Don’t be backward in using props if you think they’re going to focus people’s attention on your message. But, if you do use a prop, just remember to hold it up higher than you normally might to accommodate the framing for a TV interview or Press photo. The same rule applies if you’re a hand talker and you want people to fully see your hands not just the tips of fingers running along the bottom of the screen.
This photo shows Liberal MP for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone, holding up samples of SPC fruit at a media conference on February 13, 2014 as she welcomed the Victorian Government’s injection of funds to save the Shepparton factory from closure.
Within four minutes, the release was speedily amended to swap the offending nouns, to say that the tax was in fact “still inflicting plenty of pain, with no environmental gain”.
The article said a spokesman for Mr Hunt wanted to be clear “it was my typo, not the Minister’s”.
These are the sort of accidents that can happen when preparing media releases and anyone involved in that activity has to be super vigilant. In my media training workshops I highly recommend reading the release back to yourself several times and, if possible, get another set of friendly eyes nearby to check your work.
Volkswagen Australia should have had media training before the debacle of its recent safety recall. If I had been running a media training Melbourne workshop for their top executives I would have said “you have to talk to the public about this and the best and most efficient way to do that is through the news media”.
Instead, the company refused to speak to the media and the public were therefore left in the dark about the problems some were having with their VW engines suddenly losing power. They were rightly puzzled as VW in other countries had issued safety recalls for the same problem!
By the time VW went ahead and issued the safety recall for 26,000 vehicles, the Australian public voted with their feet and stayed out of VW showrooms in droves. On July 3, 2013 it was announced that VW sales had dropped 20% while the market overall was up 5%!
I can’t believe they refused to speak to the news media for a whole week before issuing the recall. They seemed to forget that the Australian public don’t like being messed with. They were forgetting also that the media are the people, and in this case, those people were potential buyers who obviously looked elsewhere.
In all media training workshops I have run, I have always stipulated the very real need for people to speak in plain English – mainly so they can broaden their reach but also so they don’t bore or turn off the viewers, listeners or readers. Now, I see the British Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has ordered public servants in his department to write in plain English.
Gove, a former journalist himself, has introduced 10 guidelines to get bureaucrats to write in language that their mothers would understand. He said officials should introduce one idea per paragraph, use a sympathetic tone – and make sure they spell the recipient’s name correctly.
I say it’s not just bureaucrats who need such advice. Certainly in my experience with the corporate world and training their executives to handle media interviews, it’s a far more widespread problem – generally concentrated in middle management with less senior and more senior executives prone to speaking like the rest of us do, in plain English.
Wow, does the Catholic Church need some media training. Archbishop Denis Hart yesterday faced the parliamentary inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations. Ruth Hilton from Moorooduc summed it up perfectly in The Age today – 18 years to defrock an abusing priest, then a smirk and a flippant ‘better late than never’ from Victoria’s senior Catholic cleric. Shame.
I couldn’t agree more. There’s a place for flippancy in some media encounters but that certainly wasn’t one of them.
And the public agree – the Comment section in today’s edition of the paper was full of criticism of the Archbishop – as well as the And Another Thing column.
Next week it’s Cardinal George Pell’s turn at the inquiry and I can just imagine the arrogance that man will display.
Interesting to read at the weekend that Opposition Leader (not for long) Tony Abbott has seen the light in relation to his media performances. Apparently Abbott observed in himself a distinct difference in the way he would answer people at doorstop press conferences (they’re media conferences Tony, not just press) and the way he would deal with people at a community forum in his electorate.
Eureka – he’s seen the light. I keep telling participants at our media training workshops to imagine themselves in a social situation, be it drinks at the pub, a dinner party or a BBQ with neighbours. The last one is the closest to that community forum Abbott speaks of. And then talk to the media the way you would at that social situation. This lends itself to a much better, more natural conversation.
The downside is that you don’t have as much time in a media interview to put your case as you might in a community forum. But, gee, let’s work on honing your messages and then deliver them in that friendly manner. You’ll be really surprised at the results.
Abbott said he realised he was becoming a little snappy to people at his doorstop press conferences (there’s that word press again) and that really wasn’t a good look as far as the public were concerned.
He then went on to show his lack of understanding of the media by saying the people asking me the questions may as well be members of the public, rather than annoying journalists who are QCs for the prosecution.
Tony, Tony, Tony – the media are the public. That’s their job, to represent the public and ask the questions they think the public want answers to. No working journalist will tell you this but, as a former working journalist, let me tell you – journalists are merely conduits through to that public.
One of your predecessors, John Howard, once told talkback man Jon Faine that he was there to talk to the public not to Faine – and Faine thought that was pretty insightful of Howard who, incidentally, was a master media manipulator. Take heed Tony Abbott.
Bfeore we go, let’s add some more business-speak to the list. In today’s paper I see these examples from a share float – “establish taxonomies”, “vendor agnostic integration layer” and “configurable naming convention management”. Good grief!
Media training is not just about helping you prepare for a media interview. It can involve other aspects of the media encounter, such as preparation of media releases. In today’s Age there is a little item that says:
“When pitching story ideas, it could be worthwhile to check if the event being spruiked in a media release is still occurring and if the date of the milestone being marked has already occurred. Just a suggestion.”
Obviously the journalist involved, Suzanne Carbone, had received such a bad media release. I always tell my media training workshop participants to ensure you have the correct contact details and, if you’re writing the release during the week for a weekend event, make sure you have after hours contact details so the journalist can reach you if they need to.
I was working on the Channel 7 newsdesk in Melbourne a couple of years ago when a PR lady called to thank us for running a story on her new health breakthrough. When I told her the international speaker we filmed had the words from the projector over his face most of the time her response was: “I wasn’t expecting television.” I told her that if you send out a media release to the media, expect all forms of it to turn up, then you’re covered.
By the way, it is media release, not press release as it covers all arms of the media – press, radio, television and internet.
The extraordinary investor Warren Buffett doesn’t need media training. He has a genuine, folksy manner about him that appeals to a lot of people. In other words, they trust him and he comes across as sincere.
His annual letter to shareholders went out last Friday and the New York Times said it “was written in accessible prose and largely free of financial jargon…it holds appeal far beyond Wall Street. This year’s dispatch contained plenty of Buffett’s folksy observations about investing and business that his devotees relish.”
Ah, if only Australian business would listen to that and try to replicate – not necessarily the folksy observations but certainly the lack of jargon part. We say in everyone of our media training workshops that you should be talking to the media as you would talk to someone in a social situation (eg. drinks at the pub, BBQ or dinner party). Sure, you might have to tame your language a little but if you head down that path you will give better interviews.
In that same vein of talking simply and sincerely, here’s a great farewell letter from the sacked CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason – how refreshing a read!
People of Groupon,
After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.
You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.
For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.
If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!
Interesting to see Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A last night espousing one of my media training points – honesty. The shadow communications spokesman was asked what it was like to lose the party leadership.
”Gut-wrenching.” ”Devastating.” They were the two main emotive words used and, as The Age points out today, it was “honest and direct enough to make you look up at the person talking. Up in the control room at Q&A, they knew they had a moment. The camera angle was unsatisfactory. They switched angles, trying to get the shot tight on his face. It didn’t quite work, because Turnbull forgot his TV technique and kept swivelling to address the questioner.”
There are a lot of people who have been destroyed by political setbacks and I could have been – it was very, very gut-wrenching, it was devastating. It’s a devastating business, a terribly cruel business, politics. Because all of your mistakes and blunders are out there in the public arena. You’ve got nowhere to hide. There is not an ounce of privacy.’
Wow, real honesty – and from a politician no less. I am impressed and just wish more attendees at our media training workshops would take this lesson on board and be more open and honest with the media in future.
Just discovered a new aid that I will be highlighting in ongoing media training workshops – Addictomatic at http://addictomatic.com/. Simply insert the topic you’re interested in and it will create a mashup of entries on that topic from:
Google Blog Search
Blinkx Mainstream Vid News
Twingly Blog Search and
Anyone facing a media interview would be wise to insert their organisation’s name and the topic of interest into that site to see what people might be saying – I reckon the journos are doing the same thing so be prepared before any media interview. I also suggest at my media training sessions that potential interviewees do a Google search and, if time allows, set up a Google Alert on the topic – again, these are steps the journos are likely to be taking and you should be equally as prepared particularly if you find some negative comments through these steps.