Media training 101: How to avoid a Brian Williams-level disaster
by Erin Hogan, on Jul. 8, 2015
After what can only be described as an evasive interview between former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and Today Show host Matt Lauer, we are reminded of how proper media training can truly make or break a person’s image.
During his public apology, Williams failed to fully admit to his lies even after several prompts from Lauer. What’s more, Williams blamed his own ego as an excuse for his wrongdoing—an interesting strategy for someone looking to regain public support.
Unfortunately, the interview backfired. According to a recent Business Insider report, roughly 70 percent of Tweets related to Williams were negative in nature; some questioned his feelings of remorse.
Not the best way to end his Nightly News career.
So, what can we learn from all this? In a nutshell, this interview is a prime example of poor media training. Sure, Williams had some positive moments—he apologized for letting down his NBC colleagues and admitted that he “said things that weren’t true.” But there was a certain level of insincerity to the interview that left many viewers and fans feeling unsatisfied.
As public relations professionals, it’s important to learn from mistakes like this, and understand how to effectively train representatives before entering into an interview. To get you started, we’ve outlined a few tips and tricks below—take a look:
Draft and review key talking points in advance:
When asked to participate in an interview, you’re given the unique opportunity to communicate key messages about a person or a company in a public forum. To ensure you’re hitting all the right points, draft a list of key messages and organize by level of importance. Once finalized, review with your subject in advance of the interview.
Research the interviewer:
If you’re in PR, chances are you’ve encountered your fair share of media personalities. It’s important to remember that every journalist has his or her own approach to interviewing. Some are on the attack, while others just want to be your friend. Some ask leading questions and some don’t stick to the story at hand. A good media coach should research the interviewer ahead of time and provide tips on managing their style.
Even if the original intent of an interview is to portray a company in a positive light, there is always a chance that a journalist may slide in a negative question. In this instance, instruct your subject to frame his or her answer in a positive light without completely avoiding the question (ahem, Mr. Williams). Remember, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Don’t rely on blanket media training:
We’ve all heard the response, “I’ve already been media trained.” More often than not, corporate communications teams will train executives on handling interviews to ensure preparedness in the event they are caught off guard. This is fine, as a foundation, but when entering into an interview regarding a specific incident, formal training that’s tailored to the event is a must.
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