Behind most PR disasters lies a lack of understanding of the media. 

Much the same can be said for the reputational damage wrought by a string of CEOs and board members before judicial or parliamentary inquiries – a failure to understand the process, the optics, anticipate questions and control messaging.

It demonstrates the value of media and presentation training to bridge the media knowledge gap.

A lack of knowledge and preparation serves to escalate existing issues, or raise new ones.

A prime example of this gulf comes when organisations respond to media questions by stating ‘that’s confidential commercial information, you can’t use that’. The journalist quotes the public’s right to know, and now has a new line for their story, ‘ x is attempting to suppress confidential documents that show …’ And the organisation has inadvertently confirmed the information is accurate.

Any executive likely to face media, or public, inquiries needs to know the basics; what makes a story, how to develop the right messages and how to deliver them. Preparation is crucial, and preparation begins with training.

The inept performance of Crown Casino executives and directors in the face of media investigations and regulatory inquiries is a case in point, denying evidence of money laundering, attacking journalists’ credibility with demonstrably false statements and botching their answers under the spotlight is now literally threatening Crown’s license to operate.

Despite years heading the AFL, Andrew Demetriou’s appearance before Crown’s NSW license inquiry was a shocker, caught reading from a cheat sheet and with no credible response to emails pledging loyalty to James Packer, suggesting he was not a truly independent director.

Professional preparation and realistic rehearsal might just have salvaged Demetriou’s reputation, and ultimately his board seat.

Today’s media and regulatory environment is more challenging than ever, with the explosion of social media, multiple channels, accelerated new cycles, increased transparency and unforgiving, activist audiences raising the reputational stakes.

Effective media training provides an understanding of the modern media landscape, how journalists operate, and what they will ask you and why. Once that understanding is in place, the techniques and execution of media engagements become clearer.

There are some tricks of the trade, including how to block difficult questions and build a bridge to your messaging, but it is that fundamental understanding that is the most important element. That’s why I’d recommend media training for executives and spokespeople, followed up by one on one coaching for contentious interviews or appearances.

Approached professionally, media engagements are opportunities, opportunities to promote your brand, your purpose, your expertise and capacity. They can and should build relationships and reputation.

Here are my five top tips for media training:

  1. Understand the media – What is the reporter chasing and what do you want told?
  2. Prepare – Do your homework, have key messages, proof points and rehearse.
  3. Control your answers – Deliver key messages.
  4. Keep it short – Less is more, especially if it’s a tricky question.
  5. Never repeat a negative, a false premise or language you wouldn’t use.

Find out more about our media training services

By Mark Forbes, Director of Icon Reputation