Category Archives: media training

Free pre-interview checklist

Psst…want a free checklist of things to do before a media interview?

It’s here:

Media Interview Checklist

And yes, it’s on the Henshall Centre website, so of course it’s there to attract people to the online media training course I’ve blogged about and to which this page of this site is dedicated.

But it’s a useful guide – do click through and have a look. And while you’re there why not consider the online media training course?

If you’d rather have me media train you in person, I’m on 07973 278780 and you’re welcome to get in touch – or use the contact page to schedule an initial call.

General election lessons: watch what you’ve said

This isn’t a political blog so I’m not going to comment on the wisdom or otherwise of calling an election right now (there will be no definitive verdict on that until 9 June, no matter what the pundits say). However, from a communications perspective there is much to learn.

If you’re going to stand up in public often, it’s worth keeping an eye (or ear) on any pronouncements you might have made before.

There will be no 2017 election…

As I type it’s about three and a half hours since prime minister Theresa May announced she was going to try calling a general election on 8 June. Rumours were already circulating so the Independent had already put this piece online, demonstrating just how many times she’d said she was going to do no such thing:

She is far from the only one of course. Inevitably Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters will be calling for loyalty from their party – and will have the fact that he personally rebelled against Labour’s then leadership no fewer than 428 times from the back benches.

This stuff is well known. But does it tell us anything about how you can communicate about your business?

Consistency is everything

Obviously stuff changes, and May will no doubt argue that stuff has definitely changed since she backed the Remain vote less than a year ago. In business things change as well but when they haven’t, your position had better be consistent.

In the 1990s I interviewed a guy from IBM, who had just started running their desktop division. I pointed out that when at Toshiba – then a leader in laptop manufacturing – he’d said the desktop was dead.

He denied having said it and dismissed my comment as a nice journalistic jab but not a reflection of what he’d said. On checking when I got back to the office I found the press release; he’d either said it or authorised it as a comment on his behalf.

Google changes everything

You now don’t have the luxury of waiting until a hack like me gets back to the office, is on deadline and so hasn’t got the time to call you back so the comment doesn’t get into my article. Anyone with a smartphone (and every journalist will have one) can check up on you now.

The way around this is to ensure you’re well briefed, you have a corporate message and you stick to it.

That said, a few years later I saw a guy presenting in his new job, having previously worked for a competitor. One of the audience asked whether he was telling the truth now and had been lying to them previously or the other way around. He spread out his hands, cast his eyes to the heavens and said: “The truth changed!”

He got the biggest round of applause of the day and a lot of laughs. We all know the game, you’re sending messages out because it’s your business and that can change – but try not to contradict yourself, from the same job, in a matter of weeks or even days.

Do you need help with your corporate messaging or preparation for interviews? I can help – email me for details.

Pitching to the press: be careful of keywords!

I’m writing a small story for a new client at the moment. It’s a fun piece. It’s aimed at small retailers and it’s specifically about sale events (and yes, I’m writing this in advance so it won’t appear online until the piece is public).

The site is aimed at small independent resellers. There’s generally better money in writing for the big guns, they have more finance; I do enjoy writing for and about people who are tiny independent businesses like mine. It’s about sales – as in sale events, January sales, that sort of thing.

Some of the pitches have been very good. They took all of the above into account. Some are not.

Size can be important

One of them, for example, was from a major High Street store. Now, I have nothing against major High Street stores. But if someone is writing about and for smaller businesses, a pitch like “here’s how Sainsbury’s does it” is only so much use.

Another went: “The thing to do is to capture every customer’s detail from every sale. Track them, send them the relevant offers and ensure you have a relationship.”

All good advice in general but how does this relate specifically to the one-off sale event, I asked? Oh, came the reply, it doesn’t. I thought you meant selling in general.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t already been back to their client to source several paragraphs of good but completely irrelevant sense.

You only read one word, didn’t you?

The problem in both cases, and yes I did ask, was that they’d just seen the word “sale” and sourced a load of verbiage that seemed vaguely relevant. They hadn’t done anything about the detail, so they’d missed the fact that the client was irrelevant in one case and the subject was way off beam in the other.

I have some sympathy. PR is a pressured job. But as I’ve often said to my daughter when she’s coming up to exams, taking the time to read the question first can literally save hours working on something that’s literally never going to produce anything like a good result.

Do you need help talking to the press and preparing messages? Email me by clicking here and we’ll talk.


Media training: is your news timely or just new?

News, you might imagine, is something that is new. The word itself – although actually derived from the initials of the four compass points – has a clue in the name, a patronising creep of a news editor once told me. (I’m not bitter).

Except when your audience isn’t ready for it. A couple of decades ago, the Internet and email were brand new, or at least just coming into popular public use. I’d been freelance for a few years and was pitching to the Independent.

A story came in from the US, about how the and .com addresses were going to run out by about 2001 (we now know this was not right, but we didn’t at the time). I pitched it and then editor of the technology section thought it might be interesting.

I wrote the story and was surprised when something else appeared instead. The editor had spiked my story and put in something about how to set up your email address for the first time, something I’d assumed was already pretty elderly for the national papers.

If it’s news to your audience it’s news

The editor may have been right of course. In 1997 or whenever it was, home computing was just starting. The fact that web addresses may or may not have been in danger of running out may have been a refinement too far for the readership at the time. Many would be buying their first computer, wondering what an ISP was and connecting to the rest of the world for the first time.

If you’re in PR or are pitching stories to the press yourself, it’s worth asking not just whether something is new but whether it’s newsworthy. This means it’s relevant to the readers and not something that may be relevant in a few years. Certainly it shouldn’t be something that they just won’t understand yet.

It’s possible to risk patronising the readers as a result. In 1997 I just don’t know whether that editor was talking down to his readers or whether the story I’d pitched would have been way over their heads (why he commissioned it in the first place is a question I still can’t answer). But always, always try to understand your target outlet and address it rather than address the things that might seem important to you or your client.

Do you need help with your media engagements? Contact me, I can help.

Online interview course goes live

I’m very excited today because my online media training course has just gone live. It’s a preview version at this stage. There’s a new page on this website devoted to it but just to summarise, it’s aimed at:

  • People who want media training but may not have the budget to get me in person (but you can book personal interview practice over the phone);
  • People who want to learn to prepare interviews but who learn better in bite-sized chunks
  • Clients who can’t spare the time for a full-blown media training session or who can’t co-ordinate diaries internally for a group due to other people’s commitments
  • People who want to learn about media tips and how to make the most of an interview and who prefer to learn on devices

It’s formatted as a “build your own journey” thing, so you decide where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. There are video clips, sample interviews and analysis, downloads, text-based hints and tips and the opportunity to schedule telephone interview practice if you would like it.

I did this in conjunction with the Henshall Centre, whose owner Liton Ali and I are pretty excited about this. There is a special price while we’re in preview mode – once we launch properly there’s likely to be a substantial increase.

We hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve done!

How do you deal with nerves before a press interview?

Tomorrow I’ll be presenting at the Professional Speaking Association’s spring convention and nerves may be an issue. People often ask how I deal with them and the answer is that I don’t, always. It’s not even a big piece of presentation.

Whether you’re about to be interviewed by the press or waiting to go on stage, nerves can be a problem. Here are five points to help you manage them:

  • Embrace them. Nerves basically mean you want to give of your very best, make a good impression and deliver what the person or people in front of you want. You’re not arrogant enough to take your ability to do so for granted. Good. Your nerves are a reminder that you respect the audience and want to give them something good.
  • One theory a comedy mentor once relayed to me is that we go back to our instincts often. We’re still cavemen underneath it all, so where there’s a crowd, we expect to be facing the same way. At a press conference or anywhere there’s an audience, the crowd faces us. Instinctively, at some level, we think they’re going to kill us. They’re honestly not. Recognising where your nerves come from is one way of combating them.
  • A good way to overcome nerves is by preparing. First, make a list of the questions you’re anticipating and make sure you have answers. Second, make a list of all the stuff you’re hoping they won’t ask – and have an answer for those too. If they don’t come up, that’s fine.
  • Remember the people asking the questions may not have a particular agenda other than finding stuff out. I once did a media training session in which I kicked off by asking one of the delegates: “Tell me about yourself and your organisation.” She freaked out, asked to stop the interview, and asked why I wanted to know anything about her. In fact I was just warming up, a name and job title would have answered my question perfectly, but in her mind there was a dangerous agenda being set. Watch out for overthinking and assuming there’s going to be this big agenda before you’ve even started.
  • Don’t give interviews or presentations for which you’re unprepared. Now, “prepared” could mean a bit of deliberate prep for the interview backed by 25 years in your industry, but make sure you’re the genuine expert in what you’re speaking about. The people to whom you’re speaking will then want to hear from you and no matter how hostile they may look (and a straight face from someone who’s just paying attention can look very hostile if you’re feeling tense), they’re mostly on your side.