Commended by PRs, condemned by journalists – media training is like marmite, polarising the two sides of the communications industry. For your PRs, it’s critical that you’re prepared to be ‘on message’ at the push of a button. For journalists, well-trained spokespeople rarely let slip any juicier details they weren’t supposed to give away.

For spokespeople, there’s no denying that media engagement can be nerve-racking and business-critical, and so the team here at Redwood always advises that media training becomes an integral part to your business’ press engagement plan. A nervous spokesperson or one who isn’t prepared to professionally deliver your business’ key messages is, in the best case scenario, less likely to effectively engage with your target audiences and, in the worst case scenario, could reap negative reputational damage on the business.

We offer insight below into the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to media interviews – for both print and broadcast scenarios:

1. Preparation

Key messages, key messages, key messages – prepare them in advance, your PRs will ensure they are aligned to your business’ objectives and then can help you to practise, practise and practise a bit more.

Preparing key messages, however, is not enough on its own. You must understand who your audience is and tailor your key messages accordingly. If you start talking about yields, capital values, schemes, assets or investment opportunities, for example, when you’re live on air at the BBC, very few of the millions watching or listening will be able to understand much of what you say.

Our top tip: always ask, am I best placed/prepared to talk about this topic to that audience?

Guy Goma, who went into the BBC studios for a back office job interview, learnt the hard way when he suddenly found himself in the spotlight and live on air by accident. The video of Guy below, while hilarious, is the ultimate example of setting up the wrong spokesperson who is then unable to offer the audience any real insight…although, here at Redwood, we think Guy did a stellar job under the circumstances:

2. Avoiding those difficult questions

Key messages are gold. They are how you summarise the most important points you need to get across in a media interview, but what happens when the journalist takes you off course?

It happens all the time so never panic but simply acknowledge their point, your PR should be able to give you a bridging technique to get the topic back onto an area you had prepared for and continue with one of your key messages. Journalists, particularly broadcasters (unless you’re Jeremy Paxman), are unlikely to keep coming back to the same question as it makes for bad TV. If you’re the prime minister, however, it’s going to be much more difficult to dodge a question.

Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott had a particularly rough time in the below interview.

Our top tip: Tony’s silence and incessant head nodding doesn’t work well.

3. Fashion-savvy

Your clothes can make or break you on live TV. They can distract viewers from what you’re saying or they can unknowingly make you look untrustworthy.

Our top tip: the wrong clothes can make the screen wobble, choose wisely.

Unless, of course, you’re this fellow Don Cherry (in the video below), a presenter on NHL Coach’s Corner who seems to be able to pull off any fashion statement. Don, however, is a TV personality and has a fan base that allows him to do this, our clients who are acting as spokespeople are unlikely to get away with it…

As well as working with existing clients on an ongoing basis to improve their media interviewing techniques, Redwood offers tailored media training workshops for senior spokespeople to ensure effective engagement with target audiences. If you’d like to discuss how we can help you to prepare for media interviews with confidence, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of the Redwood team.