By Jennigay Coetzer

Media training JohannesburgCompanies go to great lengths to get media coverage, but often don’t consider the risks associated with the exposure. 

Allowing spokespeople to interact with the media without proper training is a major risk.

It can result in factual errors in published articles, spokespeople’s comments being taken out of context, and negative speculation after a “no comment” statement or nobody being available for comment.

Media training will help spokespeople to be aware of the potential risks, anticipate them and have tactics up their sleeve for dealing with them if they arise.

It is difficult to rectify negative publicity after an article has been published or comments have been made to a live audience on radio or TV. Even if an article is retracted, the damage will already have been done.

Directors, product managers, subject specialists and other executives are often selected to be company spokespeople without being consulted or receiving any training before they are exposed to the media.

Consequently they have little commitment to the process and approach the task with a reluctance that is all too apparent to the journalists interviewing them. Not everyone is suited to being a spokesperson and nobody should be arbitrarily appointed as one.

Media training can reduce risk

Companies that do this are putting their reputation at risk. Spokespeople should receive media training, so they can safeguard themselves against the risks associated with being interviewed by the media.

Media training will prepare spokespeople for any curve-ball questions journalists might throw at them and lowers the risk of negative publicity.

Spokespeople need to be equipped to anticipate the interests of the target audience and prepare for the interview accordingly, instead of  focusing solely on their own marketing messages and talking at the media interviewer. The latter could result in a superficial article or bad radio or television interview that shows the spokesperson and his or her company in a bad light and delights its competitors.

Some company spokespeople view the media as the enemy that is out to get them, and if they do not receive media training to overcome this hurdle, their feelings will come across when being interviewed by journalists and could provoke antagonism.

Yes, there will be occasions when journalists have hidden agendas, but the best protection is to be prepared for any eventuality during the interview.

Companies sometimes get paranoid about talking to the media because they have experienced negative press or they have something to hide and are scared journalists will expose the skeletons in their cupboards. But this is even more reason to keep in with the media.

If a company is known to have a closed door attitude or its spokespeople are difficult to interact with they are fair game for negative publicity. Journalists are more likely to give a company the opportunity to give its side of the story if there is an ongoing relationship relationship at stake.

Companies should have a media policy that is aligned with their business objectives, sets out guidelines as to who should say what to the media, and is continually updated. Many of the spokespeople that come to me for media training have no idea what they are allowed to say or not say to the media.

An effective media policy should anticipate risk areas and include a strategy that will equip anyone dealing with the media to handle these.

To safeguard the company to the greatest extent possible, this policy should be applied at all levels of the business from top management down to the people on the switchboard and not just stuck away in an archive in the hopes that someone will refer to it.

Today, every employee that participates in social networking is a potential company spokesperson, and this should be covered in the media policy.

Jennigay Coetzer is a  freelance journalist, writer, author and trainer. Email her at jennigay@icon.co.za  for more information about her media training or writing courses or connect with her on LinkedIn. An ebook version of her book A Perfect Press Release – or Not? can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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