The hugely talented Mr Weatherley

Brian's B2B blog...

Welcome to my B2BMediaTraining blog – some small thoughts on life, the universe and dealing with the press from someone who crossed over from practitioner to teacher.  The following selection of short articles provides an off-beat (and unashamedly tongue-in-cheek) insight into the many different aspects of the media, along with hints and tips for better communication and an understanding into what gets journalists reaching for their pens, tablets or smartphones to cover your story...

Posts from the 'March 2021' archive...

The direct approach

How ‘direct’ should you be when talking to the media? Some interviewees clearly think a combative approach is the best way to engage with the Fourth Estate. I don’t advise it. It seldom does anyone any good and merely encourages a journalist to come back at you. In my experience, ‘Bare-knuckle’ interviews, especially on radio, tend to generate more heat than light, leaving the audience frustrated and, more importantly, none-the-wiser.

Still, there are times when you need to tell your inquisitor “You’re wrong”. But how to do it without things kicking-off? If you disagree with a journalist say calmly-but-firmly: “I disagree” or “No, that’s not right” (it doesn’t hurt to smile when you say it!) before supporting your challenge with solid facts that prove your version of events is correct. That’s why preparing well in advance for difficult or awkward questions is vital if you hope to have an acceptable outcome to any media encounter.

Journalists often have ‘Bees in their Bonnets’ (I’ve known some to have the occasional hive) and all that buzzing can become very noisy. Therefore, it’s important to question their agenda if you don’t think it’s the right one. Remember, at times they can be ‘hidden’, so you need to flush them out into the open in-order to address or dispute them. Just remember, ‘firm’ is OK ‘blunt’ isn’t, and yes there is a difference, especially in the delivery.

I once witnessed a senior manager at a press event who, when asked a question involving a possible change of direction for his company, politely asked the journalist: “Why would I do that?” It was an interesting move. No journalist likes to think they may have asked a daft question in front of their peers. Keen to avoid that impression the reporter in question promptly explained, and in some detail too, what they were getting at. In doing so, they all-but provided the answer to their own question―which left the aforementioned-manager with the choice of either agreeing or disagreeing with their proposition. As it happened, he didn’t agree with it, and promptly went on to explain why, based on a clearer understanding of the original question. The tactic also bought him some valuable thinking time in-order to properly formulate his reply…

Not long afterwards I experienced a similar occurrence at a conference in the US. Only this time the executive in question adopted a more forthright approach to a particular question. Looking the journalist square in the eye he demanded: “What are you shooting at!” The tone may have been different, possibly even adversarial, but the motive was the same―to find out exactly what was behind their question. It worked too.

In any encounter with the media don’t be afraid to challenge your interrogator if you think they’ve got things wrong. What’s more, it’s perfectly legitimate to respond to an enquiry which is anything but straightforward with: “I don’t understand your question” ―especially if you don’t! Either way, the sooner you know exactly what’s behind a question, the sooner you can hope to answer it, and well.

It’s hard enough to communicate effectively…without these

If you want to avoid falling flat-on-your-face in a media encounter my advice is avoid clichés…like the plague (see what I did there?) Here’s another tip. Have you noticed how many people insist on starting off an answer to a question with the word ‘So…’? E.g. Interviewer: “How many people will be effected by this?” Interviewee: “So…if you look at what happening in the industry it’s likely that…blah, blah, blah.”

Quite why people do it is beyond me. It adds nothing to your answer―neither emphasis nor explanation. It’s totally redundant. The problem is whenever I hear someone using it, I start listening for them to use it again. In one recent radio interrogation the interviewee must have started every answer they gave with “So…” In the end I was so busy listening out for it I quite forgot what they were saying.

“Look…” is another popular preface, especially with sportsmen and coaches (see also “Ah, look…”.) Then there’s “sort of”, “know what I mean?” and my own particular pet-hate “Like…”, as in “I was like, so angry…” Well, what would ‘like’ angry be like? Extremely tetchy? Very irritated? Much vexed? Unless you’re going to use like in its true meaning, i.e. similar or comparable to, forget it. Unfortunately, we all pepper our speech with so much meaningless verbiage it’s a wonder we say anything worth hearing at all.

How many times have you heard someone say or read during the course of an interview: “At the end of the day”? What’s wrong with ultimately or finally? Likewise, when I hear someone say “To be honest” or “I must confess” I feel like saying “It’s OK you’re not in court!” Who can also forget “a level playing field” (see also “game changer” and “game of two halves”) and my own particular favourite “It’s not rocket science.” Well of course it isn’t―the only thing that IS rocket science is well, rocket science. All you’re really telling me when you say it is that you’re not a rocket scientist. I probably knew that already. Why not say “it’s simple”?

As for words like “paradigm”, now here’s where it gets interesting. I’m sure there’s a proper place in an interview to use paradigm but it won’t be very often. I once heard someone use it five times during a short presentation. It’s just a fancy way of saying ‘model’, ‘pattern’, ‘standard’ or ‘concept’ (amongst other things). Listen hard and you can spot verbiage a mile off (cliché alert). Sadly all-too many people think it’s a good way of communicating―it isn’t. It’s just irritating, like answering every question with “Absolutely!” A simple “yes” works just as well. If you want to communicate effectively say something that’s worth hearing in the quickest and simplest way…everything else is just static.

Preferential treatment

Thanks to smart algorithms, news providers have never been in a better position to know what you’re interested in, and to make sure you get it, and fast. Of course, they sometimes get it wrong. Who hasn’t received an e-mail that leaves you wondering ‘Why on earth am I getting this?’ However, there’s no denying that our news ‘preferences’ have gained a whole new currency to the hidden collators of personal data.

We all like using news feeds. Who’s got the time to search for vital information? And thanks to our personal preferences, we can get all the news, offers and data we want, when we want it, straight to our PC, tablet or smartphone. In return, the people sending us that information can build up a universe of ‘people like us’. And the more they send of the stuff we like, the more likely we are to click on it. It’s why political parties are so keen on social media—depending on our likes, they can determine if we’re ‘one of them’. Ditto the retailers and their ‘People that bought that also bought this’ recommendations.

Why am I telling you this? Because by restricting the information we receive to only what you like, we risk missing something we didn’t know you needed. Or as Donald Rumsfeld once said “There are things we don’t know, we don’t know.” He was right. To a greater-or-lesser degree we’re all guilty of ‘confirmation bias’, the tendency to seek-out and favour information which confirms, or strengthens, our own personal viewpoint, interests or beliefs. You can sum it up with the classic: “I know what I like, and I like what I know. And that’s all I need to know” whether that’s a favourite newsfeed, website, blog-post or podcast.

Receiving news and information that’s relevant to your business in quick time clearly lets you stay ahead of the game. However, the more you let your preferences and likes dictate what information you get, the greater the risk of missing something of equal importance simply because you didn’t ask for it. That’s why in media training I encourage people to seek out information beyond their own ‘preference pool’. A trend in say, construction or civil engineering could have cross-over implications for an-altogether different industry sector, like agriculture, aviation or bio-medicine. Naturally, it means taking the time to decide what extra information might benefit you and your business. But if you’re not prepared to broaden your horizons and look for it, how on earth will you know its significance?

Having new or different insights on the world will not only benefit your business and personal outlook, but when a journalist calls, your broader insights could also become their broader insights too. Suddenly, you don’t just know a lot about your own back-yard, but the wider world too, and how they both come together and why. In short, it’s all about context and for the journalist desperately looking for a ‘bigger picture’ story it could mean all the difference between being reported…or ignored.