Media Training Tips
Speaking to the media can seem a bit daunting, but by telling a compelling story you can gain tremendous traction with the public and decision makers. Unlike any other tactic for your campaign, an engagement with key media could allow you to access a wide audience in a personal manner.
Begin by determining what media outlets are important to move your campaign forward and develop your list of outlets and journalists. Remember to include media who have natural connections with the campaign. They’ll be more likely respond to your pitch, and you’ll be more likely to reach the audiences who care about your issue and may be willing to get more involved.
Once you know which outlets you want to contact, secure spokespeople who will resonate with the readers, viewers, or listeners of the outlets. Work with your media team to develop a newsworthy pitch. Make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to speak to the media and will have time available for interviews before you begin reaching out to the media.
With the appropriate preparation and practice, your spokesperson will become comfortable with your messaging and will be able to speak articulately and passionately about the issue. The guidelines below will help you prepare your advocate for media success.
Develop a small cadre of spokespeople whose perspectives are especially important to the cause and who the media might be interested in interviewing. For all of these, strive for diversity that represents your community as well as varying perspectives on the topic, and be sure to include spokespeople who are fluent in other languages as it makes sense for your community.
- Advocates directly impacted by the issue (especially parents and youth) can provide a personal appeal that no one else can.
- Doctors who see the impact of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes on their patients will add an air of credibility.
- Researchers who can share data on your issue for a specific city or state will add quantifiable evidence to your stories.
- Finally, top-level representatives from your organization or partner groups are always important faces to add to your campaign. They can speak specifically about your efforts in your state.
Reach out to these types of spokespeople, ask if they would be interested in speaking on behalf of your organization, and begin preparing them for the task. Be sure to identify folks who would do well on television or on-air through radio or talk shows, and who would be more comfortable with print articles.
When you are pitching to the media, you are able to prepare your spokesperson before you ever reach out to the media. Sometimes a reporter may hear about your campaign and contact you for an interview. Either way, it is important to begin preparing your spokespeople as soon as possible. The more your speakers prepare, the more comfortable they will be, the better their delivery will be, and the more effectively your message will resonate with the right audience(s). However, before you compose your media training materials, make sure you answer the following questions:
- Who is your audience? Before developing your messages, it is important to consider the audience you will be reaching through the publication conducting the interview.
- Who typically reads the outlet that this reporter represents?
- What are the additional topics this outlet typically covers?
- What are the demographics of the readership or viewership?
- What should you say? Speakers will need to know your talking points, but these core messages are just a starting point. Make your content more relevant by considering the following questions:
- What are the two or three most important points you want to make during the interview? Write them down, and check to see if you were able to include them each time you practice.
- Are there facts you want to highlight during the interview? What is the central theme you want to discuss—the core statement you return to repeatedly?
- What would success look like? Provide numbers, statistics, and milestones for your state to help frame the problem as well as the resolution.
- Can you make your interview more tangible? Consider adding comments about specific experiences or testimonials.
- Are you telling a good story? Facts can easily be forgotten, but stories remain in people’s memories.
- Are there other groups or individuals taking part in the interview? What are their positions likely to be, and will you have to comment on them?
- What matters most? Spend some time thinking about how your speakers can best portray themselves and the issue.
- How should the interview begin and end? The most important parts of an interview are the introduction and conclusion because they are what the audience is most likely to remember.
- Are there more ways to restate the main goal of the campaign? People need to hear things at least three times to remember them, so make sure to keep bringing the messaging back to your core points.
- Is this still relevant? Reread talking points the day before the interview to be sure the proof points are still relevant. Read local news of the day and reference anything that makes sense.
- How can others get involved? Make sure the audience knows that there is a call-to-action for them to get involved with your campaign, and be sure to share easy information on how to do so, either by visiting a website or contacting the spokesperson directly.
- What questions do you expect? What questions do you least want to be asked? Spend some time anticipating questions and developing direct responses or ways to turn the conversation back to your key message.
No matter how familiar spokespeople are with your talking points, it is important to have them rehearse multiple times before the interview. Ask your spokesperson to rehearse your talking points in the following ways, and work alongside them as they do:
- Read the text alone silently. Read the content with a critical eye. Do all proof points support the overall story? Is the central theme clear?
- Read aloud alone. Spokespeople might be surprised to hear themselves speaking aloud, especially if it is their first time participating in an interview. Watch your speakers talk, and make note of places where they take natural pauses or get tripped up on words.
- Stand and read in front of a mirror (if the interview is on television). When spokespeople read the content aloud standing, they will begin to get a feel for their natural body movement and non-verbal cues that will help bring the story to life.
- Stand and read in front of peers. Gather your colleagues to listen to the spokespeople deliver their talking points. This can help increase speakers’ confidence and provides a safe place for them to receive feedback. At this point, they should be able to deliver their content without reading directly from papers.
- Record their delivery, and learn from it. One of the best ways to rehearse is to make a video recording of your spokespeople presenting—smartphones are an excellent tool for this purpose. This allows them to see what the interviewer sees and will make speakers aware of any distracting movements or phrases they may unknowingly use.
- Rehearse in a comparable setting to where the interview will be held. You may not be able to take your spokespeople to the actual interview location, but try to create a setting that feels similar. Spokespeople can practice their movement in this similar space, developing a sense of how to move and talk effectively when they are in the interview room.
As your spokespeople arrive for the interview, they should be friendly and engaging, greeting reporters, editors, and producers confidently.
- Own the space. When you are on-site in the room, remind your speakers of the movements they practiced. If it is the right setting, encourage them to move around or use gestures so he or she doesn’t appear stiff or uncomfortable.
- Engage the interviewer and the audience. Remind spokespeople to maintain eye contact with the reporter as often as possible. They are the window to the viewers who are watching or listening. If there is an audience present, make sure spokespeople speak directly to them.
- Relax and enjoy. By this point, your spokespeople will have mastered their text and be comfortable with their delivery, so remind them to relax and enjoy their time on stage or in front of a reporter.
- Say thank you. Thank the reporter at the end and suggest meeting with them later for a follow-up interview.
- Identify a core group of diverse spokespeople who can consistently speak with the media about your campaign.
- Develop smart talking points and customize them to be relevant for each interview.
- Practice makes perfect—ask your spokespeople to rehearse their speeches or talking points to get comfortable with their comments before they speak with journalists.
- Timely: It’s an issue happening now, being talked about now, or being covered now in the media.
- Relevant: The pitch applies to the state/region the outlet covers and to its audience.
- Surprising: The pitch is an unusual way to tell a story that’s been previously told or contains an unusual voice and is an opportunity to tell the story in a surprising way.
- Provocative: The pitch makes the reporter/editor think, analyze, etc. and they believe it will do the same for their audience.
- Controversial: There is another side to the story, and it makes for good debate.
- In addition to WHAT we pitch, we need to pay attention to HOW we pitch our stories to the media. Some of the elements we should be paying attention to and working to hone our skills and become stronger are these:
- Quickly capture the attention of the reporter/editor.
- Deliver a clear and concise message.
- Make the link between the story you are pitching and its relevance for the local community and/or issues already in the news.
- Be brief and make each word count—plan, practice, and deliver a short and intentional message.