What is it about the bright lights of a TV studio that can affect
even the most self-confident executive? A couple of short, sharp
questions and suddenly the big cheese is hanging in the wind and the
company's reputation is starting to give off a bad smell.
In fact, some agency staffers say that fewer than half of the people
they see on TV or hear on radio do the job well. Burson-Marsteller
managing director Martin Langford says that around 30 per cent of
spokespeople who appear on TV and radio are competent. 'I've got tapes
of lots of horrible examples,' he says. 'People that look totally
inappropriate, chief executives that look shifty. Whatever you say, the
audience has already made up its mind.'
Given this assessment, is it any wonder that media training is
increasingly being seen as an essential part of any executive's career
'Reputation can be destroyed with a couple of careless words in a single
live interview. It really is important that you equip them with the
skills,' advises Andrew Ogden, Broadcast Media Services director.
Basic broadcast media training is as much about forewarning executives
about what to expect once they enter the TV or radio studio as it is
telling them how to communicate. For anyone used to an ordered, calm
office, the chaos of a TV studio can be extremely disconcerting.
Knowing what is likely to happen will also help the client retain an
element of control. 'A client is not used to doing this all day and
Jeremy Paxman is. The spokesman never feels they're in their own
environment,' adds Regester Larkin director Mike Regester.
But beyond informing executives about the nuts and bolts of how TV and
radio actually work, the bulk of such training usually focuses on
role-play sessions - either on an agreed appearance or preparations for
Such sessions also give the trainers a chance to see how people perform
in simulated conditions and assess how they might perform under
They also give the interviewee a chance to practice using techniques
such as throwing questions back at the interviewer and turning the
appearance into a two-way conversation rather than a game of Q&A 'ping
'A broadcast interview is very different to what most people are used
to,' says Khalid Aziz, The Aziz Corporation chairman. 'Broadcasting
demands an instant response.'
Role-play sessions will also help isolate the twitchers and direct them
towards radio. However articulate or competent their business skills, if
they can't create the right visual impression then they won't be as
effective at getting the message across.
'Seventy per cent is how you look, seven per cent is what you say and
the rest is non-verbal communication,' says Francis Thomas, Boots group
media relations manager.
And once someone has mastered the art of sitting still, there are other
things to remember. Edelman Public Relations director of financial media
Simon Scott recalls with horror the time when an interviewee reached
across and shook the interviewer's hand while the show was still on
Scott also advises his trainees that a number of other issues are
important if they're to create the right impression, including not
wearing a patterned suit or tie, a white shirt, chewing gum or looking
directly at the camera.
The key difference between broadcast and print appearances is time.
Most TV and radio interviews will be of the short, sharp shock
'With broadcast you have a limited amount of time to get your message
across. The media training element is useful for honing down your
argument,' says Michael Haines, Unilever chief press officer.
It's a view that's echoed by Andrew Ogden, Broadcast Media Services
'Radio and TV is not a place to win an argument. Radio and TV is a place
to state an opinion,' he says. 'An appearance in a recorded news
programme may only be 12 seconds. It's more for the big picture, the big
statement, the big idea.'
A key part of any training, regardless of which programme you're likely
to appear on, is to focus your message. 'The beauty of broadcast
journalism is that it compels the interviewee to focus on the three key
issues that best sum up the company's position and uses language that a
12-year-old can understand,' says AOL UK director of corporate
communications Matt Peacock.
However, while a live spot may be short, programmes such as Panorama may
tape longer interviews but only use part of the chat, calling for
different skills. Training for such interviews points out how essential
it is to keep repeating your key messages to ensure that the segment of
the interview used creates the right impression.
Another key difference from a print interview is how you handle the
Broadcast is a much more personal environment and the viewer or listener
usually feels they have a relationship with the interviewer. That means
you cannot afford to come across as being arrogant or belittle the
journalist when that relationship may go back 20 years, warns
Regester advises that preparation should look at 'the rocks' and 'the
radar'. The rocks form the basis of your message and provide a 'place of
safety' in any interview. They are 'absolutely truthful, absolutely
relevant and absolutely irrefutable. They must be irrefutable from the
company's point of view and demonstrably so,' he says.
In addition, 'the radar' enables you to know what others are saying
about a particular issue and helps prepare for any likely questions.
Keeping the radar alert is also recommended by Scott, who points out
that if a business rival has recently made an announcement, this is also
likely to be on the interviewer's question sheet. 'You're not just doing
it in isolation, you're dealing in the news agenda,' he says.
So how do you decide who appears on which programmes? Peacock says it's
important to understand broadcasters' needs. 'The key thing they want is
someone who is informed and articulate,' he says. 'And, more to the
point, is available at short notice.'
Many of AOL's public utterances, particularly on news programmes, are
made by the communications team. 'Our view is that the ideal is to have
a palette of people with different skills and that's very much what we
do here. However, given the enormous time pressures in a broadcast
newsroom the reality is these specialists in our company have other jobs
to do,' he says.
And then there's the issue of deciding which programmes to appear
For a campaigning group such as Friends of the Earth, publicity is its
'We will do as many as possible and as often as possible with some
exceptions but they are pretty rare,' says media co-ordinator Ian
Willmore, citing Talk Radio 'shoutfests' as programmes he is wary
However, most people have to decide which programmes and outlets are
important. Boots, for example, recently did some research to find out
where its key financial audience got their news to help it prioritise
its media programme. The company also makes extensive use of local
outlets such as Trent FM and East Midlands Today to help it communicate
with staff, their families and former workers living near its Nottingham
Media training can play a key role in this context too, by assessing the
type of programme you're likely to appear on and ensuring that you
practise for the correct environment. 'We will not give people extensive
grillings as if they are about to be kebabed by Jeremy Paxman if the
likelihood of that happening is zero,' says Kaizo principal consultant
Bill Boyle, who stresses that many interviews are not a 'gladiatorial
'There's no point in anyone descending from on high without a pretty
good idea of what BBC local radio's like,' adds Ogden.
In a multimedia age, the range of options can only increase and some of
them will require different skills to the standard soundbite. In the IT
and business sectors, in particular there's a plethora of TV channels
being launched, with the capacity to run much longer interviews.
'As the media landscape expands, you've got to be able to be more
prepared to do sprints as well as marathons,' says Thomas.
NEWSNIGHT - Be prepared or pay the price
Newsnight is a place where reputations can be won and lost in the space
of a sneer. Its audience may not be as large as This Morning's but it is
'Newsnight can trample over your corns. It doesn't matter how much pain
they cause because they probably won't be back for four or five years,'
says Broadcast Media Services director Andrew Ogden.
Since BBC 1 moved its news to 10pm, Newsnight has also taken a more
leftfield view of the news agenda trying to look for fresh angles to
illuminate the issues. On a food safety issue, for example, it is likely
to want to examine the underlying causes of a scare as well as the
immediate impact it might have.
Despite its highbrow image, Boots group media manager Francis Thomas
says presentation is still an important factor when preparing someone
for a Newsnight interview. 'I still think you have got to concentrate on
this presentation issue, you've got to come across with authority,' he
Camelot head of corporate communications Andrew Jones says preparation
has to go beyond the short, succinct messages and look at wider debating
'It isn't about soundbites as such, it's about the argument, the
debate,' he says. 'It's about conviction and having the facts at the
front of your head, on the tip of your tongue and being able to
articulate the argument. Preparation goes into both.'
For Media Interviews managing director Hugo Brooke the key to success in
this forum is to know exactly what the issue is that they want to
discuss: 'You want to be very careful that they understand the
That means you and your PR company really go into it with Newsnight
At the end of this process you may decide not to participate after
Newsnight is a programme to be treated with care, he warns. 'There are
angels and devils in that programme, if you're on the side of the angels
you're okay,' he says. 'Go well armed with your own very good
The key he adds is never to go on if you know there's an unanswerable
question. It's a mistake that former home secretary Michael Howard made
when he appeared and famously refused to answer one of Jeremy Paxman's
questions even when it was repeated 14 times.
'Michael Howard got himself backed into a corner where he was going to
have to give a yes or no answer and he couldn't,' he recalls.
MASTERCLASSES - In programme style
Media Training Masterclasses runs a wide variety of training courses,
including the Open Course, which has been running every ten weeks since
The course director is Warwick Partington, and the Open Course is
precisely that - open to anyone, so each course is a mixed bag of
individuals from different companies. Delegates can choose from a number
of modules on TV, radio, print journalism, and presentation
Partington says delegates on his courses often want to be trained to
tackle a specific programme: 'We have trained many delegates who have
had specific issues and know they will be facing highly respected
interviewers on Newsnight, Watchdog and the Today programme.
'In these cases, whether the delegates have had previous media training
or not, or indeed if the deadline is just a matter of hours away, we
research the issues in the same way those programmes do, take the
delegates through the questions that may come up and practice the
messages they wish to get across, and provide individual feedback and
coaching to help them stay in control and deliver what they want to say
in a way that broadcasters can use,' he says.
Partington agrees that different programmes throw up different
challenges: 'Today is a news based programme where the challenge is
getting the message across in a short space of time while facing
potentially hostile interviewing technique. Newsnight has more time to
grill the interviewee and is a bigger challenge. The longer the
interview, the more difficult it is to stay 'on message'.'
As for Watchdog: 'Anne Robinson may want to put all media trainers into
Room 101 - but I suspect that she would be the first to acknowledge that
a gibbering wreck of an interviewee doesn't make for good TV.'
PRWeek recently sat in on a broadcast media open course. There were
eight delegates ranged against trainers with pedigree backgrounds as
journalists with the BBC and commercial broadcasters.
The course mixes some classroom time with intensive studio training
sessions - it uses the BBC's training facilities with working radio and
The first day of the course included an outline of how the media work,
identifying the right message, using the voice as a communications tool,
and planning an interview, as well as studio-based voice coaching.
Mock radio news interviews with feedback in front of the group followed,
so everyone learned from each others' as well as their own mistakes.
The second day covered TV, starting with a brief classroom session
looking at different programme styles, as well as non-verbal
Then it was straight into an 'on location' news interview, and then
studio sessions with news and feature interviews. Again, there was
excruciating feedback in front of the group.
THIS MORNING - Never underestimate the audience
The sofas might be comfortable, and the questions may sometimes be sugar
coated but This Morning isn't necessarily a place to tread lightly.
As The Aziz Corporation chairman Khalid Aziz warns: 'Tough questions are
not necessarily the most difficult to answer. It's a question of people
being given enough rope to hang themselves.'
On a food safety issue, for example, he believes the show will reflect
the audience's natural concerns. The subject is likely to be addressed
in terms such as 'how can I tell if my baby's food is contaminated?'
Media Interviews managing director Hugo Brooke agrees that it's an
audience to be taken seriously. 'That viewership can ruin you if you
were a bit flippant and apparently uncaring,' he warns.
Burson-Marsteller managing director Martin Langford says that in a
crisis the spokesperson should be someone who the audiences of all
programmes can relate to.
'If you are talking about an issue or a crisis situation you have got to
look at people who are empathetic. The first lesson for your key
spokesman is to demonstrate concern,' he says 'Invariably I would not
use the chief executive unless it was a safety issue that was so huge
that lives were being lost.'
Aziz says the process of selecting someone should focus on qualities
such as lightness of touch. 'You're probably better fielding a female,
someone under 40,' he suggests.
A key factor in your preparation for dealing with this audience is to
ensure that you use language that's easily understood. 'The thing is not
to underestimate the intelligence of the audience but not to over
estimate their knowledge,' he adds.
Boots group media manager Francis Thomas warns that the personality
focus of a show such as This Morning is increasingly being mimicked by
more 'highbrow' broadcast and print outlets, a fact that senior
executives need to be aware of and trained to handle.
'If you are there as a senior executive of the company then it's less to
do with the company than how you're running the company,' he says.
'It's the individual who's as much the focus as the company.'
WATCHDOG - A force to be reckoned with
The call from Watchdog strikes fear into the most seasoned of
If the programme's agenda is commonly stereotyped as 'which nasty
company has screwed up this week', then it's pretty clear that it's not
a place where anyone will feel comfortable.
However, refusing to take part and leaving an empty chair in the studio
can be more damaging than entering the lion's den - if you do it
'Sometimes with programmes like Panorama or Watchdog you do have to
engage,' concedes Regester Larkin director Mike Regester, adding that
you should run through any and every potential question, however
unlikely, before the interviewee arrives at the studio.
The Aziz Corporation chairman Khalid Aziz says when selecting a
spokesperson to appear on Watchdog you need someone who can be firm in
the face of an onslaught. 'Under the Anne Robinson regime you need
someone who is not going to get bullied and treads the fine line between
not being bullied but who is not going to hector.'
For Boots group media manager Francis Thomas a key part of the
preparation is to work with the programme so that whoever appears can be
accurately briefed as to the issues they're likely to raise.
'You do have to spend a lot of time with the researcher trying to find
what the brief is,' he says. 'As long as you can keep the channel open
you'll learn more about the programme.'
It's a view echoed by Camelot head of corporate communications Andrew
Jones: 'With Watchdog, a big part of the preparation is the management
of how the questions are presented, when they are presented, and whether
the person gets the final word.'
Other preparation focuses on the need to keep everything short and
'Watchdog operates very much in a soundbite way, a lot of the
preparation goes into the language you might use and the
Regester highlights one incident where working with Watchdog helped to
defuse the threat to a client. A couple who had hired a villa in Florida
were unhappy and wrote to the programme. The holiday company's boss
agreed to appear on the show but the team also found another couple
who'd had a good break at the villa and got them to appear on the
programme. Watchdog still got its on-air battle but it was between the
two couples allowing the company to stay out of the spotlight.
Kaizo principal consultant Bill Boyle says that with the departure of
Robinson - reports indicate she may be replaced by Nicky Campbell - the
programme may require even more careful handling.
'I think with Anne Robinson gone they will find someone better. Watchdog
is about to get a lot more dangerous. If they get someone really skilful
then we will see a lot of chief executives squirming,' he says.