Beware of False Media Training "Experts"
I’m often asked which media training firms are our greatest competitors. I always give the same response – our biggest competitors are media trainers that spout awful advice.
That’s because trainers that offer clients lousy recommendations give the whole industry a bad name, and potential clients who have interacted with them in the past are skeptical of the rest of us.
I’ve never viewed other high quality media training firms as my competitors. I’ve gotten to know (in person, by phone, or by reading their materials) many media training firms through the years, and I’d say there are about a dozen firms I regard quite highly. If I lose a proposal to one of those firms, it’s fine. They’re good practitioners, and there’s enough work to go around.
Here’s where I’m going with this: I recently saw a blog post on a PR firm’s website selling their media training “expertise.” But two of their four recommendations offered dreadful advice.
I won’t call out this firm by name, because my intent isn’t to publicly shame them, but rather to caution media training shoppers to make sure the firm they go with doesn’t spout this type of nonsense.
First, they suggested that you should rephrase a journalist’s question by saying, “I think what you’re really asking is…”, followed up by stating the question you want to answer.
The interviewee may as well say, “I think you’re obviously too dumb to know what you’re asking, so let me help you out by telling you what you should have asked.” That bridge line will immediately create a red flag for reporters, obvious as it is in its passive aggressive evasiveness.
Spokespersons should take control, yes. But attacking the reporter’s question (excluding in the most hostile interviews, when it’s occasionally appropriate) is rarely a good strategy, particularly if it’s done in such a clumsy manner.
Second, they suggested that you address a “no comment” issue by saying something like, “that’s not something we can really talk about right now because of legal concerns. I hope you understand.”
Any good reporter will follow that up with, “Actually, no, I don’t understand. Many other people in legal situations have something to say, so I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to defend yourself.”
Why would you ever ask a reporter if they “understand” your refusal to speak? The journalist isn’t your therapist, and you shouldn’t ask their permission to validate your media strategy. Instead, tell the reporter why you can’t say more, that you wish you could, and that you look forward to the day when the full story can come out.
These small-seeming semantic differences may seem petty, but they’re the difference between a successful media interview and a disaster. When choosing a media training firm, do your homework. Read their marketing materials, their blog, their articles on industry websites – whatever you can get your hands on. If anything in their advice makes you nervous, run – don’t walk – to a different firm.