Getting the right message to the press

Members of the C-suite aren't the only ones who can benefit from media training

When it comes to media training, the focus is typically on CEOs and other executives. However, there are a number of reasons why employees outside the C-suite need media training.

Scott Pryzwansky, senior communications manager at Trone, recently conducted media training for four product managers at Louisiana Pacific (LP), a building products company. He notes that employees who work closely with specific products are often better suited to talk about those products than C-suite leaders.

"The training was product specific, and they had to have a consistent message for what [the] company wants to portray," Pryzwansky says. "Consistency, perception, and image are all important."

For Southwest Airlines, bomb threats, operational disruptions, and new routes can be among the triggers for local media attention. Thus, all airport employees at the supervisor level and above are media trained.

"If we [are] transparent and responsive, it speaks to the dependability of the brand," says Linda Rutherford, VP of PR and community affairs at Southwest Airlines.

Toshiba America Medical Systems also believes in ongoing media training for employees outside the C-suite.

"At trade shows, generally a business unit director would [be interviewed], but... could get pulled away, so we may need a product manager or clinical marketing manager [to] speak to a reporter," says Cathy Wolfe, Toshiba's marketing services director. "The skills translate to talking with customers, partners, and business associations."

At Southwest, when a situation affects the entire company, media inquiries are handled at the corporate level. However, local employees are given talking points and media training to help answer customer questions.

Michael Geczi, EVP at FD Ashton Partners, notes that companies in a pre-IPO situation often need to train various employees, especially on disclosure issues.

"[Below] the C-suite, [employees aren't usually] in a position to talk about corporate strategy or financial performance," he says. "Help [them] tell anecdotes and give information that's... coordinated with what's coming out of the C-suite."

Geczi also helps employees understand re-porters' rights and what they're looking for.

Southwest and Toshiba train in groups based on various criteria, such as location and function. Toshiba likes employees to develop messages before training, and less experienced employees might be given questions in advance. In training sessions, both companies talk about the importance of the media, watch interview example videos, and take individuals through a mock interview on camera. Southwest's internal team conducts the majority of media training, though local TV reporters help by asking employees questions on camera.

"We have [trainees] look over a scenario, develop message points, and prepare for an on-camera interview," Rutherford says.

The employees watch the video afterward to make improvements.

Wolfe notes that being on camera gives the people the clearest picture of what's coming across. Toshiba finds it valuable to use outside media trainers.

"Third-party feedback validates what [we've said], and it's sometimes easier to hear feedback about [performance] from outside the company," she says.

Pryzwansky serves as interviewer in his training sessions. On playback, he analyzes non-verbal communications skills, inflection, performance, appearance, and delivery.

"The minimum time for individual coaching is an hour and a half," he explains.
"Then you decide if you need to take it further. You may also work with five to eight people in a daylong session. [In] groups, you learn from watching each other."

Pryzwansky views building confidence as one of his main responsibilities when media training. Wolfe notes that media training is "scary for people at first," but that Toshiba employees always come away valuing it.

"Don't give up when trying to get people trained," Wolfe adds. "It's good experience for their long-term career, and it [ensures] we can always meet reporter needs."

Technique tips


Do
  • Show example videos and tape mock interviews
  • Note strengths and ways to improve
  • Teach how to embody corporate messages and image

Don't

  • Neglect to teach why media training is important
  • Do mock interviews until correct messages are developed
  • Forget to build trainees' confidence

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