One of my first jobs out of college was working in Amway’s Marketing Research Department. While there I got to know the guy who headed up the Public Relations Department. At lunch one day he told me the story of picking up the phone and having Mike Wallace with “60 Minutes” on the other end, saying that “60 Minutes” was going to do a story about Amway and that he’d like the company’s cooperation.
At that point I have never heard of media training, so I was intrigued to learn how the PR director went about preparing Rich DeVos, Jay Van Andel and all the Amway distributors who were going to be made available for interviews.
Everyone who went on camera was put through media training to prepare for the types of questions they’d be asked and to work out the bugs in their responses.
When the story aired, it was a big success for Amway.
In fact, Amway actually invited Mike Wallace to attend the opening of its Grand Plaza Hotel, and he accepted. I remember Wallace saying in a radio interview how classy the people at Amway were, and he described the company as first rate. That’s a PR home run.
I first started doing media training as part of a team at the PR firm that brought me to Nashville. Over the years, through agencies and my own consulting business, I’ve done training for people in a variety of industries and with a range of skills and experience in doing interviews.
I’ve come to believe that everyone can benefit from media training, and that it will improve their communication skills, though it will be more helpful for some than others, depending on their experience and natural abilities in dealing with reporters.
Ad agency principals who serve as spokesperson for their agency would be wise to consider media training to help them learn how to take control of an interview, handle sticky questions and get their key points across.
Here are some common challenges for inexperienced spokespeople:
- Going off message
- Inability to clearly articulate core messages
- Being combative
- Fidgeting or other distracting body language
- Freezing up when the camera light comes on
- Giving out inaccurate or misleading information
- Falling into interview traps
One of the most important points I make in my training is this: When you’ve made your point, stop talking.
That’s because more times than not people make their best points in the first sentence or two they utter in response to a question. When they elaborate too much and get “off message,” it’s not uncommon for them to end up in the swamp and say something they later regret.
With some basic training, the right messaging and a little practice responding to challenging questions, your agency will be prepared to tell its story with clarity and confidence.