Why Media Training Matters

If you work in the PR industry, booking an interview for a client is only half the battle. What happens when you send that person into the interview without any media training? Often times, it can resemble an on-air or in-print implosion if they haven’t been adequately prepared for what to expect. Media training is a necessary asset in our trade, but one thing many don’t talk about is how media training can go terribly wrong.

Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte recently lost four massive endorsement deals after his scandal in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Many might look back unsurprised, but how many people would have been able to predict this before it happened…and during his pre-scandal press interviews, no less? Well, seasoned PR professionals could have smelled something fishy, and it wasn’t new doting-dad, Olympic fish Michael Phelps.

As I watched interview after interview with Ryan Lochte before the scandal took place, there was a sneaking suspicion I just couldn’t shake. His responses seemed entirely canned; they were so utterly repetitive that it became very clear to me that he was media trained in the same way that a parent forces memorization on a child with flash cards in the 4th grade. Broken record responses such as, “I felt like a big fish in a small pond,” and “I guess I just matured” swirled about when he was asked how he emerged from his scandalous party-boy reputation from Olympic eras past. I wasn’t buying it.

I get it; even the finest PR professionals in the world can only do so much when it comes to media training someone who’s not grasping it. However, here are just a couple quick tips that come to my mind when working with someone like Lochte.

  • Spin your talking points throughout various interviews; it offers the audiences of different media outlets new glimpses into who you are, and builds more credibility. You don’t want to risk being perceived as a talking head. (Unless you’re David Byrne, that is.)
  • If you make a claim, do everything in your absolute power to back it up. Lochte lost all credibility by painting one picture in his media interviews, and behaving the exact opposite less than a week later.
  • Believe what you’re saying. If your PR person tells you to say something that you don’t feel accurately represents you, find a way to massage that statement into something that is at least 2/3 accurate. We don’t recommend lying, but saying you’ve matured when you’re still a platinum-blonde-bleached party boy in Rio is the worst kind of oxymoron.
  • Realize that once you’ve said it on the record, there’s no going back. Although, here’s one silver lining in the news world: you (and Lochte) can take comfort in an interesting quote from Jack Warner of Warner Bros. fame: “Today’s headlines – tomorrow’s toilet paper.”

I recently watched Florence Foster Jenkins. Working in PR, one scene particularly amused me. Spoiler Alert: a New York Post critic decimated affluent, yet terrible operatic singer Florence after her volunteer performance at the Carnegie Hall. Her (somewhat) dedicated husband bought every New York Post paper within a mile radius the following day to prevent her from reading it. That was 1944. This is 2016. We live in a highly digitalized world where negative media is transmitted like the common cold. So just remember, next time you have a date with the media, consult a good PR expert for some effective media training first.

Why Things Catch On

At O’Keeffe, we have a propensity for working hard and playing hard, and sometimes doing both at the same time. Just take a look at the Ping-Pong table in our new office and you will get the picture (although, we have been working too hard to actually play a game yet, as of late). One way to do both is to pick up an inspiring book regarding your professional industry, and hone your business skills while soaking up the rays at the beach, flying to your next summer vacation (or business trip destination), or while curled up under a tree at your favorite park.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of Growth at Snapchat via one of our clients a few months back, and he passionately referred a book to me called Contagious (by Harvard Marketing Professor Jonah Berger). As eloquently spelled out in the book, word of mouth can move mountains, and when it comes to picking up a new book, there’s no better call to action than an adamant reference from a friend or colleague.

I’ve been burning through the pages (yes, I still prefer flipping pages over a Kindle – I’m old fashioned in some ways) and even taking notes. (Yikes! Nerd alert!) The purpose of the book is to shed light on the underlying psychological and sociological processes behind the science of “social transmission.” I was hooked at the start. What makes you choose to pass along that particular YouTube video? Why do you tell five friends about a specific news story? What products do you think are “sexy,” and do you even know why?

Some people would think you have lost your mind if you told them you could convince them to pay $100 for a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, where cheesesteaks are a dime a dozen. Well, according to this book, Howard Wein, of W Hotels fame, did just that. He did so by using ingredients that created a buzz: a fresh, house-made brioche roll brushed with homemade mustard, added thinly sliced Kobe beef, marbleized to perfection; then he included caramelized onions, shaved heirloom tomatoes, and triple cream Taleggio cheese – all was topped off with shaved hand-harvested black truffles and butter-poached Maine lobster tail. To make it more outrageous, he served it with a chilled split of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

I don’t even eat red meat and my mouth appears to be watering.

In a nutshell, Contagious explains through compelling case studies how six principles of contagiousness (including social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories) are behind why things catch on in our society. Thought I was going to share more? You’ll have to do the work if you want to capitalize on Berger’s trade secrets.

What books have you buzzing? I also polled some of my colleagues to see what books have them working-while-playing with intriguing business books this summer…

Annie Beard: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. I like it because in PR, our job is to make ideas and our clients’ stories stick. This book offers a ton of success stories, such as the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; and the elementary-school teacher whose simulation prevented racial prejudice. It’s all about how to successfully communicate your ideas.

Nancy Parrott: Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi. I liked it because it’s comprehensive and includes case studies. My big takeaway is having a framework for writing and presenting a content marketing plan that is easy for clients and those outside of the communications field to understand. I can explain how a content strategy can help them achieve their business goals, without using a lot of marketing buzz words that mean nothing to them.

Dale Justice: Reputation Rules by Kellogg School of Management professor Dr. Daniel Diermeier. Diermeier does an excellent job of explaining how to use reputation as a key strategic element with real-life business scenarios – from Mercedes, BP, Toyota and others, and the consequences that occur when companies place quarterly earnings over company values.

Dan O’Keeffe: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. It is a favorite among members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which counts more than 10,000 members globally, and was founded by the book’s author, Verne Harnish. So, this is a book written by a business leader who can talk the talk, and walk the walk. Additionally, the book is well written, and is supported by ample graphs and charts to explain Harnish’s principles.