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...
In every one of my media training courses I ask trainees: “When you’re preparing for a press encounter, what’s the very-first go-to source of information you should be looking at to help you create your messages?” There’s often a marked silence, while they desperately think of an answer.
So what is this wonderful source of inspiration that senior managers should reach for ahead of any interview with a journalist? It’s a lot closer to hand than you might think.
Once a year, large corporations create an annual report, usually available as a PDF on the company website and as a glossy publication. Sadly, all-too-often it ends-up unread in a dark drawer…or the digital equivalent. Yet look inside any major company report and you’ll find it a fantastic repository of facts, figures and commentary that can help you deliver a strong narrative to the media. Need to prove you’ve increased production? Or boosted profitability? It’s all in there, and not just facts and figures.
Annual reports also often contain statements from a chairman or CEO confirming corporate strategies, onward business focus, core messages, market conditions and future commitments. They’re a veritable gold mine.
Moreover, the information within them will have been approved (or should have been!) by the corporate communications team, as well as the accountants and auditors. So it’s ‘safe’ to refer to.
But there’s an even more important reason why you should read it—because a journalist can too. It’s the quickest way to get valuable ‘background’ on a business ahead of an interview. That’s not all they’ll read either. Your quarterly results, investor statements, press releases, website, social media pages. In fact, anything you’ve recently put into the public domain they could ask you about. So you need to absorb it before they do. After all, you wouldn’t want them knowing more about your business than you do…would you?
But how can you make all that information work for you? The answer is to create a ‘Knowledge Box’, a handy place for all the recently published corporate material your business has put out which you can refer to and use whenever you need to create messages ahead of an encounter with the press. It can be in a folder within the company’s intranet, or even a simple box-file with hard-copy literature.
Only don’t keep it to yourself. Share the knowledge amongst your colleagues and they could well have useful business information you were unaware of that you can use the next time you talk to a journalist. And don’t just restrict it to corporate information. Put in business surveys, media articles, Government reports, anything that can help establish you amongst the press as a ‘thought leader’ in your market sector.
Better still task someone in your organisation to be the official keeper of that knowledge box—someone who’ll keep it regularly up-dated and encourage everyone to contribute to it too. But whatever you put in it, the very first thing should be the annual report. Just make sure you read it first…
If there’s one thing we’ve learned during this awful pandemic, it’s that we don’t have to be ‘face-to-face’ to communicate with one another. That certainly goes for training. Yes, online meet ups can be clunky, and who doesn’t miss the natural interaction of being with people in the same place at the same time?
Only just think if Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams weren’t available? How would we manage then? Imagine trying to conduct a training session over the phone, asking someone: “OK can you move on to the next Powerpoint slide please? What’s that? You didn’t get the presentation…? Hold on I’ll resend it. Aaargh! It says your inbox is full…can I WeTransfer it to you instead? Just give me 10 minutes.”
As a media trainer I’ve had to reimagine how to deliver my course during the various lockdowns, firebreaks and quarantines. I’ve had to consider what works best for clients and in particular rethink the time needed for effective delivery. Normally, I’d allow up-to five hours for a face-to-face group session.
That was never going to work online. It’s now a maximum of three hours, with four or five short screen breaks in-between to avoid ‘screen-itis’. Start promptly at 9:00 and by midday everything can be done and dusted allowing everyone to get on with the rest of their day, which is what they want to do. So far, client feedback has been very positive.
A shorter timeframe naturally meant deciding what course content to keep, and what I had to leave out. Simply talking faster was never an option! Rather than try and put up a whole load of stuff online and risk losing everyone’s attention, I’ve been sending out separate complimentary material which allows trainees to absorb it in their own time.
Like most other people working online I’ve had to understand how to get the most from Microsoft Teams and Zoom―including encouraging as much interactivity as possible, along with the best moment to ask people to ‘mute’ their mics! There’s nothing more off-putting than hearing your own voice echoing back to you as you’re speaking, or those unintended ‘noises off’.
As we all struggle to find some normality in our lives we’re having to do many things differently. Remote training is certainly different. But with some forethought, reflection and re-setting it can be the work-around that still works for you.
What will the media landscape be like in the future? If I had the definitive-answer I wouldn’t be sitting in front of this computer that’s for sure. I’ve been blindsided so many times when it comes to predicting the future that I’ve decided to follow the advice of the late great Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph who when asked to predict the outcome of a general election answered: “We all try to be wise before the event, but I find it much easier to be wise after the event.” Frankly, so do I.
Many years ago, I set-up an industry blog. Not long after a colleague told me: “Within a year 90% of all your blog posts will be reader-generated.” “Yea, right…” I thought. I’d still be the one doing all the heavy lifting in 12 months’ time. Turned out he was right. Within a year my blog took off like a rocket thanks to an amazing community that sent in more stories, videos, images and anecdotes (it’s called ‘user content’) than I could ever imagine.
I also thought that social media would struggle to communicate serious business messages. I was a mile wide on that one too. I even ended up being hired by various companies as a video presenter for YouTube promo shorts that certainly had a serious message, albeit presented in an unusual way. Like the ‘Volvo 750-tonne pull’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJD9YQQYvyk
Over the past decade it’s become increasingly obvious that we all like to get our news in as personal way as possible―like through self-selected news alerts. And why wouldn’t you want to be told about things that interest you? However, the route to reader (or viewer or listener) is also a generational thing; a phenomenon that traditional hard-copy publishers have had to grapple with. And don’t get me started on social media and the rise of ‘citizen journalists.’
Ironically, the very institutions, companies and organisations that 30-years ago relied heavily, if not totally, on the media to tell the world about their activities have, thanks to their own corporate websites, become some of the biggest competitors to the press. Nowadays it’s not unusual for the first word of a new product or service to appear on a manufacturer’s website, before the press gets to cover it. Suddenly the old symbiotic relationship has changed.
So where does that leave the press? If it can’t be first with the news then it has to be first with the context, the explanation, the broader landscape…the ‘what it all means to you’ stuff. So while companies will inevitably put a positive spin on their ‘news’, it will be up to the media to provide the independent analysis, clarification and enlightenment. In other words what it’s always done, only now is will have to do it faster, smarter and in ways that ensure we keep coming back for more.
Looking for ways to avoid all those journalists who have the nerve to want to know something about your business? Bothered by those pesky nosy parkers? With tongue firmly in-cheek I offer these useful suggestions:
Don’t put anything on your website that might help them – like mini biographies of senior managers, their responsibilities, or show a photograph of them. Have no ‘About us’ page.
If possible don’t provide a media contact phone number, otherwise certainly don’t give the name of the person to whom all press enquiries should be directed.
Divert all calls from a ‘media contact’ phone number immediately to voicemail, then don’t answer them―especially if the caller leaves more than one message.
Wait two weeks before calling a journalist back to say you aren’t the right person to talk to and provide an alternative name and number. Repeat step 3.
Use a generic ‘press enquiries@’ e-mail contact with a ‘No more than 500 words max’ message box. Then set it permanently on ‘Out of Office’ auto reply.
After a month reply to any e-mail enquiry apologizing for the delay. Then request a list of questions for forwarding to the appropriate person.
Wait two weeks before replying: ‘Thank you for your enquiry but at this moment we are not able to help with your article’.
Should you actually want to engage with a journalist (highly unlikely) provide answers to questions that weren’t asked or direct them on to irrelevant areas of your website.
Demand to see all copy prior to publication (even before the journalist has uttered a single word or supplied any questions) quoting ‘It’s company policy.’
In the unlikely event you arrange a phone interview with the relevant person, make sure they’re absent when the journalist calls at the agreed time.
Should the worst happen and a journalist manages to avoid steps 1-10 and contact a manager or executive directly their response should be “I’m sorry you’ll have to go through our PR dept. before I can talk to you” before giving them your ‘media contact’ number. Repeat stage 3.
Finally, try and plan all holidays and days off within the PR/marketing department so that they coincide and overlap, thereby ensuring minimal coverage in the office. Repeat step 3.
Applying the above rules should ensure it’s extremely unlikely any journalist will ever bother you again. Of course, it means your chances of generating good media coverage for your organization or business will also be lost, but who wants to talk to journalists anyway? Plus, it will leave you with more time to monitor how much media coverage your competitors are getting…