FOCUS: MEDIA TRAINING; Don’t be blinded by the spotlight

MEDIA EXPERTISE: As media becomes part of everyday life spokespeople are finding that ignorance is dangerous CAMERA TIPS: The secret to television success is to remember that body language speaks louder than words INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES: With a little preparation you can avoid the ‘speak now, repent at leisure’ scenario

MEDIA EXPERTISE: As media becomes part of everyday life spokespeople are

finding that ignorance is dangerous

CAMERA TIPS: The secret to television success is to remember that body

language speaks louder than words

INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES: With a little preparation you can avoid the

‘speak now, repent at leisure’ scenario

With the number of news hungry channels growing the pressure is on to

train a broader spectrum of staff in news handling skills. Danny Rogers


‘I personally haven’t had a bath or a shower now for three months and no

one has noticed,’ said Trevor Newton, former chief executive of

Yorkshire Water last September, while there was talk of the company

leaking 103 million gallons a day from its pipes.

Was he media trained? Yorkshire Water press office won’t say. But with

Newton gone, and fresh senior executives in place, new head of corporate

affairs Margaret Stewart clearly values careful preparation of


‘Any spokesperson will be put through initial training to see how they

appear and how they perform.’ she says. ‘Prior to any radio or TV

interview, we will talk them through the issues as a matter of course.’

‘I can see an obvious link between those companies that have high level

of media training and those who have a good public profile,’ says Peter

Geraghty director of media training and communications company The


Geraghty is surprised by the number of glaring errors still made by

senior executives when talking to the media: ‘This is particularly true

among the public utilities and the financial sector, although on the

whole corporates are getting better,’ he says.

Indeed the perofmance of Newton last year now seems to be the exception,

rather than the rule.

‘It is probably true to say that the majority of industry heads and

senior company executives have now received some form of media

training,’ says Claire Williams, partner at training company Coulter

Ford Associates, ‘This does of course make the journalist’s job very

much easier as they will rarely find themselves having to make a silk

purse out of a pig’s ear.’

Dennis Sewell, presenter of Radio 5’s media programme Paper Talk,

agrees: ‘On the positive side, people talk properly and the broadcast is

more listenable. On the other hand one wonders whether the interview is

still a worthwhile form of investigative journalism, as spokespeople are

trained to a point where inconvenient facts simply do not emerge.’

According to Chris Loosemore, director of Ariel Communications, the

explosion in media training began around a decade ago, following Bernard

Ingham’s successful orchestration of the media for the Conservative


The process has also been driven by a dawning realisation by corporate

chiefs of just how badly things can go wrong.

Doug Goodman, former head of press and PR at Thomsons Holidays, moved

into media training eight years ago, specialising in the travel and

leisure sectors. He says that high profile catastrophes have shocked

chief executives into action.

‘The Zeebrugge disaster and the Cunard fiasco have changed companies’

perceptions. There is an acceptance that one has to be prepared.’

But Goodman also points out that news gathering around such events is

increasingly immediate and upfront.

Apart from the necessary speed of response - the company’s reaction in

the first five minutes can be crucial - pressure on corporations for

comment is compounded by a proliferation of media outlets.

A growth in regional radio stations, specialist narrowcast channels on

cable and satellite TV, not to mention the imminent explosion of

channels on the digital medium, all mean an ever more voracious appetite

for news.

This creates an important ‘democratising’ effect on media training as

middle management and regional executives are increasingly called up

either in a crisis, or simply to respond as an authority at any time.

Loosemore says: ‘Although most major companies are now proficient in

media training, this does not necessarily apply to smaller companies and

middle management.

He gives the example of middle managers in hospital trusts, whom he

believes are especially prone to mistakes.

Peter Geraghty agrees: ‘Officials in local government and the civil

service are often being caught out. These people are usually specialists

and aren’t comfortable with the sound-bite approach of many media. They

can flounder or get stroppy.’

Geraghty says his clients are acknowledging the need to train a broader

spectrum of staff. Although he believes it is not always a good idea to

train senior and junior management at the same time, as it can challenge

senior executives’ authority.

‘Very few people actually fail the training and it is more a case of

providing experience so the interviewee is more relaxed. It is also

important to identify which characters perform best in each situation.

Some will be natural sound-bite experts, other will succeed in a more

formal, detailed interview,’ says Geraghty.

Perhaps as a result PR agencies are increasingly building a media

training element into their strategies for clients.

Chris Woodcock, deputy managing director at Countrywide says: ‘Media

training is an integral part of any communications discipline. Trained

spokespeople are able to communicate good news effectively and keep

their cool during a crisis. We train our clients to take control of an


Countrywide has developed a series of modular training courses - from

basic coaching through to regular telephone tests and press conference


‘These can range from one-off tailored programmes for the individual to

pan-European multi-lingual programmes for international businesses and

challenging crisis situations,’ says Woodcock.

She has teamed up with consultant Michele Mervin to personally advise

clients and says a number of account handlers have been made proficient

in media training techniques.

Grayling’s managing director Nigel Kennedy says: ‘With a number of ex-

journalists on our staff we undertake some client media training in-

house. We have just carried out an intensive in-house session with a

major plc in the food service industry, putting its staff through their

paces in a number of problem and crisis scenarios. It is an essential

part of the communications infrastructure we are putting in place.’

Woodcock believes strongly that media training is all too often a

brought-in service rather than a true skill ‘owned’ by most

consultancies. In this sense it is isolated from clients’ communications

advisers. ‘It should be the fulcrum of any communications programme,

rather than a separate element,’ she says.

However it is only likely to be larger consultancies and organisations

that have the resources to consider in-house media training. Others will

be faced with the choice from a vast array of independent trainers and

the task of thoroughly briefing to achieve the necessary degree of

integration into the wider communications plan.

But how does one find the right trainer? Unfortunately there is not yet

any official trade association for guidance.

Geraghty says: ‘More people are coming into the business and the

question is: who can provide independent validation? There have been

informal talks among some of the better established media trainers, but

at the moment no progress is being made.’

Loosemore warns that clients should be careful when choosing a company.

‘There are many trainers out there with little experience of the print

and broadcast media yet they charge lots of money for so-called top

quality training,’ he says.

Until some industry standards are introduced, one should look for

companies that have a demonstrable and up-to-date knowledge of a broad

range of media. It should also not be forgotten that knowledge and

experience is not always enough. The trainers must also be good


Training exercises: Some of the experts on call

Airtime Communications 0115 9816994

Mobile outside broadcast unit for on-location training. Specialises in

public sector. pounds 1,650 for max six people

Ariel Communications 01734 543694

Media training specialists. Branches in London, Birmingham and

Manchester. Approx pounds 1,200 - pounds 4,600

Michael Bland 0171 821 6113

All aspects of media training, particularly crisis management. pounds


Bulletin International 0171 278 6070

Senior executive/ spokesman training for broadcast interviews. pounds

2,000 - pounds 4,500

Chevron 0171 831 1811

Media, presentation and crisis management training. Approx pounds 2,700

The Communicators 0117 929 9592

Media training in BBC studios and broadcast-related seminars. Approx

pounds 2,300

Corporate Vision 0171 734 2335

Media and presentation training with dedicated central London studio.

Approx pounds 2,500 - pounds 4,000

Coulter Ford Associates 01344 780240

Specialising in personal presentation skills and media techniques.

Approx pounds 1,650 - pounds 3,300

Doug Goodman Media Training 0181 977 1105

Media familiarisation and crisis management training. Approx pounds


HTV Media Training 01222 590590

TV broadcaster offering media training, crisis management and

communications skills. pounds 2,000 - pounds 2,500

InterMedia Training 0171 233 5033

Individually tailored media and presentation training courses. pounds

1,400 - pounds 2,950

John Stonborough 0171 631 3434

Independent support service for public relations professionals in

handling the hostile media. Approx pounds 1,500

Media Interviews 01249 655275

TV, radio and press interview courses. Approx pounds 2,250

TV and Radio Training Unit 01332 296684

Broadcast and print media training, crisis management, presentation

skills. pounds 2,000

TRT 0114 264 8900

Interviews training, personal presentation and crisis management. Price


TV News London 0171 222 0807

Broadcast specialists with access to working central London studios.

pounds 1,650 - pounds 3,200

Prices based on full day’s group training. Usually negotiable

Camera action: The making of a screen star

Set in the heart of Bushey, Hertfordshire, Hillside Studios has the air

of a country retreat - fitting for a facility once used to train vicars

to do the epilogue.

I’m here to be put through my paces by media training company Intermedia

Training. The setting may be rural but the production facilities are

professional and the studios are buzzing with a crew from a children’s

TV show.

Course tutors Cathie Fraser and former BBC Europe correspondent Graham

Leech do a credible double act: she explains the theory, while he does

the practice, including some Paxmanesque probing during our three set-

piece interviews

Fraser insists on the importance of using professional studios - if you

are not used to them television studios can be very unnerving places.

The aim is to make you familiar with the environment now so you don’t

get distracted later.

A professional journalist is also a must - you have got to have someone

who knows how an issue would be handled in a real situation, says


My own rather abridged training session - a half day rather than the

normal full one - kicked off with a short briefing on the aims and

objectives of the course and the basics of how a news report is put


Fraser then elaborates on the three Ps - preparation, preparation and

preparation - and produces a long list of questions every interviewee

should ask before agreeing to take part. Sample questions include: What

is the programme about? Is it live or recorded? Who else is taking part?

There is nearly always a minute or two before the interview starts while

you are being miked up - don’t waste it. Check with the interviewer

that the information you have already been given, by a researcher or

producer, is correct and ask what the first question will be.

And do not be afraid to make demands. In my first studio interview I

encounter interviewee public enemy number one - the swivel chair.

Several minutes of violent swinging later I vow next time to take

Fraser’s advice and ask for a fixed replacement.

In television, appearance really is everything. According to Fraser,

statistics show that 55 per cent of the overall impression you create is

based on the way you look. Another 38 per cent is down to your delivery.

This leaves just seven per cent for what you actually say. No matter

what you say, if your eyes are all over the place, people are going to

remember you as a shifty looking character.

After a brief analysis of the studio interview, we move on to an outside

broadcast - in this case from the carpark. With little more than 20

seconds of the interview likely to make it to the screen, the key thing

here is to treat each question as if it is the only one. Do not say ‘as

I was saying’ - chances are the viewer won’t have seen your previous

answer. Use a bridging technique to answer the question and then move it

on to the three or four points you want to make.

A good tip is to have some well-rehearsed answers to standard hostile

questions - ‘lifebelts’ Fraser calls them - which you grab on to if

things start to run away from you.

Other tips: steer clear of jargon, illustrate what you are saying with

statistics, examples, or anecdotes and practise ways of ‘kicking into

touch’ hostile questions and turning them to your own advantage.

Oh, and watch those eyes.

Interviewing: Question time tactics

To find oneself facing a camera can be an unnerving experienced for the

most self-possessed and opinionated - even a journalist. In fact, it is

perhaps even more unnerving for someone who is experienced in the art of

interviewing to find the tables turned with themselves in the hot seat-

as I found out when independent trainer Michael Bland invited me to

experience at first hand his brand of media training.

Bland is one of an increasing number of independent trainers who, rather

than working out of a single studio, work around client needs in terms

of location. In this instance, the training session was held at the

studios of UCL, but in many cases Bland says he sets up studio scenarios

in company conference rooms and board rooms. ‘It is valuable to get the

feel of a studio but it is not the end of the world if they don’t. Most

interviews are picked up by electronic news gathering now anyway,’ he


While each course is tailored to meet individual client requirements, a

media course generally lasts for a full day, including practical

sessions with a seasoned journalist. Bland avoids any New Age-style

relaxation techniques, preferring to deal with nerves as and when they

arise. Instead he spends anything up to 90 minutes on a ‘psychotherapy

session’ talking through experiences with the media and trying to instil

a sympathetic understanding of the journalist’s position, later

encouraging participants to anticipate a journalist’s questions.

‘I talk them through the typical training of a journalist, the fact that

they are indoctrinated at an early age that the story is everything,

says Bland. ‘Senior executives never stop to think about what type of

person the journalist is, and I teach them to deal with the media the

way that they would deal with a customer, and to pre-package the

information for journalists,’ says Bland.

Only then does he put his subject through a practical interview exercise

on camera. Make no mistake, media training is exhausting. Even a minute

on camera, can leave most people feeling drained, but Bland puts his

subjects through the experience three or four times, finishing off with

a post- session analysis.

While paying lip service to the importance of appearance and eye

contact, Bland tends to concentrate on content. He places great emphasis

on the art of bridging, drawing the analogy of swimming in an ocean full

of sharks between islands of factual information - reassuringly I didn’t

spend too long in the water.

The first run through was, however, rather too abstract, and it was only

in the second interview, that I saw how, by using more specific examples

to make the interview more animated and the argument more colourful.

While most clients think of television as the most nerve-racking end of

the interview spectrum, Bland also covers down-the-line radio and print,

which, as he points out, can appear deceptively simple.

‘Whereas broadcast interviewers have to educate and interview at the

same time, the print journalist gets information and then has to go away

and make it entertaining. They can afford to be nice to you during the

interview, which is a subtle trap.’

As a crisis management specialist, Bland also specialises in spine-

chilling mock door-stepping scenarios, catching clients off-guard with

quick-fire questions.

‘I usually get them singing like canaries the first time round,’ says

Bland, who advises clients to use delaying tactics. ‘To express the

willingness to talk, while buying the time required to prepare a

response, instead of responding to emotional taunts and putting

themselves at the mercy of a live interviewer is an invaluable skill,’

he adds.

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