Tag Archives: media trainer

What’s changed in communications for 2017?

Communications is something on which I coach people – and it may have changed irrevocably during 2016. Let’s look at the evidence.

The standard media training mantra is that you should bridge into your topic, away from others that cause controversy, and make your message known. You don’t criticise the competition, you tread carefully and ensure you’re seen as reasonable. You need good relations with the press.

So far, so sensible. Now let’s examine a few key players in 2016.

Communications get Trumped

We might as well start with the big beast. President-elect Donald Trump has been anything but reasonable. He has not only criticised his opponents, he’s positively libelled them. I would never have advised someone to call Hillary Clinton “crooked Hillary” or threaten to lock her up, getting crowds to chant along with the suggestion.

That’s what he did, though. And he insulted Mexicans, suggesting they should pay to construct a wall to constrict their own movements, and also he had a go at Muslims, including the family of a fallen soldier.

And he won. I’ve suggested before that what he was doing was offering a story; the comments on that page will tell you all you need to know about whether everyone agreed with me. I stand by my assertion, we’ll come back to it in a second.

Communications and fake news

One of the things that affected the Trump result was the impact of fake news. This is deliberately faked news, like reports that Clinton was in charge of a paedophile ring or something, rather than honest mistakes.

It all added up to an echo chamber in which a change was needed and the agent of change literally couldn’t be the wife of another president.

Fake news and facts also played a part in another major event last year.

Brexit: where’s our £350m a week?

On 23 June last year, Britain voted to leave the European Union. One of the factors in the decision was the deliberate falsehood, that we would save £350m a week and could put it into the National Health Service.

That’s been debunked so often – by the Brexit campaign informally immediately they won and officially in September – that it’s not worth repeating, except to note the sneaky lie the Remainers have brought in on the back of it. See my sub-headline above? “Where’s our £350m a week”, I ask, and many people have said the same thing.

OK, here’s the news: Britain has not yet activated Article 50. It has therefore not started the formal process of leaving the EU. Before the Brexiters had abandoned their pledge, it was dishonest to start calling them out on its non-appearance; even the handful who still believe in it can’t be expected to produce money saved by leaving something before we’ve actually departed.

Both sides of the debate appeared to leave the truth pretty much at the door. Instead, they resorted to “mood music”, as I think of it. There’s a book called “Inbound Marketing” and a great deal of work on the subject besides. The idea is that you create a lot of content so that your client, or voter in the case of the politicians, feels comfortable in your environment. The fact that the rants of Trump and the claims and counterclaims in the Brexit debate don’t adhere to any reality matters less than the tone being right for the supporters.

It’s this sort of tone-setting that I’d identify as the new storytelling. Trump may be an incoherent story teller (I say “may be”…) as people pointed out when I highlighted this as one of his selling points. But he had a compelling tone. This is something businesspeople can learn from.

Which is where I bring in the third piece of evidence to suggest that communications is changing, but maybe not as comprehensively as the previous examples might have indicated.

Communications and Jeremy Corbyn

The leader of the opposition in the UK should never have won the leadership election, never mind winning it twice, according to the old rules. He’s polite but he’ll also snub the press when he’s in that sort of mood – there are many clips like this one, and of course Have I Got News For You has made great fun of his knack of hiding from the cameras, sometimes behind a glass door.

Only…he did win, twice. You can’t get away from it. He is criticised – his supporters say vilified – by the mainstream media (they call it the MSM) – but he’s a serial winner of elections to become party leader. Remember the prime minister hasn’t even faced one such election. Again, his mood music has been about the ordinary person being left behind by large concerns, including the government and including his own party. And if this involves pretending to be on a crowded train when there were plenty of seats, so be it. The message worked and continued the mood for his chosen constituency. On the face of his leadership elections results he’s a resounding success.

So have things changed?

I’m currently working out how to accommodate these factors into my media training offering for 2017. There’s no doubt things have changed and the old rules need refreshing if not complete scrapping.

However, I don’t think all of the changes are permanent. To demonstrate this I point to a couple of incidents over the last couple of days.

Today the Fabian Society said Labour would not be able to win a general election in its own right in 2020. They’re a founding body of the party so they have no reason to be particularly anti. This may be a sign that the mood music isn’t quite enough to change everything in the way that some people believe.

You can argue that they’re known “moderates” or “Blairites” depending on your point of view. OK, but Len McLuskey, seeking re-election as head of the Unite union, has said Corbyn may have to step down if the party still looks unelectable at the beginning of 2019. That’s an uncontentious statement of the obvious at first glance but you have to consider who’s saying it; McLuskey has been a major Corbyn supporter so far. Obviously he’s going to try reaching out to non-supporters during his own re-election campaign but for such a major backer to express doubts (and McLuskey is a seasoned media player) is potentially serious.

So the mood music effect may be slipping, it’s too early to tell. Things have changed, though; I’ll be advising clients this year to set the mood as well as to put set-piece sound bites together, and will continue to advise consistency of communications across all platforms, much as I always have. Meanwhile later this week I’ll consider the importance of the press itself – is it diminishing in the eyes of the readers and viewers?

Do you need help with your communications and interview techniques when faced with the press? I can help – drop me a note by clicking here or fill the form in below.

Five things good media training won’t do

Media training is something I enjoy doing. Helping people shape the message they want to get into the press, broadcast or online media and offering the tools to make this message heard is a great thing. Generally. Occasionally, though, I’m asked odd stuff.

Media training has its ethics

Sometimes the odd stuff I’m asked veers into the downright unethical or impossible. So here are five things a decent media trainer will never promise or offer:

  • We won’t, or shouldn’t, offer to write about you/your client immediately. I once had a solid-sounding lead for media training. The PR person involved said at the last minute that they would expect me to write about the client in the national press afterwards. Guys, if I’m coaching you and accepting a fee, I can’t pretend to the press that I’m an independent commentator. No ethical media trainer should write about you for several months after coaching you.
  • We won’t encourage you to lie. Want someone to come in and train you on withholding key information from stakeholders? You need to look elsewhere. A good media trainer will help offer techniques to get away from difficult conversations. He or she will give you the confidence to say when something is confidential and you can’t comment. In no way should they encourage you to lie to the press – you’re bound to be found out eventually.
  • We won’t claim there is a 100% foolproof way to get your message into the press. You present your case, you argue your point, we give you the tools and techniques to make the best of that. Unless you’re doing paid-for advertorial, however, no competent media trainer will offer any guarantees beyond that in the face of a free press. They can do what they want with the resulting interview. We will equip you with the best chance possible to put a positive case.
  • We won’t arrange interview opportunities for you. This is the job of your PR company. I’ve been in training sessions in which people have asked me to get them into, say, the Financial Times. It’s been a few years since I’ve written for that paper so even if I were inclined to step outside the role of “journalist/trainer”, I wouldn’t know where to pitch.
  • Related point: our contact book is our livelihood, not public property. One or two – a tiny amount – of clients seem to expect me to open up my contact book and hand over the names of all of the commissioning editors so that they can pitch to them. This is in most cases a step too far; if a trainer who is a current journalist had a reputation that suggested he or she would send loads of PR people pitching to an editor’s door after every training session, he or she wouldn’t be a journalist for long.

There’s a great deal to be gained from a media training session: confidence, an understanding of the media, the ability to meet us half-way, formulation of messages and preparation for an interview plus a lot of interview techniques – talk to me about them by emailing here. Understand that it’s a training/mentoring session and you should end up with a great session.

When is it right to say nothing?

In the past I’ve blogged about how saying ‘no comment’ is a bad option. There are times, however, when saying nothing is a good idea.

Occasions on which I advise media training delegates to say nothing include:

  • When you don’t know the answer to something: Seriously, some people will waffle terribly rather than say they don’t know something. A press interview is not a test like a job interview, if you don’t know something, have to check or whatever, just say so. If we say we need to know now, that’s not your problem – you don’t work for us. The worst offenders are the ones that make something up rather than admit they don’t know something. I’ve had those interviews and unpicking then afterwards, when a misleading comment has been published in good faith, is messy.
  • When it’s someone else’s department: Internal politics happen in business. So if you’re in product development and get asked about a sales strategy, even if you know the answer, the sales director might feel strongly about people discussing his or her stuff on behalf of the company. Worse, they might have changed the policy without briefing you. It’s likely to be safer to refer the question to the right department. Again, if we need our answer now don’t be intimidated – you don’t work for us.
  • When there isn’t a massive amount to say:  It’s probably truer of press releases than interview answers, but I get an awful lot of guff and ‘opinion’ across my desk when really, I hadn’t asked for it and it’s dull, dull, dull. My reaction is a bit like that of my pet cat Sammy (pictured after a particularly long conversation with me). I won’t use the comment, why would I?  If there’s nothing to say, don’t say it.

Do you need help talking to the media or constructing press releases? I can help – email me by clicking here and we’ll talk.