How to media train an expert in 30 minutes or less

The four P’s of media coaching

Author: Joe Williams, Senior Account Executive for Media Frenzy Global

Great news! Your pitch landed and the reporter wants to schedule an interview to learn more about your client’s cancer treatment study, or how their cybersecurity platform is changing the industry, or maybe they’re just having some trouble turning that Excel document into a PDF.

But there’s a problem: the reporter wants the interview to be in-person within the next 48 hours, and the only subject matter expert (SME) you have with availability in the area is an untrained local manager with no media experience.

As a PR pro, you immediately recognize media training is needed—and fast—but you don’t have time or means to conduct the robust on-site session needed to prepare this local expert to answer the trickiest questions a reporter can throw their way. Instead, you’re going to have to set up a remote prep call with an individual lacking in interview experience.

This can be nerve-wracking the first time it happens to a PR pro, but this sort of thing happens all the time. And the best in the industry know that if you follow the four P’s, the interview is going to come out on-brand, on-message and on time.

 

The Proactive P: Preparation

Preparation is critical, and it isn’t limited to the media briefing document with the outlet details, potential questions and key messages, although that should be the primary tool you use to get your local expert thinking about the interview proactively. To be an effective steward of the client’s brand, there’s much more to prepare.

Before even pitching this opportunity, you should have:

  • Core brand messaging defined and approved by the client team.

  • Words and phrases to avoid that could make an expert look inexperienced or unprofessional, or potentially compromise the brand.

  • A pre-approved media briefing template document ready to plug and play for an interview opportunity at a moment’s notice.

  • An overview to help interviewees understand PR techniques like blocking, bridging and flagging.

With these items ready to go, your local expert can start preparing before you even start the media training call.

 

The Persistent P: Practice

Once the call begins, take on the role of the interviewer and ask the questions likely to come from the media contact. You’ve already prepared these (because you prepared, right? RIGHT?), so walk through them in a straightforward manner the first time.

After each question, help your local expert understand what they did well and where the messaging could improve, offering an ideal response that fits naturally in the conversation. Then, do it again. Practice until they get it right, or at least avoid any major pitfalls in their wording. Once they’ve mastered the responses towards the end of the call, throw them a few curveballs by being pushy to prompt a response they absolutely shouldn’t say or cut them off with another question before they get to their core message.

Putting an expert through the gauntlet proactively will help them use the aforementioned PR techniques to refine their wording and hit all key messages without offering up information they should protect.

 

The Powerful P: Personable

When coaching someone on how to speak with media contacts, encourage their personality; don’t stifle it! The best stories include a personal element, so the best interviews include insights from your subject matter expert’s past experiences.

In some cases, it can help to pause in the midst of a challenging response to ask the expert directly if they have an example to back up a specific claim or scenario. Often, this sparks something within the expert, as now they can speak on something they themselves experienced, rather than having to memorize precise messaging.

Doing this makes the interview more conversational while allowing your expert to settle in, be themselves, and relax a bit. Now, they have a memorable response to rely upon. For many people, it can even be exciting to share an interesting or comical life experience.

 

The Priceless P: Positivity

This local expert is about to walk into one of the most stressful situations they’ll face this year, unless they have nerves of steel. This is incredibly rare, despite what many tough guys will try to tell you.

Nobody performs better under negative pressure, so keep feedback positive and focus on what parts of the expert’s messaging worked well before moving to the parts in need of some tweaking. Use the sandwich approach to make feedback easier to receive. That means start with a positive before getting to the negatives in need of improvement, and close with a positive summary.

It’s funny, because keeping things light and focusing on the good makes even the stiffest individuals loosen up a bit, which is critical to help them remain calm, cool and collected come interview time. Hone in too much on the negative, and you’ll cause people to lock up and shut down—the worst case scenario before heading into an interview.

With all of this said, sometimes you have to know when to pull the ripcord and cancel an interview opportunity entirely. This can be difficult given how much effort PR pros put into pitching and securing media opportunities, but if the expert simply can’t stay on message or struggles to maintain their composure, you have to be a good steward of the client brand and make the call to cancel. Don’t worry, clients usually understand and can appreciate the care and dedication to excellence.

It’s not your fault if an interview opportunity is simply unachievable. But focus on the four P’s, and you’ll be able to switch quick turn opportunities into successful interviews.