The Internet and the social media movement it has spawned have forever changed the way news is delivered and consumed.
A one-time story won’t be forgotten when the newspaper hits the recycling bin. There are no “do-overs” when a news article is searchable on Google or another high-powered search engine. Your story will live on forever, just a click away online.
A reporter also might blog live from your event, court hearing or news conference, or post frequent updates on Twitter. If it’s breaking news, a media outlet could live stream video on its website in real time.
This leaves no room for an error in your message or for that off-handed comment. Anything you say can be instantaneously broadcast or transmitted locally and globally. For anybody who might be thrust into the media spotlight, training for how to talk to reporters is more essential than ever. Whether you are the head of an international corporation, an attorney handling a big case or the supervisor in a small township, there will come a time when you have to do an interview, and you best be prepared.
As Ben Franklin famously said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” The quote came generations before the Internet, but the message is truer today than ever before.
Look no further than the now-infamous comment made by Tony Hayward, the former CEO of BP. During the height of the oil-spill crisis, he uttered, “I want my life back.” Regardless of what he meant, if you Google his name today, hundreds of thousands of negative media hits pop up. The damage was done. His apology wasn’t enough to save his job, and BP’s reputation suffered even greater damage than it already had. In fact, Hayward’s bumbling with the media and politicians almost sent the company into bankruptcy.
In Hayward’s first interview after he lost his job, he told BBC Television that BP’s contingency plans were inadequate, and he was unprepared to respond to the “intensity of the media scrutiny” that followed the explosion.
While Hayward might have had the technical knowledge to lead BP, he didn’t have the skills to talk to the media. As he was the public face of BP, that made the company’s image problem even worse. Magnify that on the Web, and it’s clear he had to leave the company.
“If I had done a degree at RADA [The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] rather than a degree in geology, I may have done better, but I’m not certain it would’ve changed the outcome [of the spill],” he told the BBC. “But certainly the perception of myself may have been different.”
While this is an extreme example of poor preparation for the media, even the smallest misstep can hurt the reputation of a company or a community. And in the digital age, proper training is even more imperative.
Media training will provide you with the tools to speak authoritatively to reporters and convey the right message while avoiding common pitfalls — from the disastrous “no comment” to the frequent and distracting “you know,” “um,” “like,” “sort of” and “kinda.”
The key is practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to sound rehearsed, but you do want to sound knowledgeable, speak conversationally and talk in “sound bites” that make it easy for the reporter to quote you directly.
Media training will walk you through your key messages, teach you how to manage the interview and drive home your messages, as well as what body language is appropriate, and put you on-camera for practice interviews.
Above all, it will give you the confidence that, while your interview might be online forever, your quotes will forever be memorable.
Randi Berris, the director of editorial services at The Quell Group, spent more than 10 years as news editor at The Associated Press in Michigan and previously worked as a radio and television reporter in New Hampshire.