Izzy PR relies on Iain McBride to provide its media training to clients who want to add it to their skills.
If you’re ever needed for a media interview, or have the opportunity to get some fantastic free broadcast coverage, it’s a good idea to be ready.
Iain has been in the business for many years, working as a journalist, TV producer, presenter, running communications teams and delivering media training.
Sarah first met him in 1999, when she filmed him at Meridian as part of a documentary she was making for her final year project of her broadcasting degree. Little did she know then, that he’d be her boss at Kent Police when she joined their media team 10 years later!
Read on to find out why media training is important, and why it’s vital to be prepared.
By Iain McBride
Media training has changed in a massive way since I started thirty years ago. I got into it by accident firstly when I was invited to speak to the emergency services in Yorkshire where I was working as a tv reporter and then when I had a similar request when I moved to Kent as a tv producer. In both cases there was a desire to understand more about how the media works. Since then I’ve seen training evolve and change almost beyond all recognition of what it was.
Why media training?
Well if you want to get your message across, whether it’s managing a crisis or promoting an initiative, then it’s a great opportunity to reach thousands at no cost. People tend to believe what they see in broadcast news rather than what they are being sold in an advert. But get it wrong if you are unprepared then it can be a disaster. There are great examples across the internet of people from major organisations walking out of press conferences when they had questions they hadn’t rehearsed and of a certain PM floundering because he hadn’t done his homework. There’s an old phrase “bulls*t baffles brains” – in broadcast interviews it doesn’t.
In the broadcasting world viewers and listeners are now very cynical about the rehearsed soundbite. After so many years of political spin from all sides people simply don’t trust what they hear. Similarly, in my view, some communications advisers have become obsessed with ‘key messages’. I have worked with some organisations who are so focused on this that very sane, sensible people are so over prepared that they can’t think for themselves and end up talking like ‘speak your weight’ machines. Frankly, your audience doesn’t know if you haven’t delivered key message number four and statistic number twelve. ‘Brexit might mean Brexit’ but when you hear it day after day it becomes meaningless. For the record I felt sorry for Theresa May who I think was an honest politician who was poorly advised.
Broadcasting is the primary source of news
Broadcasting is now undoubtedly the primary source of news for most people (source, Ofcom) as newspaper sales continue to fall off a cliff – and I say this with regret as an ex print journalist. However social media is having a major influence amongst the younger generations as a source of news. I had a very interesting conversation with someone from one of the major national broadcasters about how they are ‘repurposing’ – their words not mine – content into thirty second chunks for social media.
Basically complicated stories told in thirty seconds with whizzy graphics and music. I might not like it but you can’t deny what works.
Technology makes a live interview quick and easy
Technology has changed the way newsdesks and producers think. Not long ago the only way you could do a ‘live’ interview from a remote location was by using a satellite truck or another studio, which could be very expensive. Now cameras are coming with built in links that connect back to base via the internet or phone signals, and there are kits that plug into cameras and work in the same way. That means ‘down the line’ interviews are becoming much more common. If I’m working as a producer it means I can make my programmes much more varied with live content, rather than presenters linking into pre-recorded packages with the occasional studio guest. From the interviewees point of view a different skill is required. You have a disembodied voice in your ear but you can’t see the person you are talking to. That can be a bit of an ‘out of body’ experience if you haven’t done it before. I did some training for an international organisation whose Chief Executive was used to speaking to hundreds of people in lecture halls. They completely freaked out when we did this in training because it was so outside their comfort zone.
How the pandemic changed broadcasting
The pandemic has also meant broadcasters and viewers are more accepting of interviews carried out over the internet on Skype, Zoom and other technologies. However there are still some head in the hand moments – inappropriate things in the background, interviewees displaying the latest book they’ve written just over their shoulder and my pet hate where the interviewee looms over the camera and you can see right up their nostrils. The camera on your computer needs to be at eye level. Prop it up on some books if necessary.
Never refuse a question
A personal plea now – if you are ever having a press conference please don’t refuse to take questions. Nothing annoys journalists more and if you’re not going to take questions that’s not a press conference. If you have limited time then say so, but take one question from each organisation there. Even if you do take questions when it’s over we won’t necessarily stop asking them; snappers (stills camera operators) won’t stop taking pictures and tv cameras won’t stop rolling…..so what’s your exit strategy?
To find out more about Iain, his experience and training, visit his website.