Media Training: Taking the Good with the Bad

Occasionally people ask me about favorite moments and famous faux pas that have occurred during media training workshops I’ve led. Here are some classics from the Barks Communications vault. Now, ladies and gentlemen, the highlights and lowlights.

It’s Good News Week

A global public relations agency found its communications training capability stretched to the breaking point, and called on me to help. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Agencies large and small sometimes find themselves in a bind when business is booming. Plus, many agencies no longer maintain dedicated training operations, so the smart ones who care about their clients call on experienced consultants.

Bad fair good meter

In this instance, they contacted me on short notice. Fortunately, I was able to fly across country to lead media training sessions for a pharmaceutical company about to announce a lifesaving breakthrough. The results? The lead investigator of a groundbreaking study got his desired quote—the very one developed during our media training workshop—on the Dow Jones Newswire, The Financial Times, and other leading media outlets that represented their top targets. The resulting good news could save thousands of lives and earn millions of dollars for the company.

Tell Your Story

Another good news story: A doctor at a leading Washington, D.C., hospital needed to ace an important TV interview in the nation’s capital. During our media training session, we concentrated on the need to be concise and to tell his story right away, given the brevity of most TV interview segments. He also learned how to shape his message in a way that defined the problem he was addressing while serving up real world solutions to his audience. We also focused on the fact that his interview would last a mere three minutes. In that brief time, our doctor succeeded in getting across his main messages, complete with stories, facts, and figures that made his topic real for the reporter and, more importantly, for the viewers. The end result? Thousands of people in his metro area learned how to gain control of a chronic disease

Shoulda-Dids and Did-Dids Are Two Different Things

One of the most disappointing moments of my career as a communications training consultant involved a workshop that never took place. A global public relations agency asked me to lead a media training session for the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. The company faced a crisis it had discovered in its manufacturing process, leading to a high profile recall of some of its products. The CEO, to his discredit, was waffling about participating in the training, even though consensus existed that he was far from a stellar communicator. At the last moment, the agency scrubbed the workshop. Sure enough, two days later when the announcement was made at a news conference, the CEO was quoted in The Wall Street Journal slamming his own products. It was likely unintentional. Still, had he taken the time and effort and swallowed his pride, he would have stepped before his news conference with a greater awareness of the tricks and traps reporters can set, and would likely have avoided the negative words that caused greater damage to his company’s reputation.

Slower than Molasses Running Uphill

Then there is the time I felt like an observer at a frat party. A major league sports franchise wanted its players to develop stronger media relations skills, so media training was mandated. As often happens when people are commanded to be somewhere, the vibe going in was not exactly positive. Then it got worse. Most of the team members grew up speaking a language other than English, so they quickly started horsing around in their native tongue. I thought the clock would never wind down. The team’s communications staffers and I exchanged numerous exasperated looks, but the phrase, “Boys will be boys” never seemed so apt. Well, we got through it and everyone had a chance to participate in an on camera interview. But did they take things to heart and improve? Hardly.

Why not share your war stories about media training workshops you’ve observed with your spokespeople? What is your most cherished memory? Which would you never want to relive?



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