Media Training Session [Pre-Summit Programming]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

4:00pm – 6:00pm

Vlasta Hakes, Grifols

Vanessa French, Beekeeper Group

An intensive, hands-on media training session for pre-summit attendees.

Have feedback on this session? We’d love to hear it! Submit it here.


Key Points

  • Research the reporter, the media source, and their audience.
  • Get the questions you’ll be asked before the interview.
  • Prepare answers to the questions and anticipate follow up questions.
  • Stick with 3 compelling facts/stats you want the public to remember.
  • If it’s a TV interview, dress appropriately (remember the audience).
  • Practice!
  • How can you become a trusted resource for a reporter?

Research the Reporter

  • The most important thing to figure out is what kind of story do you think they are going to write about you? Do they typically write “gotcha” stories? Are they pretty positive? You can even look at LinkedIn or on Twitter and see what they post and share.
  • Remember: you don’t have to go on the record. If you are in the middle of something or you don’t have the right answer you can evaluate if it’s better to accept the request or not. It is, however, better to communicate your response to them vs. not responding at all, even if you know the story is going to be negative.
  • To help determine if you should accept the request, you need to research the reporter:
    • Check their Twitter feed.
    • Google them.
    • Look at the top stories for their publication.
    • What is the tone of their stories?
    • What stories have they recently written?
    • What’s the tone of stories on the same topic that have been published in the same place?
    • What’s their opinion of you personally? What about your company? Or your industry overall?
    • What sort of media is it? Is it mainstream? Is it only online?
    • Who do you think is their target audience?
    • What are the viewers/readers interests?
    • What is the demographic and socioeconomic status of the audience?

The Questions

  • Get the questions beforehand, even as a condition of conducting the interview.
  • Once you have the questions, make sure you have a sense of the general line of questioning. No matter what: WRITE OUT ANSWERS before talking to the reporter. You really want to make sure you’re not saying something wrong. Take the time to ask yourself, is this how you want to respond?
  • If you’re preparing someone else, and your spokesperson is nervous, writing it out will help.
  • If you see a question or have an interview that you think you should turn down. Think carefully about it. Although some organizations do choose not to say anything – you need to talk to your teams and need to know as you are doing the communications planning for the year, what is the appetite for the press, work early on to identify the people who can act as a spokesperson?
  • When you’re preparing your questions, anticipate the follow ups. Think about the times where you have said something and you ALWAYS get the same follow-up question, you need to already have that ready.
  • One easy trick is to put the top 3 points you want to share at the top of the page.Every question I answer has one of those 3 points, if I get stuck, I can go back to those. This is a great tactic to help you anticipate questions the reporter is going to ask, supporting facts and messages to support that idea.
  • For prep, you can (and should) feel like you are overdoing it – but you aren’t. There have been times where I’ve come up with 3 pages of talking points and bullets. Then afterward, I’ve gone ahead and sent those talking points and facts to the reporter afterward to help reinforce what I’ve said.
  • When you get the questions in advance – do they stick to it?
    • If they don’t then you can usually tell from other interviews. This is a “getcha” reporter. In those situations, consider having back up – – if it’s you going up there, maybe consider bringing your boss.
    • TIP: I have a document with FAQs, every time I get a question I haven’t been asked before, I put it on my list. I get it answered, and get that answer approved and vetted and then it’s another weapon in my arsenal. I will review that 7 page document before almost any interview.

Know the Answers!

  • Just like you want to try and get to know the questions beforehand, you need to know your answers. Knowing both makes you a better media spokesperson. Prepare and practice answering the questions.
  • Make sure your answers are correct and approved.
  • Try and anticipate follow up questions. You are the expert so you should know what else might be there. For publicity interviews provide the questions with answers to the interviewer. Be asked the questions you want to be asked.
  • If you’ve done your research, it can make you look really good. But keep in mind, that it is important that you (as a media spokesperson) know the top messages and supporting facts.
  • Try and think about who else you may need to answer to as well, and make sure your answer aligns. For example, is what you are going to say going to fly with your customers? Or people who are affected by your work?
  • If your answers or your story are going to be negative – evaluate the impact. What do you think the fallout will be?
  • Do you handle the people who disagree with you differently than the people who agree with you?
    • It depends, but always try and be consistent.

How to Prepare for TV Interviews

  • How you present yourself varies based on the medium. It’s very different for TV vs. radio vs. print, but you need to be prepared for all of them. TV interviews influence what people think in a much more tangible way.
  • Do your research and figure out if the show and the interviewer is one who supports hard news, soft news, or something more like a morning show. For TV interviews, PRACTICE is very important. I will absolutely not do a TV interview without questions beforehand.
  • It is crucial that with a TV interview you stand in front of a mirror and practice. Practice creating soundbites.
  • What you wear is VERY important. Depending on the show, and the audience, I will change my outfit. A good guide is to stick to black suit/navy suit in a morning show. But it’s important to dress appropriately. NO BOLD PRINTS, no green. NOTHING highly patterned. Think: boring solid colors, usually gray suit with a navy shirt.
  • Be careful with bangles or short skirts. Think about the glare of the light, too. Ultimately, it’s about confidence. The more confident you look, the more it will resonate with people.
  • Factors to remember include:
    • Is it in a studio vs on location?
    • How big of a show is it?
    • What else do you need to prepare? If it’s on site – make sure the site is ready!
    • TIP: Provide B-roll that can be used as filler for later!

How to Prepare for Radio Interviews

  • Radio interviews are sort of like TV interviews. But it may even be more important to PRACTICE for radio interviews. If you’re not comfortable, radio can be very awkward. Practice really helps make sure you have your tone and speed right.
  • Confidence really comes through on the radio. “Ums” “likes” and pauses and fillers are a lot more audible.
  • As you are practicing, make note of “this is where I stumble, this is where I need to do better.”

How to Prepare for Phone Interviews

  • Phone interviews are hard. You can’t tell what is happening on the other end – and it’s often useful to use visual cues to figure out: are they skeptical? Are they smiling?
  • Phone interviews are overall much less interpersonal and they have minimal non-verbal cues. One tip for a phone interview is to follow up with an email restating all of the answers to your questions.

How Can I Become a Trusted Resource?

  • It can be really helpful to have reporters come to you before you go to them. Here are a few tips for how to build that kind of relationship.
  • Treat all reporters well, treat them with respect – (even if they have not covered you positively in the past, keep them in mind)
  • Never lie – if you don’t know the answer, its okay to tell them! In fact it’s better to say “I don’t know!” than to lie.
  • Respond quickly and truthfully – Within 24 hours if possible, even at Friday at 4:55. Note: Responding DOES NOT mean you’re going to answer questions, it means you’re going to contact them, and then work with them. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But be realistic with timelines. Example: Working with west coast office, and then also with Spain, can make it hard to get an answer. Reporters will understand. Give them a realistic sense of it.
  • Ask them what they need – images? Photos for online posts? Infographics? Videos? Having these assets on hand can make things run smoothly.
  • Don’t call them around their deadline – if you’re calling them, ask if they’ve got a minute. If I’m pitching a story, I’ll know not to bug them after 3:00pm – if it’s early “do you have a minute” works. I usually will call around 10:00 AM, by noon I figure “forget it – it won’t make it.”
  • We still use the phone the most though.
  • Be accessible, make sure they know how to reach you: cell phone, email addresses.
  • Reach out to them first when you’ve news to tell.
  • Connect with their social media accounts – LinkedIn, Twitter, FB, Instagram
  • Be prepared! Always be ready to have basic information for reporters.
  • As you build a relationship with a reporter, get to know their style. Remember how they like to communicate.
  • Reach out to reporters and take them out to lunch (this is especially good with trade reporters). Taking them out for coffee or lunch and asking them: how can I help you? See where they are going, and try to help them.
  • If you’ve got something big, you can consider setting up an editorial board. You can even make this OFF THE RECORD. Editorial boards are very controlled, and can be very effective. They can really help create relationships.
  • When you have something good to share, reach out, when you’re pitching – think about how to pitch something and how to pitch it to them.
  • Media releases that are very streamlined can be helpful, too. We’ve gotten a lot more attention from media having shorter media releases. Keep in mind that with a media release – the reporter may take it and put in right in.

How Else Should I Prepare?

  • You need to really have a good sense of your messaging and your stakeholders. Know your key points, and make sure you get the right spokesperson for your message and your audience. Preparing effective messaging may seem pretty natural for a communications professional, but it’s important to practice.


  • We did an exercise in crisis communications message development. To do this, we were split into groups and were each given some briefing materials. We had to create message maps, and think through stakeholder questions, and then develop some prepared messages.
  • At the end, we had to prepare one person to be a spokesperson, and the rest of the group had to be reporters grilling the spokesperson. This exercise also asked us to anticipate the questions.