Faculty members who are comfortable and experienced at dealing with media relations are an invaluable asset – largely because they are so rare.
If you have secured a media appointment, either through an in-house communications team, an external agency, or by your own efforts, the good news is half the battle has already been won. The fact that a journalist wants to talk to you means you have information they want to learn about.
But when the cameras start rolling, and the questions come at you hard and fast, what will you say?
Media training is about preparing you ahead of time to make sure you present yourself and your work in the best light.
Here are seven benefits of media training you need to know about:
1. Media training builds confidence
You are probably very experienced at talking to students, but an interview with a journalist is a different prospect. They are commonly a much more active participant in the conversation, and there is the added pressure of the camera immortalising your words and actions on film.
With these things in mind, interacting with media can cause stress. Practicing in mock interviews before the real deal familiarises you with the procedure of being interviewed, giving you the confidence to present yourself the way you want to in front of a microphone.
2. Understand how the media works
Without much experience of dealing with media, the inner workings of how your research finds its way into the pages of a publication like the Financial Times can be a bit mystifying.
Knowledgeable PR consultants can brief you on how media organisations operate, and answer any questions you might have. What are this journalist or publication’s areas of interest? Who is their target audience, and how does it overlap with yours?
Being aware of the process by which journalists write their articles will allow you to predict what sort of things they are going to ask you. You will find it easier to come up with a targeted media campaign once you know how the beast works.
3. Ensure your message is as clear as possible
Human beings ramble. Go off topic. Trip over their own words sometimes.
While this goes unnoticed in most day-to-day conversations, an interview puts all your verbal ticks and pauses under a spotlight. The last thing you want is to put off an interested journalist by communicating yourself poorly.
As with cycling, practice makes perfect. Mock interviews are once again your best friend. A PR consultant will help you remove unnecessary jargon from your explanations and keep yourself from going off on tangents.
Timing your practice sessions is a useful tip. It will give you an idea how long you are talking for. Most journalists have a hectic schedule, and want to keep things as brief as possible.
4. Identify the most appropriate content
If you are being interviewed, it is likely you have a large sum of information to share and not much time to do it in. Inevitably, you will have to leave some things out. But which things?
Media training will help you rank your content according to how interesting it will be for your intended audience, be that one journalist or several. The more you appeal to their areas of focus, the more likely you are to make it into their publication, and the more likely they are to come back to you in future.
The scatter-gun approach of throwing information into the ether of media organisations is a thing of the past. These days, it’s about precision, and that means choosing the right information at the right time.
5. Structure your talking points
Once you have your content picked out, it’s time to order it. If your experience is mostly in writing for academia, it might be tempting to fall back on the introduction, methodology, results, comment structure you use when writing up research. Avoid doing this!
Talk to PR or communications consultants, and they will help you arrange your information in a way that appeals to journalists. The most newsworthy points come first, and you gradually add in the background as you progress.
If you are stuck wondering which facts are “most newsworthy”, that’s what media training is for!
6. Tackle difficult questions
Journalists come with a variety of styles. Some prefer a friendly approach to interviewing, while others are more forceful. Always, they are looking for a story that will grab readers’ attentions. This means they might try to draw you away from your carefully formulated plan by asking you something unexpected.
Your response to these sorts of questions can make or break your media appearance. An awkward pause makes you look unprepared at best, and at worst incompetent. On the other hand, dealing with a twist in the conversation well will have the opposite effect.
Training before the interview will teach you strategies to draw a wayward question back towards what you want to say without making it glaringly obvious.
However, if you find yourself in a corner where you do not have the necessary information to answer a question, simply admit it. If you think the question is an interesting one, you could even suggest you might be willing to investigate it.
7. Avoid making blunders you will regret
This is the nightmare for anyone sitting in the interviewee’s chair. Luckily, if you have made sure you had ample training with people experienced in the media world, the chances of this happening are minimal.
Remember, no matter how cordial the discussion, the journalist is there in a professional capacity. They are looking for a scoop. Bear in mind that nothing is off the books, even if you are told it is. If you say it, it can and probably will be attributed to you in print.
In the event you do accidentally create a difficult situation, get in contact with your media team, whether internal or external to your institution. Explain the situation. There will be procedures in place to handle a media crisis.
You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to find yourself in this position.