By Gerard Braud
(Editor’s note: You can learn more about this topic by attending Gerard Braud’s pre-conference session at the IABC World Conference in New Orleans. Register for only $250 today. “Rise to Perfection in Media Interviews” on Sunday, June 5, 2016 from 1:30–4:30 p.m.)
Have you ever put a spokesperson through media training, only to have the interview miss its mark? Have you put a spokesperson through media training only to have the news report turn out less than favorable?
If you answered yes to one or both of these, it is time to adopt maverick media training.
What is maverick media training?
Step one is to recognize the failing point of an interview. Expert analysis tells us bad ad libs are the leading cause of interview failures and news report embarrassment. Yet most media trainers still use the same old technique of giving a spokesperson three key messages, with instructions to ad lib about the key messages. The key messages are usually bullet points or slogan type phrases. They lack the parsing that leads to perfection in word choice.
Maverick media training relies on more preparation by a brilliant writer who can think and write like a reporter. Elements include first writing a strong preamble statement that adds immediate context when spoken. It must explain how your organization serves the greater good of humanity and the primary ways you accomplish this goal. The preamble statement must be written in a conversational tone and must foreshadow the aspects of the organization that the spokesperson is capable of discussing. This should then be followed by a series of paragraphs that simplify complicated issues, adding slightly more detail as you go.
To visualize the writing process, think of it as a large tree, anchored by a solid tree trunk, that supports three solid branches. In maverick media training this is known as the key message tree. The more you grow your tree with well-worded, easy to internalize sentences, the greater likelihood you have that the spokesperson will internalize and use the sentences verbatim, thus replacing bad ad libs with great, quotable content.
Step two is to recognize that a direct answer to a direct question leads to failure. That’s because a direct answer has no context. This mistake is the primary reason spokespeople complain that they were taken out of context.
By using the preamble and key message tree system described in step one, the spokesperson can add context with the preamble and transition from there to answering the essence of the reporter’s question.
If the actions of your organization are always in line with and congruent to your preamble, your interview will always go smoothly. If someone has done something wrong and created a crisis, the preamble can be modified to include an apology for failing to live up to the goals and standards of the organization. The apology can then be followed by an explanation of what corrective actions will be taken to avoid similar failings in the future.
Step three of maverick media training focuses on the final edit. Many people lament that, “You can’t control the edit.” That is false.
If you recognize that every news report has a headline, a synopsis sentence known as a “lead,” and at least one quote from your spokesperson, then you can begin to control the edit.
Maverick media training stresses to the spokesperson the need to begin answers with a series of well-worded, well-written and well-internalized verbatim phrases that mimic the headline, lead, and quote. In essence, the key message tree mimics what reporters call the inverted pyramid. The inverted pyramid focuses on generalities first and adds more details as the news story progresses.
Ultimately, there is a psychology to greater success in a media interview. It involves thinking like, writing like, and speaking like a reporter. If you give a reporter the elements needed to do their job, in the very order and sequence that they need them, your victories in interviews and news report edits will rise exponentially.
If what you have done in media training in the past has failed you and your spokespeople, be a maverick and adopt new media training techniques. Register for this IABC pre-conference session.
Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is known by many as the crisis communications expert who is able to put a low cost, yet highly effective crisis communications plan in place in just 2 days. As a former reporter, you may have seen him on NBC, CNN, CBS, the BBC or The Weather Channel. It is the mistakes he saw people make daily as he covered the news that lead him to create a system of crisis communications plans and strategies that have served his clients on 5 continents.