accurate information and lively interviews.

To become an industry thought leader, consider investing time in the following or hiring a PR firm to do this for you:

  1. Become media trained. Reporters are experts at what they do, so you should learn how reporters work, what kind of news will interest them and how to deliver an interview that will further your goals while also meeting the information needs of reporters. While most interviews today happen by phone, good media training will include videotaping your responses and demeanor. This is becoming even more important as reporters get  comfortable using video chat and expand their channels to include podcasts and video casts.
  2. Read voraciously. One of the best ways to provide value to a reporter is being able to quickly provide commentary on current events in your industry and to be able to forecast trends. The best way to prepare to do this is to read both industry and general market publications daily.
  3. Hone your writing skills. Reporters are crunched to deliver an expanding amount of coverage to a growing number of channels, and may be open to help. Trusted thought leaders often can secure an opportunity to contribute an article. These articles must be engaging, educational, factual, non-promotional and non-biased, and they must be delivered on deadline.
  4. Speak up. Every industry has a number of conferences and meetings that feature speakers who are experts on a variety of topics. Research these venues and keep of calendar of application deadlines. Remember that most conferences begin looking for speakers eight to 12 months before the event.
  5. Get social. One of the best ways to showcase your expertise is by blogging and being active on social media. Create your own blog or contribute to your company blog, then share your work on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
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Ask the PR Pro: How can I get my company in the Wall Street Journal?

A frequent question we receive from clients and prospects is how they can get coverage in the Wall Street Journal. Our answer is: Why do you want to appear there?

Don’t get us wrong, we love the Wall Street Journal. It’s a fine newspaper with solid reporting and a large readership. However, the readership is broad and the barrier to coverage is high. We could spend months working to secure an article in the Wall Street Journal, when a smaller but more targeted publication would produce better results.

So, we challenge our clients to tell us why they think coverage in the Wall Street Journal (or any other publication) is where they should put their PR investment. Often, they can’t make a business case for this.

The better approach to PR includes:

  1. Researching where our clients’ prospects get their news and information, and which outlets they trust the most. In B2B, this list usually includes targeted vertical publications.
  2. Identifying the issues that most concern the industry.
  3. Developing messaging that enables our clients to talk about their company in a compelling and memorable way.
  4. Delivering solid, non-commercial article ideas about trends, issues and current events to pitch to reporters and editors. This includes the use of our clients’ data, insights and customer case studies.
  5. Presenting reporters with a client who is knowledgeable and well-trained to deliver a great interview.
  6. Offering to develop well-written, interesting and unbiased byline articles, then delivering these articles to editors on time and with strong visuals.

This approach ensures our clients are gaining good exposure with the right audience that’s hungry for the information they are providing.

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First impressions are lasting

Recently, I needed to have some glass replaced in my house so I went to the local glass and mirror shop a few miles up the road. The shop looked a little shabby from the outside, but I went in anyway.

After just a few seconds in the store, I knew I wouldn’t buy anything from this craftsman. The furniture in the waiting room was ripped and stained, the carpet was filthy and, worse yet, the only glass samples were 4” x 4” tiles. The entire operation sent the message that the work would be second rate.

I left and took my business elsewhere.

My experience is similar to what prospective customers experience when landing on websites that are poorly designed and out of date. Just as a front office is the first impression for brick and mortar businesses, so is the website for B2B companies.

A little website maintenance goes a long way in conveying the right image:

  1. Keep it clean: Update information regularly and remove or archive dated information.
  2. Make sure links work.
  3. Check the navigation of the site to ensure it’s intuitive for new visitors.
  4. Refresh language and graphics so the site looks and sounds fresh.
  5. Update blogs or add social media feeds that add new information to the site daily or weekly.
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What is your brand?

Most people think of public relations and brand-building as just for companies. However, in today’s hyper-connected world, smart executives are using PR for personal branding.

This is a smart move because personal branding can humanize a company while propelling executives upwards in their careers. If you are an entrepreneur, personal branding and company branding can go hand-in-hand.

When embarking on a personal branding effort, consider:

What do you want your brand to say about you? If you’re a subject matter expert, this is a great place to start building a following. If you’d like your brand to be separate from your company, what would you like to be known for? Think of people you admire who have strong personal brands—Richard Branson, Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin are great examples. How do you want to stand out?

What topics do you want to cover? What are you passionate about? Are you willing to comment on industry trends and events? Are you okay with taking a contrarian position? Sketch out some topics you are interested in covering and what you can add to the online conversation.

What tone do you want to strike? Everyone has a personality and your personal brand should reflect that. Do you want your tone to be informational and educational, sassy and irreverent, funny and cutting edge? The tone you take will drive the kind of content you will produce and the audience you will attract.

Look for places to contribute. Writing thought leadership articles and blogs for publication is a great way to start building a personal brand. What publications and websites are read by your ideal audience? Will they accept thought leadership articles from you? How much time can you devote to this effort? Look for other venues that will help you build your brand, including speaking at conferences.

Build your online presence. Make sure your online presence reflects your personal branding. This includes Twitter, LinkedIn, professional Facebook and Instagram accounts, YouTube, a personal website/blog, etc. Make sure everything you share on these channels is furthering your personal brand.

Monitor what people are saying about you. Just as you monitor what’s being written about your company, set up alerts to scan for your name (or the name of your personal brand, if different). Join the discussion and add value to posts.

Here are some of our favorite personal brands:

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How to prepare for your Perry Mason moment

Telling your story “on the record” can be daunting no matter if you are talking to a reporter or to an attorney.  Either way, the pressure it on to get it right.

Recently, we started applying messaging and media training tactics, originally designed to prep CEOs prior to reporter interviews, to individuals facing legal depositions in civil lawsuits.

Here’s what we found:

Training helps people clarify both what they wanted to say and the language they wanted to use. Whether recalling a specific event, noting a trend or describing a circumstance, carefully crafted language gave their story more impact.

Preparation builds confidence. Litigation can be intimidating if you are not a regular part of the system. Once the language is in place, it is easier to develop a strategy for delivering the story confidently and with emphasis. Individuals became ready to gracefully but persistently “stand their ground” in the face of hostile questions.  

Practice eliminates the emotion. With a solid story-telling strategy in place, it is easier to avoid emotional responses and to stick to the facts. Civil litigation often stems from an experience where someone feels wronged and wants to recoup damages. Feeling wronged can lead to emotional responses that can be damaging to the overall case. Clear, concise messaging can neutralize the story and showcase the facts of the case.

How do you prepare for your day in court?

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Voice tricks for better interviews

Get rid of the grumps or go to A.A.  That’s what my friend tells me. In this case, “A. A.” means attitude adjustment class.

Like a disease, a poor attitude can be contagious and make everyone around you sick. By contrast, a positive attitude also can be infectious and make it easier for people to engage with you. This is especially true when people do telephone interviews with reporters.

A reporter on deadline and juggling many details may not come across as warm and engaging. However, a solid, uptempo interview candidate with a good, concise story to tell can at least make the job easier.

To convey a positive attitude in your voice during an interview try these tips:

  • Back up the story up with some energy. Consciously think about voice modulation.
  • Walk around the room when talking.
  • Deliberately gesture to emphasize key points.
  • Pretend you are a vocal artist and let the sound come from your diaphragm, not from your throat. It will be a fuller voice that will last longer. One of the best ways to do this is by toning your core. Doing sit-ups not only flattens your stomach, but also strengthens your diaphragm and makes your speaking voice stronger.

Finally, try visualizing the outcome you are trying to achieve through the interview. The image of a full-page article about you or your business should help motivate you towards an energetic interview.

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Ask the PR Pro: How long does it take to see PR results?

If someone you never met before knocked on your door, chances are you wouldn’t let him in your house. Without having met the person before or knowing anything about him, how can you know this visitor is trustworthy?

This scenario is similar to a company embarking on a new public relations effort. Knocking on a reporter’s door and asking for admission (news coverage) will only work after first proving to the reporter that you’re trustworthy, reliable and worth getting to know.

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a consistent effort of reaching out to the reporter with good information that meets his needs, such as customer stories, thought leadership and research. It also requires a good message and an executive trained to deliver the message well.

Of course, hiring a PR rep who has a relationship with the reporter can help, but even the most connected rep cannot get coverage without a good story.

When starting a PR effort for the first time, it’s wise to expect that the first couple months will be spent developing story ideas and building relationships with reporters. This investment of time will pay off as reporters come to rely on you for good, timely and reliable information.

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Ask the PR Pro: What time commitment should I expect to devote to PR?

We hear from many marketing managers and business owners who are shocked to discover how much of their time is required to manage the PR firm. They sense that something’s not quite right with the arrangement, so we are asked what we require of our clients.

PR only fails when the flow of information from the client to the PR firm ceases. However, if the PR firm is expecting the client to do all the work, the relationship is broken.

Here’s what we need from our clients:

Regular status meetings. Everyone is busy so it’s important to have a regular status meeting to touch base on what PR activities are in the works and to hear what’s new at the client. This allows all parties to stay on task, meet deadlines and plan ahead. These meetings can usually be accomplished in 30 minutes every two weeks.

Thought leadership for byline articles. We place and write a lot of byline articles for our clients. In order to have the information necessary to write the articles, we typically need about 20 minutes by phone to interview the client. Highly technical or complicated articles may take a little longer. The rest is our responsibility. Clients are busy and shouldn’t write their own articles.

Interviews. When we arrange interviews, we spend time before the reporter calls to prep our clients, stay on the phone with them during the interview, then discuss the call afterwards to determine what follow up we need to do and to review messaging for any sticky questions. Follow up is our responsibility.

Client introductions. From time to time we need to talk to our clients’ customers. We do this to gather use case information or to arrange for the customer to speak to a reporter. We simply require an email introduction from the client and we take it from there.

Data/Background information for content. We often develop infographics, case studies and white papers for clients. These content pieces require input from the client, either via an interview with the client or the sharing of data. The input is defined and doesn’t take more than 30 minutes to an hour per piece. We do all the writing.

Review of work. Before any written work is submitted to a reporter, we ask clients to review and approve it. This ensures information is correct and the client is comfortable having his or her name attached to it.

If you’re in a relationship with a PR firm and find that you’re struggling to deliver the content they need, it’s time to reassess the relationship.

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