Media Training 101: The 4 Key Principles of Building Direct Relationships with the Press
At Walker Sands, we really want to get across to our clients is the value of direct media relationships and how media training can aid in understanding how to form and cultivate those bonds. Almost everything in PR hinges on interacting with the media: how certain news outlets and publications respond to pitches, content or briefing opportunities, and how we can grease the wheels (so to speak) to make sure we have their attention. As a B2B tech PR agency, our job at Walker Sands is to facilitate that connection, making sure the right message is pitched to the right publications, and bringing the client and the journalist together to establish a direct relationship. And then the rest is out of our hands, right?
Well, not really. Because even though it falls on the client to converse with the journalist themselves, not all clients necessarily know how to best speak with the media right off the bat. Media briefings are an altogether different breed from the normal workplace conversations you might be familiar with – and in order to make the most of these opportunities, it’s absolutely crucial that our clients know the best ways to work with journalists so that both sides are getting what they need out of the discussions or briefings.
When we discuss the value of establishing direct relationships with the media and ultimately the need for media training at any level, we typically reinforce these four essential values:
1. Building Relationships with Media
As clients become more comfortable talking to the media, the media in turn takes notice. Journalists will begin to see certain spokespeople as reliable and authoritative sources of information, quotes or anecdotes and start proactively seeking them out, rather than the other way around. Building up these relationships ensures that clients are getting their messaging out and that journalists are getting what they need to write their stories. Comfort breeds trust, and trust in a client-media relationship is priceless.
2. Being Comfortable while Interviewed
If you’re the spokesperson for your company, your whole job is all about sitting in the hot seat. Until you establish a rapport with certain journalists, you can never fully anticipate what they might ask or what curveballs might be thrown your way during an interview. Maybe they’re the type to drill you with a million detailed questions, testing you on how in-depth you understand the finer points of your brand and the challenges in your industry. Or maybe they’re more prone to asking very broad questions that force you to fill in the blanks for them in order to get your messaging across.
All of which is to say, being interviewed does not naturally lend itself to being comfortable. But it’s important to exude comfort in an interview situation because that conveys authority and confidence – traits that leave a lasting impression. Part of that means understanding how to read body language or pick up on certain verbal cues – whether you’re meeting in-person, over the phone or through a video conference over Skype – so that you can steer the conversation.
Hand-in-hand with this is knowing how to deliver your message in prepared soundbites or printable quotes. You don’t want to sound like you’re listing off pre-planned talking points, of course, but you also want to ensure that you’re delivering the right message in the best prepared manner. The more you build on this, the more it becomes like muscle memory, making interviews progressively more comfortable to take on.
3. Targeting Specific Audiences through Specific Journalists
Of course, “the media” isn’t just one homogenous group of people – different journalists hail from different backgrounds, have different specialties, are interested in different industries and write for different audiences. Part-and-parcel with media training is recognizing which publications focus on messages and audiences specific to the client’s, as opposed to ones with a broader subject matter focus or audience. By honing relationships with these more specialized journalists, clients get an opportunity to build up relationships that cater to both parties’ interests, and ensure a better penetration of media coverage in a client’s given industry.
4. Preparing for Live Events and Trade Shows
It’s one thing to meet and speak with journalists as a one-and-done interview, but what about at live events, trade shows and conferences like CES or SXSW? These are invaluable opportunities to promote your business, but they’re a completely different ball game media-wise, where you could end up doing between 10 and 20 interviews in a single day! This kind of rapid-fire pace of handling media inquiries and fielding interviews one after the other is a skill set in and of itself.
When attending major live shows, clients have to be prepared for this more frenetic style of media relations, where they may interview for a print publication, a podcast and a video, all back-to-back. Without the training to keep up with that pace and shift easily from one journalist to the next – each with their own personalities and formats – you could end up coming across as tired, frustrated and stressed. That’s not exactly the message you want to be getting out at these venues.
The Art of Media Relations
Let’s be clear: getting a handle on how to build relationships and interact with the media, in any setting, is not something you can learn overnight. As with anything worth mastering in life, it requires practice, practice, practice. The more experience you have under your belt, the more adept you become at instinctively knowing how to handle yourself in any interview situation or when to reach out directly or work with your agency. But getting to that point takes a little training first.