Ross Burton credits media training with giving him confidence whether he’s working behind the scenes at awards shows like the Academy Awards hosting a consumer make-up event or fielding a reporter’s questions. And although he comes across as self-assured and comfortable with the press Burton says that wasn’t always the case. The former vp of artistry programs for Lancôme Cosmetics and now celebrity make-up artist and lead make-up artist for Oprah Winfrey says media training helped him overcome the fear factor and stay on message no matter how glitzy the event he is attending or famous his clients happen to be.
“When that light goes on that is your audience ” he says. “You’re talking to millions of people. It is so important to stay on message be comfortable have a conversation be natural and know your points. Don’t try memorize or the interviewer may throw you off.”
Burton trained with Mary Tavon a pro who ran the communications training center for Ketchum PR and now has her own media consultancy. “Media training is more essential than ever ” she says. “With Twitter blogging and YouTube everyone today considers themselves a reporter. People now have to be prepared to answer tough questions.”
Unfortunately that’s not always the case with marketers and corporate spokespeople in the throes of planning an event. So we went to the experts for some advice on how to maximize your moments with the press whether you launching a new product holding court at a trade show exhibit or participating in a panel discussion.
VP Maccabee Group Minneapolis
PR Consultant New York City
Editorial Services Director Airfoil PR Detroit
The Pincus Group Washington D.C.
President Mary Tavon Communications New York City
Adjunct Professor F.I.T. New York City
EM: When is the best time for media training?
Tavon: You don’t want to do it too far in advance. You want to do it when you have a reasonable outline to work from and you have the visuals you are going to be using. You want to be able to do a dress rehearsal.
EM: What’s the most important element of being media savvy?
Tumolo: Reporters are looking for news and you should understand the type of publication they are reporting for. You also need to stay on message in your area of expertise and tailor that message to the reporter.
EM: What’s the best way to get your message across?
Pincus: Most executives are knowledgeable with the subject matter and can talk all day but the media has no interest in talking all day. Don’t make the mistake of offering too much information. After all reporters aren’t stenographers.
Fernbach: As the face of the program typically your job is to focus on the overall gains and objectives. Focus on three communication points or no more than five which you can follow up with additional information or backgrounders. But any more than that muddles the message.
EM: How can marketers get coverage for their events?
Pincus: News and even feature stories are about something unusual different or unexpected. If you can tie your product launch or event into something the media is already interested in you’ve got a winner. You have to have something there that is a relatively easy story to tell. Your p.r. people and the subject matter experts have to come together and be able to tell that story on the same page very succinctly. Reporters don’t work for you. They want to know what difference your new product makes or how it improves something for the target audience.
EM: Are there any pitfalls to avoid?
Chenoweth: One of the most common is trying to fill the silence. That’s when you can say something that isn’t true or divulge something that you shouldn’t. That’s also why you need to practice.
Friedman: Don’t say “no comment” and don’t argue with the reporter. As the interview subject you have zero control over the questions but you have 100-percent control over the answers. EM