Advice to Advisors – With Media Briefings, Less is Best…

Written by Lahra Carey

Most executives dealing with the media are out of their comfort zone. No matter how compelling they may be presenting at a conference, or facing the Board, having to stare down a reporter before the glaring light of a television camera can leave even the most confident personality a quivering mess.

Of course not all media interviews are combative. But they all have one thing in common – the requirement that you deliver your message succinctly and briefly. In television news terms that means between 8 and 12 seconds.

It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice to get right – and for some professionals trained in law or government policy where more detail elicits more applause; it’s the hardest skill to learn.In this context, the role of the media advisor is crucial to the success of the interview outcome, and why we media trainers despair when faced with a thick pile of briefing notes and long winded answers to hypothetical frequently asked questions.

We are then required to spend the majority of the media training session whittling away at the key messages in order to come to a position where the participant can deliver a message he or she feels comfortable with.

The rationale behind this zealous provision of information is understandable- woe and betide the advisor who leaves their boss hanging out to dry in the middle of tough questioning.

But there are two problems with this approach:

Firstly, advisors don’t usually think like journalists. Mostly we see information packs filled with specific statistics or generalized ‘vanilla’ statements that are too detailed or too wishy-washy to make the cut within a news story.

Secondly, this model accepts the proposition that the executive is there simply to answer the questions of the journalist along the lines of his or her agenda. This presumes the balance of power lies with the reporter, which is simply not the case.

By agreeing to the interview, you have your own clear agenda and it becomes your job to express your own message, whatever questions come your way. And in that context your 50-page briefing paper just became an ungainly paperweight.

Much more useful would be three succinct key messages along with a number of concrete anecdotes or examples to illustrate the point.

Of course it’s one thing acclimatising the advisor to this minimalist approach to key messaging, and quite another to threaten the comfort zone of the exec whose confidence is boosted with a heavyweight briefing paper.

Perhaps to begin with, that one-pager could be clipped to the front of War and Peace until everyone gets used to the idea?