BBC Radio 4’s Evan Davis discussed media training last week on his “The Bottom Line” programme – a regular round-table show, where captains of industry and major organisations mull over business issues.
It raised a few interesting points, which are worth further scrutiny and provide useful lessons for anyone about to face the media, whether it’s the local newspaper reporter or Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.
- Davis said former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond’s recent performance in front of the select committee, in which he called his “inquisitors” by their first names, was “seen as quite slick and an example by many of someone who had endured media training”. We disagree Mr Davis – first names in such a formal setting rarely work. Instead – as we explain in a longer blog here – they make an interviewee appear too cosy with those asking the questions and too remote from those they are meant to serve: the customers. Secondly, media training is not to be “endured”. We’d argue that yes, it’s a necessity for key staff, but I’ve yet to run a course that’s not been enjoyable for them. Indeed, I’ve lost count of the delegates who say they may have been apprehensive beforehand, but have found the training to be fun and a huge boost for their confidence.
- One of Davis’s guests, Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid, made the point that it’s not just media training, but the broader issue of communications training that’s important for staff: “So you’re thinking about how you communicate with your customers, your employees…” he explained. Indeed. But what many delegates find is that not only does specific media training enable them to deal with press and broadcast journalists, it helps them present to say, shareholders or the board, pitch for new business and even cast off the shackles of PowerPoint.
- Another guest, Nicola Shaw, chief executive of High Speed One, the Channel Tunnel high-speed rail line, said she’d had media training three times. Why? Well, she took the wise view that as she didn’t give media interviews too often, it made sense to have further training to remind herself of the dos and don’ts. It’s a point well made. A media interview is like no other conversation. Never forget the journalist is in his or her comfort zone and you, as the interviewee, are not. You won’t find an Olympic athlete turning up for a big race without specifically training for it, so why would you not do the same before a media interview?
- Finally, despite finding these willing high-level interviewees, Evan Davis declared it was “darn difficult to get business people on to the media, unless it’s results day”. This doesn’t surprise me, but it means many potential interviewees are missing a golden opportunity to raise their profiles and communicate some positive points about their business. A media interview is not something to fear or avoid. On the contrary, if well trained, it’s perfectly possible to come out of one with an improved company repuation, yes, even in a crisis.
Surely there’s not a chief executive in the world who wouldn’t want the kind of return on an investment that comes by giving a good quote to the media, which in turn enhances that company? Now that’s a real boost to the bottom line.