Advertising Age has a fascinating article in its Sept. 5, 2011 issue oriented to the media training of 20-something leaders of tech companies who sit in their hoodies and sweat under drilling questions posed by reporters. These CEOs typically have no concept of media training and have not been privy to the wily nature of seemingly friendly reporters who turn aggressive to get their story.
Mark Zuckerberg proved that correct when he stated his notorious faux pas, “privacy is over.”
He’s not the only one…every CEO and business leader regardless of age, industry or company needs to be savvier when being interviewed by media. It’s easier in the internet era for reporters to dig up dirt from more channels than just a printed magazine, and thus it’s easier to get hung up during an interview.
Where I have to disagree with this AdAge piece is when Brandee Barker, former VP of PR at Facebook, suggests that Zuckerberg helped “shape a media environment more accepting of the less-structured response or mishap.” She states in the article, “There’s an authenticity that comes across, and if it’s awkward and they say the wrong thing, that’s OK.”
This woman is sending entirely the wrong message to young CEOs that it’s OK to come across as a noob and act befuddled. How can this be appropriate media training? When that tech leader grows up and heads to another company will that style be acceptable? In fact, like the Zuckerberg debacle, those situations will stick like glue and be resurrected throughout a leader’s career.
Ask Sarah Palin! She floundered and fell flat on her face in front of Katie Couric during her bid for vice president on the ticket with John McCain. Ask John Kerry who ran for president and all anyone could talk about was that he needed a haircut and acted like a statue in front of the cameras.
Being polished in front of reporters certainly comes with seasoned experience; losing your personality is one thing with too much messaging and training, but getting permission to bumble an answer and be accepted for it is another.
Media training is what we public relations practitioners strive to do with our internal and external clients.
It begins with research. When there’s a story brewing, the PR person must conduct due diligence to find all the stories and reporting style of the interviewer.
Then, we develop Q&A using the company’s approved message map so everyone says the same thing. Approved messages help deliver the facts without straying into murky waters (although this happens frequently).
Role playing is part of media training. A PR team tries to trip up the executive and put him or her in a stressful situation with a barrage of media questions. Using that message map is critical at this point, and knowing the tricks to sidestep a tough question is always helpful.
The onus is on PR only at the back end during prep. Executives must always be cognizant about their accountability to position the company in the most positive light. Often, company leaders forget they’re still on tap at the very end of an interview. This is when reporters swoop in for the kill, when there’s an apparent moment of relaxation. Leaders have been known to really mess up at this time because they think the interview is over.
It’s never over until the mic is off, the phone is hung up, and the reporter has left the building!
If you’re a business owner and you’re seeking the limelight to tell your story, or if you’re a politician running for office, then media training is absolutely a must. There are varying levels of training, and you don’t need to hire the big guns, either. Unless, of course, you’re Sarah Palin or John Kerry seeking the presidency of the United States.