Archive for the ‘media training’ Category

“I’m eating my cookie”

  I won’t subject you to a long intro, instead sit back and enjoy this great clip. Senior executive media training should be compulsory.

 “I’m eating my cookie”

 Yes, he did lose his job.

Look East

One of the benefits of this role is that other members of the team are continually jumping on and off planes to far flung places and in the place of some local chocolates bought at the airport it is always good to hear what they learnt. Recently, Catherine Cross our Director of Media Training returned from Kazakhstan from a week’s senior exec training.  Now, I hear you cry, what could I possibly glean from a country who only achieved independence from Russian 20 years ago?

Surprisingly more than you’d think.

Did you know that Kazakhstan has circa 1,500 media outlets, the majority of which have grown in the last decade? This is new media in its purest sense, but why should you care? Well these new emerging markets provide a fascinating insight into how media develops in the hot house of new technology. With no democratic print history to call upon, the country’s media has in effect skipped a generation while at the same time seeing media control shift from the state to powerful publishers with their own political agenda. Different masters, different ideologies, same pressures in striving for a free media.

So what can we learn from a media that only has a potential audience of 16 million? As one of the new emerging markets, with a surplus of oil and other natural resources it will not be long before the joys of Astana airport will be a regular topic on business travel forums.

Even more relevant for those of us involved in preparing clients for the media, my colleague’s experience really brought home how important focus and clear messaging is. With our highly developed media we are always looking for new ways to get our message(s) across in these new emerging markets where the pressure has shifted. If your message isn’t clear and focused, the journalist won’t be and the resulting coverage will be vague to say the least. Equally we are all prepared for the Paxman style of questioning, but an open-ended question with an inexperienced journalist can be just as dangerous. Drop your guard at your peril.

More importantly, research is key. Who owns the media, what is their agenda, where does your messaging fit with their overall objectives, who is their audience? These are all things that sometimes get taken for granted.

I am sure we all go through this process afresh every time we put our clients in front of the media, but sometimes it takes the cold, harsh winds of the Central Asian Steppes to bring it into sharp relief.

Next stop for Catherine is Russia in a couple of weeks – hope she has packed her big fluffy hat.

“We all just want our lives back”

As media commentators continue to pick through the carnage following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, some interesting insights are bubbling to the service. For those of you that saw the BBC’s Money Programme, one of the defining moments that shone through was a quote from Tony Hayward that.. “Maybe if I had achieved a degree from RADA rather than in Geology, things would have been different.”

Now for me that is a defining quote, what type of people do we want running these global organisations? Experts in their field who have a deep understanding of their operations? Or trained orators who can deliver impressive sound bites?

In the ideal world we would have both, but the reality is that the combination is pretty rare. For example, would you like Richard Branson to fly you and family across the Atlantic? Or (far more worryingly) step on a plane piloted by Michael O’Leary? No! All of these people, including Tony Hayward, have realised the benefit of surrounding themselves with experts in their field. In Tony Hayward’s case, you would have to argue he was let down not by his statements, but by the people who put him in that position in the first place.

The first objective for any business is to minimise the likelihood of a crisis, but incidents can and will arise and from that point on, the imperative has to be to deploy the best people to do the best jobs at the right time and place.

I for one have a certain amount of sympathy for Tony Hayward, he paid a high personal price as you would expect, but I think he came away with some new found respect for the how the media machine operates. I can pretty much guarantee the media won’t find it so easy to ambush him in his next role. Just need to remember that not everyone gets a second chance in situations like this.

“Death of print media” will demand an uptake in broadcast media training

On Wednesday night I attended the launch of IFW-Net.com, the new iteration of one of the world’s most-respected trade publications.

As anyone who’s ever looked at a newspaper website, the versatility of publishing online means no-one is restricted to a single medium. The team at IFW is in a great position to capitalise on this opportunity, and as a result so are the companies that IFW reports on.

Historically, TV has been the domain of the sexy – whether that’s the beautiful people, the popular brands or the big numbers. But with more and more trade media going the same way as IFW, there will be a growing demand for quality talent to provide on-camera interview content.

Obviously, I have a vested interest in this because Hill & Knowlton provides media training as a service. See, I’ve even linked to it, to make it easy for you to check out. The thing is…doing an interview for a web-based video is still doing an interview. It is more important to get your interview / delivery technique right than it is to care that you’re going to be on the internet rather than the BBC.

Doubtless we’ll see a massive flood of specialist digital agencies start offering some kind of on-camera performance training for web interviews in the coming months as they seek to tap a new revenue stream. The question for communicators and your company spokespeople is: is that really what you need?

(Once you’ve answered the question, put in a call to our Head of Media Training, Catherine Cross)

Courageous, colourful quotes get you noticed, and probably knighted

“Those with the strongest views that the price of Australian houses “must” fall typically either don’t own one, don’t really know what they are talking about, or both.” – Rory Robertson, Macquarie Bank interest rate strategist

The above quote ran in this column by Michael Pascoe today. Perhaps its because my introduction to the British economy came courtesy of Robert Peston’s book, Who Runs Britain?, but from an outsider’s perspective I’d have to say that there’s a dearth of colourful spokespeople in the market. However, when I thought for five seconds about which British individuals I could imagine using a line like this, three names came to mind:

  • Sir Richard Branson
  • Sir Phillip Green
  • Sir Stuart Rose

And aside from wealth and knighthoods, that’s something the three individuals listed above all have in spades. Personality.

For business managers, PR people and spokespeople generally, this is brilliant news, because it means that if you’re prepared to say something colourful, the chances are you’ll get noticed.

The problem is, you can’t rely on media training alone to give you the colourful quotes. These have to be a reflection of your own personality. Media training, or presentation skills training, or even night classes in interpretive dance will help you to express that personality in a way that’s right for your audience.

At the end of the day though, that expression comes down to having the courage to share a bit of yourself with the rest of the world.

Media training: view from the hot seat

As part of our ongoing internal training, senior Hill & Knowlton consultants participate in (are subjected to) our own media training refresher courses. It’s good for keeping us up to date on what’s being taught, and up to scratch on our own performance.

But even more importantly, it’s a very strong reminder of the experience we happily put our clients’ spokespeople through on a daily basis when we ask them to front up for interviews.

So having just suffered through my first refresher in a while, and my first training session on British soil, I thought it may be useful to share some of the things I just did wrong:

  1. I assumed I knew my material well enough to not rehearse. Despite the fact I’ve done this a dozen times, despite the fact I actually wrote the material three months ago and have been using it every day…I still botched the delivery. Don’t assume. (For our US readers I’m sure you’re familiar with the “if you assume then you make an ass out of U and ME” quote, which unfortunately doesn’t get quite the same the response here).
  2. I got frustrated. This is mostly because I could see the set-up coming, but heard the little voice inside me reminding me I hadn’t rehearsed. Displaying frustration just makes the footage of your burning failure all that more compelling.
  3. I lapsed into corporatese. But more importantly, it finally dawned on me why I did this. The problem with speaking plainly is that it’s clear what you mean, but it’s not very precise. Having studied science for a number of years I have a working understanding of the difference between “accurate” and “precise” – accurate meaning that if you do something a hundred times you’ll probably get a consistent result that could be completely wrong, and precise meaning that you’ll probably get the exact outcome you want, but with a lot of outliers. The problem with plain English is that small words are good for accuracy, big words are good for precision. There has to be a solution to this problem, but until someone posts it on here, let’s continue to aim for simplicity. Because honestly, if you need to make your response so precise that only polysyllabic words will do the job, then you probably should have already stopped speaking.

As a result…here’s one thing you need to do to fix all three of those problems. Know your message. Think it, write it down, say it out loud. Then say it again. Then get someone else to ask you questions (like your account manager, for example) and practice delivering it.

And you should also talk to Catherine Cross.

Media training tips for radio interviews

In her first post for Media Insights and Crisis Expertise, Hill & Knowlton UK Media Training Lead Counsel, Catherine Cross, provides her top 10 tips for participating in radio interviews – Grant.

There is a sense of immediacy to radio news that often makes an interviewer press for an instant response.  But it may be in your best interest to delay the interview a short time, if necessary, to prepare your key points.  If so, offer to call back in a few minutes to be interviewed, and then do so.

In addition, you should ask whether the interview is to be aired live, recorded for use in its entirety or edited to a shorter version, or a news clip.  If it is edited for a news clip, your answers should be kept to less than 15 – 20 seconds.  Get right to the point.  A longer interview to be run in its entirety permits more detailed responses.

Prior to agreeing to the interview, you should establish ground rules with the interviewer.  These include checking whether it is OK to stop and completely re-take an answer if you fumble a word or lose your train of thought, agreement to stop the tape if need be for more time to develop a more concise answer; and agreement to call back with updated information if something changes in your facts before the scheduled air time.

If doing a radio interview over the telephone, ensure a quiet environment by turning off noisy equipment and air conditioners, diverting other phone calls, turning off your mobile phone and closing your office door.

Get your energy level up.  Sit up in the chair or stand for more alertness and vocal animation.  Use gestures to increase vocal emphasis.

Avoid shouting or whispering.  Talk in normal tones across the telephone mouthpiece, not directly into it to eliminate the “popping” or “hissing” sounds on the tape.

Avoid the use of numbers unless they’re absolutely essential to make your point.  If you must use them, round them off and use sparingly.

So remember:

1. Give yourself time to prepare.
2. Find out if the interview is to be used live or pre-recorded.
3. Find out if the interview is for a clip (soundbite) or will be used in its entirety.
4. Get pre-interview agreement on ground rules.
5. Maintain a noise-free environment during the interview if on the telephone.
6. Get your energy level up for the interview.
7. Speak at your normal pace, clearly and with good vocal animation.
8. Make sure you have plenty of “colour”: proof points, word pictures and memorable facts and figures which are visual.
9. Make numbers memorable: round them up or down if essential to your point.
10. Warm up your voice, mouth and throat before an early morning interview.

- Catherine

How to avoid a Dappy moment for your organisation

The use of prominent, well-known celebrity figures as spokespeople to front a campaign is a standard tactic amongst comms teams looking to create impact for their campaigns. Not only is it standard, but it’s also usually highly successful in enabling organisations to connect with their target audience and deliver the right message.

However, as last Friday’s incident involving the musician Dappy (from N-Dubz) demonstrates, if a negative issue arises involving your chosen spokesperson, then there’s a fair chance your organisation will be referenced, thus creating a negative impression.

The choice of Dappy by the Deparment for Children, Schools and Families to front their anti-cyber bullying campaign last autumn was certainly bold, but also not without logic or merit given the audience the Deparment was trying to reach. Unfortunately, as this incident demonstrates, with the best will in the world you can’t legislate for what happens once their work with your organisation is complete.

There are however, some good basic tips that you can adhere to when deciding on a potential spokesperson for your campaign:

1. Does your campaign really need a spokesperson? Assess the likely impact that your efforts would have with, and without, a well-known figurehead before you commit to one. Also, seek a third-party opinion on this given that you’ll likely be very close to the project.

2. Assess what you want them to do for you. Will it be a simple photoshoot, a series of interviews, or something more ambitious? This will help determine the type of person that you’ll likely want to employ.

3. Who is your target audience? It can sometimes be easy to get wrapped up in who you think you’d like as your spokesperson, rather than properly considering who your audience will respond to.

4. What have they done over the past couple of years that’s relevant? It goes without saying, but a proper check of any previous activity, soundbites, quotes or anything else that relates (positively or negatively) to your organisation, industry or your customers is essential.

5. Take the time to properly prepare them. Invest the time to meet with your chosen spokesperson and brief them well in advance of the event/activity. Consider media training them as well, especially if they haven’t worked in your product/brand area previously.

The £14bn question

A fantastic use of hype today by the Daily Mail, with their headline on page 8 which proclaimed “Cold snap to cost business £14bn”. What the article then went on to say was that in fact estimates have placed the actual cost to business at about £690m to date. The £14bn figure was simply a worst case scenario of what could happen if the snow and ice remains as is for the next three weeks. A perfect illustration of how a soundbyte can be (and usually is) twisted for maximum impact.

Regardless of the hype, the fact is that the extended cold weather is making life exceptionally difficult for many organisations and their comms staff at present.

The first to take a reputational hit were local councils, back in December, who were accused of having learnt nothing from the last bout of snow in February 2009. Unsurprisingly fed up of being accused of incompetence, councils went on the offensive and to some extent redeemed themselves by demonstrating that they had learnt their lesson and stockpiled extra reserves of grit.

What they couldn’t have predicted though, was the sheer longevity and intensity of the cold snap, and it’s telling that cracks have started to appear over the last day in their previously united, unified statements – witness the complaints by some council spokespersons about supply deliveries and preferential treatment that have started to appear.

Eurostar has also had a particularly bad time of it, suffering a first wave of negative publicity just before Christmas when their trains failed and then again today with a similar problem – cue the resultant “wrong type of snow” headlines.

And next in line to face problems could be manufacturers, with one newspaper reporting today that companies are being asked to voluntarily switch off production in order to preserve gas supplies for domestic households.

Finally, retailers have had to shut stores early, or in some cases altogether, as staff have been unable to reach work. This has been a problem in itself, but the real reputational damage has come from the disclosure that many of these staff won’t be paid – something Sainsbury’s Justin King was grilled on this morning.

As these examples show, the snow has presented difficult and varied challenges for comms teams this week, not least because the demand for snow stories has been phenomenal. Despite this though, the principals of successfully dealing with these scenarios remains the same, despite the exceptional circumstances:

1. Clear, concise messaging
2. Confident, well-trained spokespeople
3. Sound preparation and detailed planning before the event

Twelve tips of Christmas: #8 Dial up the fear factor for your scenario plans

In case you haven’t been reading the news lately, a recent issue with a number of trains has been garnering headlines for all the wrong reasons.

We’re going to take a look at this after the dust has settled somewhat, and given that from time to time we’re also on the receiving end of public scrutiny what we’re not going to do is attempt to evaluate anyone’s “performance”. Instead, we’ll look at some of the lessons we can learn from watching the issue unfold, and break them down so they can help guide future crisis management efforts. If that sounds like something you’re interested in then please check back over the next few weeks for an update.

However, there’s already one glaring lesson for all crisis managers (and trainers) to take on board (pardon the pun). Often when our Issues & Crisis team runs a crisis simulation, or in the occasional media training scenario, we’ll be met with the kind of skepticism that’s usually reserved for spoon-benders.

The cry of: “That’s not realistic. That could never happen”, rings loudly from the naysayers, usually members of the crisis management team we’re working with. In all honesty, they’re probably right – it’s probably not realistic. But here’s the thing. That’s absolutely not a reason why it couldn’t happen. Just look at our trains issue.

It’s one thing to have a single trans-national train break down. It’s quite another to have six go all at the same time. And then when you compound that by scheduling the breakdowns for the weekend before Christmas, and then you add in an unprecedented cold snap that’s seen most of the UK’s airports either closed for action or running drastically reduced schedules…all of a sudden the scenario starts to look “unrealistic”. Except it isn’t, because it’s still having an impact, five days after it happened.

This is why at Hill & Knowlton we train our clients for the “nightmare scenario”. It’s not something we expect to happen. Rather, it’s a scenario that’s designed specifically to test and train at the limits of the organisation’s capabilities. There’s an adage about bleeding more in training so we die less in battle. While corporate communications is usually a much safer environment that requires very little bleeding, the principle still holds. It’s no good training for what happens when just one train breaks down if you’re running a fleet of 20.

Similarly, if you’re training for a product recall, it’s a no-brainer to use a scenario that involves some kind of threat to consumer health or safety. But to get the most value out of your scenario, dial up the element of fear. Work within the constraints of a climbing mortality rate, or an international recall across markets with different regulatory requirements for example.

So for crisis managers working on your 2010 training calendars, pour some fuel on your scenarios and give your team a truly incendiary problem to work with.