Media Training

Media Training in a Digital Age – Why Strategy is Stronger Than Tools

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re only 250 years removed from when we received pertinent information from messengers riding horses who galloped through the night to make sure we knew what was going on. We’re 75 years away from a time when less than 50% of households owned a telephone or radio, and got their news that way. Now, all it takes is the combination of a smart phone and a keen observer to press record, and the whole world knows. Our ever-evolving digital landscape and 24/7 news environment means every interaction is under a microscope. We’re all just one moment – and a good internet connection – away from being the subject of a positive story or viral escapade.

In this digital age, we all know being hyperconnected presents opportunities and challenges. In an instant, sometimes seemingly on the flip of a coin, it can make or break our reputations. As public relations professionals, we’re hyper aware of this paradox. We rely on the magic of media training to help us preserve as many reputations as possible among our clients and the organizations we serve.

When it comes to media training, we find many people can get distracted with imagery of reporters, microphones, and cameras. It’s not always intuitive to deduce that media training is less like preparing for a high-stakes trial and more about learning how to effectively communicate. Maybe we can shift perspectives by presenting it this way: If we can speak comfortably and confidently to members of the media – whose job is to be the voices of our communities – we can speak to anyone.

Media training teaches us about who we are as communicators, encouraging us to think critically, strategically, and thoughtfully about what we’re saying, why we’re saying it, and who we’re saying it to. From a business perspective, it teaches offense so that defense isn’t ever needed.

To make this seem less daunting, the good news (pun intended) is we’re further along in mastering these skills than we think, and it’s thanks to lessons learned during our pandemic pivot. Nearly every industry embraced digital connection. Virtual meeting platforms became classrooms where we learned techniques to help us improve communications skills and – whether we realized it or not – become spokespeople when reporters call, email, and in this digital age, DM us and our organizations.

Collectively, we’re more conscious of our body language and speaking patterns. We’ve learned to keep facial expressions in check and be thoughtful about where on our computer screens we’re looking to simulate real-life eye contact. Virtual meetings have also taught us to be more succinct and strategic with our word choices, eliminating at least a few “ahs” and “ums” from our vocabularies. However subtle, these nonverbal and verbal improvements boost credibility and trust – two important qualities that successful spokespeople have – and help us be more engaging storytellers.

Formal media training builds on this foundation by encouraging organizations to be strategic about what they say, and what they don’t say. In media training, individuals learn how to finetune messaging for clarity and consistency to deliver messages across multiple media platforms. Finessing the messages delivered in person or on camera for digital spaces (including the web and social media) unlocks more opportunities for organizations to connect with key audiences. For example, rewriting TV-ready messages into lighter, informal language for social media (particularly in response to direct Facebook messages) helps strengthen relationships by addressing followers’ questions in a way that feels personal to them. This elevates credibility, builds brand recognition, and establishes your organization as a reliable information source and thought leader in your expertise areas.

Not only is our digital world hyperconnected, it’s hypercompetitive, too. When organizations master the art of storytelling learned through media training, they become persuasive marketers positioned to gain an edge over peers.

Media training helps uncover gaps in an organization’s overall strategy and structure, arming participants with detection tools to be able to anticipate various situations. Your organization likely has Emergency Management protocols to follow when crisis or disaster occurs, such as severe weather events or when safety is at risk. Media training complements preparedness training, enhancing your playbook by encouraging leaders and spokespeople to practice how they would respond publicly in various crisis scenarios. In media training, communications teams can pre-draft “holding statements” before the pressure is on. By being proactive, organizations eliminate or minimize reputational damage and maintain trust in the event they’re tested later.

When organizations invest in media training, they’re demonstrating commitment to supporting their teams to make sure they have the resources they need. When your leaders and spokespeople react and respond calmly, it has a trickle-down effect. Employees will feel calm, safe, and valued, which will help maintain morale and employee retention.

Sometimes, organization leaders think they’re keeping up with the digital times by outfitting team members with the newest gadgets and tools to communicate, but it’s just as important to train all operators in strategy. Think back to Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. While communication has certainly come a long way since lanterns in churches, horses, and loud voices were our most reliable tools, Revere and those “in the know” still formed a solid strategy to make the most of the tools they did have access to.

In the present day, we have cell phones with the ability to record, send, and post – all at the click of a button – but our challenge is that we aren’t always equipped with the know-how when a moment goes viral. Media training helps to get us over that hump. Media-trained individuals are positioned to respond proactively, comfortably, and confidently in positive moments and ahead of potential tumultuous ones. Media-trained organizations boost credibility, reaffirm positions as trusted, reliable information sources, and are poised to have an advantage over industry peers who do not invest in this resource. Remember, if you can talk to a member of the media, you can talk to anyone.