Founder & Principal of SmartMouth Communications, a consulting, coaching and training firm that creates better messages and messengers.
As a communication coach, I find that client inquiries for certain services come in waves. Lately, following a bit of a dry spell, I’ve had a wave of requests for media readiness training. Unexpected, but always welcomed!
The media landscape has changed pretty dramatically, even in just the past five to 10 years. The emergence and ubiquitous nature of social media means that people and organizations have an alternative way to share and promote information about themselves. They’re no longer dependent on “earning” media attention from a traditional outlet, like a newspaper, radio or television.
Having said that, we tend to regard social media posts with a healthy amount of discernment, viewing some as more attention-worthy and credible than others. It’s not a stretch to say that there’s a lot of self-interested hype and hyperbole out there. It’s also not a stretch to say that we are drawn to content and often don’t bother to use our discernment skills to establish where it came from—traditional or social media.
So, why is “media training” still a thing? How can it help if someone has an actual interview with a traditional media outlet, and what are some useful lessons for both traditional and social media? Let’s look at three aspects.
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Establishing goals for interactions with the media is like putting up the bumpers in a bowling alley; if goals are kept top of mind and followed, the speaker can’t go too far afield with their comments. Goals provide boundary lines inside of which all comments should stay. Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s hard for interviewees to field a reporter’s questions and not try and satisfy each one literally and with a unique answer, as we might do in polite conversation.
Nevertheless, an interview with a reporter is a strategic conversation, not a polite or friendly one, and so having the bumpers up and knowing what you want to say (and not say) is crucial to achieving goals. Similarly, the alignment of messaging with goals is not unlike remaining brand consistent on social media.
If there’s one gift that social media has brought us, it’s the resurgence of the sound bite. It seems that the shorter, pithier and more concise a social media post is, the more eyeballs it gets. No one wants to get a “TLTR” (too long to read) reaction on their post. In the case of Twitter, length restrictions are imposed.
Sound bites are not a manipulative tool, as some (who, for example, listen to politicians with a cynical ear) might suggest; rather, they’re a tool to help both the speaker and the audience. They are memorable, digestible, repeatable statements and, as such, have a very good chance of making it into a traditional media story as a quote.
Getting comfortable with sound bites is mission-critical for those speaking with the traditional media, just as it is for those posting on social media. As most already know, it’s not the reporter’s questions that can hurt you, it’s what comes out of your mouth that can. All the more reason to formulate and know your sound bites—your must-air points that you want your audiences to remember.
Repetition is everyone’s friend. Attention spans and memories are limited, so reinforcement through repetition is essential. Research indicates that people need to hear something seven times before they remember it. While social media is not my forte, I have heard Guy Kawasaki say that it’s advisable to schedule posts to repeat themselves several times throughout a day in order to catch people when they’re paying attention. Likewise, if there’s something a person or organization wants to appear in a traditional media story, they must be prepared to use the statement repeatedly. Again, a media interview is a strategic conversation in which the interviewee needs to game the situation in their favor, meaning they need to get their essential messages, or sound bites, aired.
In an extreme example of this, during Super Bowl Media Day in 2015, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch famously repeated his one and only sound bite: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” over and over and over again. It became so memorable that it’s still remembered, talked about, and, naturally, gave way to memes.
Social media gets a bad rap a lot of the time. Yet, for those of us working with clients who still talk to the traditional media, there are some valuable lessons we can borrow from social media. Being clear on goals, developing good sound bites and repeating them are the basics. More important, though, are the lessons social media teaches us about what’s newsworthy, appealing or interesting to audiences—and these are and always have been the holy grail of capturing attention.
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Author: Beth Noymer Levine, Forbes Councils Member