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Why the pandemic has proven that every brand should have a media-trained spokesperson

By . Posted 17 January 2022

Having a brand spokesperson with the confidence, charisma, and skill to speak directly with the media can do wonders for a brand’s reputation.

Over the last two years, this has been more than proved when the government and its spokespeople were thrust into the limelight more frequently than ever as they addressed the nation during a global health crisis.

Whilst the vast majority of the time, it was clear that government spokespeople had been well-briefed, trained on interview technique and knew exactly what they wanted to get across. However, there’s also been a good number of interview blunders that we can all learn some lessons from.

The impact of the pandemic has meant journalists have become even more reliant on good spokespeople to help them craft interesting and genuinely informative stories – particularly in broadcast media.

If you’re a brand wanting to raise awareness and build credibility through your spokespeople, how do you make sure you’re putting the right person forward? And how do you properly brief them to give a strong interview that ticks boxes for both the brand and the journo? Here’s a few things to remember:

Is media training just for TV and radio interviews?

Media relations is just one of the tactics in the PR toolkit, and there are lots of different ways to effectively do media outreach for a brand.

Print and online media journalists tend to be a mixed bag, with many happy to take pre-written content, whilst some others prefer speaking directly to senior people within an organisation to help shape their stories.

But when it comes to TV and radio outlets, it really is essential to have senior people available (often at very short notice) who can offer interesting and informative soundbites.

With COVID-19 creating a very different set of circumstances for media outreach, we adapted our training methods to include media interviews over Zoom – an approach we expect to see carry on in the future too.

Whatever the media format, the fundamental principles of a good press interview carry many of the same characteristics. Media training helps the spokesperson ensure their key messages are conveyed whether that’s in print, on TV or radio.

Journalists and producers aren’t always out to get you

The secret to a strong media interview is collaboration. Not just between the PR and the interviewee, but finding out what the journalist wants from the interview too, and whether you’ll be able to provide that.

There’s sometimes an underlying assumption that any interview with the media always comes with a sinister agenda, but for the majority, that’s not the case. A good journalist will simply want an informative, well-balanced story, and so it’s important to go into the interview with all the facts.

Getting an idea of their interview angle, whether they need any specific stats and even their opening question is good to get hold of pre-interview.

PR professionals and journalists rely on each other more than ever, and so strong working relationships are essential on both sides. And things like under-prepared spokespeople and throwing in random testing questions are a sure-fire way to sour those relationships!

Nailing the authenticity balance

Putting the right spokesperson forward means that they’ll be confident in front of an interviewer, whether that’s over Zoom, on the phone or in-person and in front of a camera.

A lot of good spokespeople are charismatic, have a friendly demeanour and a very relaxed tone to their voice. Some will even throw in a joke (if appropriate!). Strong interviewees connect with their audience, keep them engaged and stay on message.

During some instances though, where you might be facing a difficult situation and have had to put forward a spokesperson to address a negative story, it’s important for the interviewee to sympathise with the situation, show compassion and explain what will happen next.

It’s important to get the balance right here, in order for it to be genuine. And Matt Hancock gave us the perfect example of how NOT to demonstrate authenticity.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

It sounds like a total no brainer (😉) but prep is KEY to nailing an interview. But keep it simple. Some have the assumption that you can wing an interview, but there’s many more opportunities with an interview than you may initially think.

Speaking confidently about a topic is one thing, but being able to naturally weave in key messages without a prompting question is a skill not to be sniffed at.

Rehearsing this tactic beforehand is definitely something to consider but it’s also important not to sound too scripted. The classic Ed Milliband “these strikes are wrong” conundrum continues to be the perfect example of that. In isolation, any version of his answer would have sounded fine but after publishing the whole interview, he sounded like a broken record; unnatural and over-rehearsed.

The ones that come across as the most natural and “winged” are usually the ones that have spent hours prepping. Unlike our current Prime Minister in a recent speech about electric cars at the Confederation of British Industry – fumbling through pages of notes, BoJo resorted to addressing the room of UK business bosses with “Has anyone been to Peppa Pig World?”.

Great PR for the Hampshire attraction (there was a huge spike in traffic during the day of the interview!), but probably not one of the key messages he was meant to get across during his speech.

Know when to “politely decline on this occasion”

Providing a media trained spokesperson can do wonders for a brand, but you’ve also got to know when the time is right to say ‘no’.

While some may believe that all PR is good PR, not all media opportunities are right for every brand, particularly when it’s a controversial topic.

Given our fast-paced, 24-hour news cycle, journalists need guaranteed sources quickly. This is where you can sometimes feel pressured to provide an answer, but it’s important to consider the benefits, and potential damage, caused by putting someone forward.

While most interviews are a good opportunity for exposure, you might end up putting someone forward to speak about a topic outside your scope and ultimately losing credibility in your field (probably while annoying the journalist too).

Making the call on declining an interview does also come with its reputational impact too though. The classic “they declined to comment” can also be damaging, so if you are going to decline an interview, think about providing a statement or comment to balance your perspective on the topic.

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Done right, a great media interview can be a fantastic PR tactic, adding credibility and personality to a brand, helping to position it positively in the minds of the audience. It’s also a great way for a company to stand out from its competition.

But when done wrong, it can have the exact opposite effect and actually damage a brand’s reputation – something which can take a long time to recover from.

We’ve worked with a whole range of different people over the years and it’s fair to say that when it comes to media interviews, some people love them, and others loathe them!

But the good news is that learning how to handle a journalist’s questions – whether that be for TV, radio, print or online – is a skill that can be taught. In our view, it’s also an essential investment.

We encourage everyone we work with to have at least one person within the business that is media trained and understands the key techniques needed to manage a media interview. They need to feel comfortable speaking to the press and as an agency, we only want to put clients into those situations when we’re happy that they feel confident.

To find out more about our media relations service offering, click here, or get in touch with us directly on [email protected].