As mainstream media falters, is media training still relevant?
I remember leading my first client media training session back in 1994. Yes, I know. That was nearly 22 years ago. Thanks so much for pointing that out. But you’re right. Times were different then. There was no digital media. No online newsfeeds. No YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. “My” and “space” were still two separate words. The Internet was barely teething. It was a different and simpler time for PR professionals. We had the mainstream media and, well, that was about it.
Skip ahead a couple of decades, and the media landscape has been irrevocably reshaped, and is still in flux. The Internet and the emergence of social and digital media have shaken the foundations of old school media and the fallout continues. Newspapers are closing. The Guelph Mercury shut down last week. Reporters across radio, television, and newspapers are being laid off with little hope of landing elsewhere. More and more news junkies are migrating online. Buzzfeed, Reddit, Huffington Post, and scores of other online aggregators are attracting legions of followers.
So against this backdrop of rapid and constant change, is there still a place for helping clients perform effectively in media interviews? As you might have expected, my answer is an emphatic “Yes” provided the training reflects the current landscape and is rooted in the latest and greatest advances in our understanding of effective communications. I’m constantly updating the media training curriculum we offer clients. It’s evolved quite dramatically over the years, and no more so than in the last five. But some things don’t change and likely never will, regardless of what new breakthrough app or digital delight is on the horizon.
Clients must still have an agenda and a point of view when heading into interviews, whether with mainstream media, or with a leading blogger or podcast host. Clients should never go into an interview simply with the goal of responding competently to whatever questions come their way. Rather, their goals are to effectively entrench a few key points in the minds of the listener, the viewer, or the reader, regardless of medium. That will never change. However, what has changed, is the best way to do that. Courtesy of some recent advances in neuroscience, gone are the days when we would draft a 42 word sentence for our clients, chock full of key messages, and insist they commit it to memory and regurgitate it as often as they could during the interview. I’m glad that no longer works. It just doesn’t feel right.
Neuroscientists have discovered that we index and store information in our brains, not as key messages, not as data points, not as statistics, but rather as stories. We look for, and hold on to, stories. Writers and other storytellers have known this intuitively for generations. But now the world of corporate communications must embrace it. If you want to reach and hold your audience, ditch yesterday’s fact-filled key messages, and start telling a story that embodies the major points you want your audience to retain.
The fragmentation of the media we used to know, and the ever-changing digital landscape, convince me that training clients to communicate effectively regardless of platform and audience, is more important than it’s ever been. The trick is to make sure your training program reflects the current realities and can change to respond to what inevitably lurks around the corner. But there remains one immutable reality we must accept, and that’s the primacy of storytelling.
Photo: Derek K. Miller