Why media training is more important than ever

Join host Sheelagh Caygill as she explores the obvious - and less obvious - trends and influences in communications, PR, and marketing. Also explored are writing and upping your game as a creator of prose. In this essential listen, she interviews senior comms pros and thought leaders to reveal insights you can incorporate into your work.

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Toronto media training
Toronto media training pro Irene Bakaric

Toronto media training pro Irene Bakaric operates from a positive, proactive mindset.

This interview is a must-read! Companies and organizations are facing more crises than ever, and  need to protect their reputations. This means being able to talk to the media, and key stakeholders.

Is media training still relevant?

Given the dwindling importance of media coverage and the focus on influence marketing and social media, is media training necessary today?

First of all, I wouldn’t underestimate the power of traditional media. It continues to be the source for much of what is shared on social media. And, secondly, I think media training is just as important as ever. It’s about interviews. But, it’s also about understanding journalists/bloggers and their world, knowing what to expect and how to interact.

I see the media as an interactive hybrid, a blend of TV, radio, Internet and social. But, in spite of the shifting media landscape, the evolution of new media, and the digital age and the 24/7 news cycle, the fundamentals of media relations are the same. And this applies to the skills required for successful interviews.

People should recognize that the rules of media training don’t just apply to traditional media. They’re just as valid in the new social space. Remember we now live in a world where your tweet can be used as your quote of the day.

What are the perils of not having media training, or even bad training?

Whenever you speak to the media, you risk your reputation. So it’s a good idea to be prepared. Talking to reporters is not like talking to just anyone. There are rules to learn and skills to practice. Going for media training is like buying insurance.

Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal

Is media training mostly about key messaging, or do you focus on facial expressions, body language, and posture, too? If so, how important are these elements to a successful interview?

Key messages are an important tool in your media training toolbox. If they’re well-crafted, appropriate for the audience and you know how to use them, they help you take control in an interview. But, while your messages are important, they aren’t a substitute for answering the questions.

As for facial expressions, posture and body language, they’re also important. Research has shown that almost 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. So you can be saying all the right things, but if your facial expression is inappropriate, you could be undermining your message. This can happen as well if your body language is not in sync or it’s saying something altogether different.

Preparing for one-off interviews

Can a person simply prepare for a one-off interview ahead of time, or do you think media training brings some real advantages?

Certainly, one-off preparation is better than no preparation. But having the time to let things percolate is ideal. There are a lot of things to learn and it often takes time for people to absorb media training strategies and put them into practice. Media training allows for deeper learning and gives you a transferable skill set.

Some people relish the idea of being on TV or having their 15 minutes of fame, but then freeze before a camera. What do you do when a client is a likely spokesperson but is prone to freezing?

People freeze because of fear. Studies have shown that the more prepared you are, the less fear is a factor. The beauty of media training is that it prepares you in two ways. It builds your skills and your confidence. I see it as an investment that pays dividends.

Irene Bakaric on successfully managing a media crisis

There’s no doubt that media training is essential when it comes to crisis communications. When it comes to the media, what are the key elements of successfully managing a crisis?

The rules of damage control were established decades ago with the Tylenol crisis in Chicago when people died because someone laced packages of Tylenol with cyanide. This was in what many people would call the Dark Ages, long before the Internet or social media.

Still, the way the company handled the situation set the bar for years to come. And the lessons learned are still valid. Don’t hide. Respond quickly. Show empathy. Take positive action.

What’s changed is the speed at which news travels. In a 24/7 news cycle dominated by social media, a crisis can mushroom out of control at lightning speed. That’s why it’s so important to be monitoring the coverage, responding and controlling the conversation.

To do any of this effectively, you need a plan. It’s hard to think on your feet when your pants are on fire. A crisis communications plan is your blueprint for successfully navigating and surviving a crisis.

Media training advice: Questions matter as much as key messages

I’ve listened to some bad interviews where it’s apparent that the interviewee is stuck on key messages. Meanwhile, the journalist is pushing for a real and honest answer to a question. It turns into a Mexican standoff. What solutions and advice do you offer?

Some trainers actually tell their clients that the questions don’t matter, that what’s important is their message. In my opinion, this is very bad advice. You end up sounding scripted or robotic. The reporter will call you on it, saying that during the interview you used the same phrase twenty times. This doesn’t reflect well on you.

Certainly, you may be asked a tough, negative, speculative or controversial question or one you don’t know how to answer. For those occasions, I teach different strategies. These strategies allow people to seem respectful of the process and still remain in control. No Mexican standoffs.

How to persuade your boss that media training matters

It’s common for people in PR or communications to push for media training, only to be met with resistance by their managers. How do you advise your frustrated peers on how to persuade their bosses?

Ah yes, this is a very common problem. Persuading your boss to go for media training can be frustrating. I advise people to tie it to measurable business goals and profits. If your boss sees media training as a business investment that can boost the brand’s profile and protect its bottom line, he/she might be more willing.

Often clients come to me because they’ve had a reputation-damaging encounter with the media. Why would you wait until you’re embarrassed or your brand is tarnished when you could have prepared in advance?

Toronto media trainer Irene Bakaric

Toronto media training pro Irene Bakaric is an independent communications consultant focused on media relations. She specializes in Toronto media training and crisis communications training. Irene worked as a reporter, producer and host on a variety of national news and current affairs programs such as CBC Television’s The Journal, Midday, Venture, Marketplace and Money$worth. You can find Irene Bakaric on LinkedIn.

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