CRISIS MEDIA TRAINING 101

May Wildman / July 7, 2020

It’s week three of Fearey’s Fearless Series on CRISIS.

Today, we bring you CRISIS MEDIA TRAINING 101.

We’ve covered the critical elements of every crisis communications plan, discussed how to craft the right message for your target audiences, and today, we’ll talk about crisis media training.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light a number of spokespeople who were likely media trained (or should have been), but perhaps didn’t apply their training or take it seriously enough. That’s why even if you have been media trained before, it’s important to review the basics, take it seriously and practice, practice, practice.

With the media, you may not always have control over the direction of the interview or know exactly what questions you will be asked. However – and we tell many of our media training clients this – you have 100% control over what comes out of your mouth.

With practice and the right guidance, you can be prepared to talk about any crisis that comes your way.

Here, we outline seven key pointers to guide your training for your next media appearance:
  1. Know your rights.

Believe it or not, you have rights when it comes to media interviews. Some of these include: knowing who is interviewing you; being treated politely (note: this doesn’t mean free of hard questions); and having a say in when the interview will end. If a member of the media comes up to you on the street or in a parking lot or calls you asking for an interview, do not do the interview then and there. Give yourself time to prepare your key messages and supporting points. Tell them you’ll have your communications consultant set it up, or call them back when you’re ready.

 

  1. Prepare your key messages.

As we discussed in our previous blog post, crafting key messages is critical. Prepare for any media appearance with a set of key points that you plan to deliver throughout the course of the interview. Your key messages should 1) acknowledge the details upfront; 2) be honest and transparent; 3) provide value; 4) avoid sounding defensive/aggressive; 5) focus on how you will improve and move forward. Keep these messages in front of you as you’re speaking – especially if it’s a phone interview. If you’re conducting a TV interview, its okay to keep them on your lap or in your hand. Ideally, you will have practiced enough not to need them.

 

  1. Get the tough questions out of the way.

Think of the tough questions you might be asked as a result of the crisis. Write them down and prepare with answers using bridging techniques. (More on that a little bit later.) Prepare for the worst-case scenario — ask yourself the questions you don’t want to be asked — and practice answering these questions out loud. Even better, have a friend, colleague or spouse ask you the questions. Tough questions will come, but you will know how to respond..

 

  1. Get in the right headspace.

Some people use meditation apps; others listen to music. You might feel confident after a walk or run. Whatever it is, get grounded and ready for your time in the spotlight in whatever way feels most natural and comfortable to you.

 

  1. Assume the mic is always hot.

In general, from the time you enter the studio or newsroom until the time you leave, keep all non-interview chit-chat upbeat. Do not say anything negative about your organization, clients, products or services while speaking with a member of the media. In television interviews, you will be asked to wear a microphone before you go on camera. Remember you are always on the record.

 

  1. Use bridging.

Bridging is a tried-and-true technique to pivot from a negative point the interviewer might bring up to a positive point that delivers your key message. To do this, first respond in a positive or neutral manner, then bridge it back to your key point. For example, if someone asks you, “I heard you are not doing enough to help your retailers during this economic downturn,” say: “Thanks for bringing that up. While we’re heading into some tough economic times, we’re doing everything we can to be fair to our retailers and tenants. After all, their business is closely linked to our business – we are hopeful for long-term gains and success.”

  1. Focus on the positive.

A member of the media may ask leading questions to try and prompt negative comments about your competitors or your industry. Don’t fall for it! Avoid repeating the reporter’s negative words or questions; rephrase using positive language.

 

There are many other things to note and remember when crisis media training, including what “off-the-record” means and how it differs from “on background,” as well as tips for dealing with different mediums such as TV, radio and online/print interviews. If you have questions or want specifics, reach out to a member of our team.

Next week, we’ll learn more about approaching proactive and reactive media outreach during a crisis.

Stay tuned. Stay fearless.