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Today, we are exploring the critical interplay between effective PR strategies and the often-underestimated factor of media training. In episode 22 of imPRessions, award-winning journalist and media coach Eileen Frere draws from her extensive journalistic background to share experiences and insights on the importance of media training. From strategy to execution to the essentials of knowledge, confidence, and technique, today’s conversation encompasses the tools needed to turn any client into a media darling.

imPRessions Episode #22 Transcript

Kalli: It’s the job of a good PR person to arrange interviews for their clients and place their spokespeople on platforms that will successfully spread their message. However, no matter how good the PR strategy is, it can all fall apart if the spokesperson isn’t properly media trained, whether in front of a camera or speaking to a journalist over the phone, telling a story or answering questions can be very nerve-wracking and even intimidating, especially if the person has little or no prior experience. Eileen Frere works as a media coach through  “The Company Doctors”, and is here today to talk to us about her extensive experience as an award-winning journalist and how her extensive media training gives executives and knowledge, confidence and training needed to be a media darling. Hi, Eileen, thank you for joining us today.

Eileen: Hi! Thanks so much for inviting me.

Jenn: Of course, pleasure is all ours, so I want to dive into it. We’ve heard of sports coaches even life coaches. Right. So, what exactly is a media training coach? Give us the breakdown of what you do on a regular basis.

Eileen: Yeah for sure. Well, a media coach can provide a range of training. It depends on the individual, their needs, their goals, what their level of experience is-or lack of experience- in terms of dealing with the media. So it might be helping somebody get ready for their very first media interview. Maybe it’s being broadcast live, maybe it’s recorded, maybe I’m getting you ready for your big presentation, or a news conference, or a one-on-one interview with a journalist. In some cases, I might be helping the head of an organization who may be in the past didn’t really want to put themselves out there, but now they’ve had a change of heart, and they want to build a bigger media presence. And then in other cases, I might be helping senior executives who are brand new to the job. They’re not used to being on camera, and now they’re expected to handle media interviews. So I help clients feel comfortable in front of the camera or the microphone, and I teach them about the ins and outs of the media. What does a reporter do? What will they be asking? You know what’s on the record? What’s off the record? What will actually happen during a broadcast interview? And I talk about what makes a good sound bite that journalists will use, right down to what you should wear on camera, what looks good on camera, what doesn’t, where should you look during an interview? Some of this may seem super simple, but it can make the difference between looking confident on air and looking shady. And then, you know, if you or your organization or your field of work is facing some kind of controversy. I can also help prepare you for those tricky questions that might be asked. Basically, you know, I’ve been a working journalist in major markets in the US and internationally, so I’ve been the one asking the tough questions and re-asking those questions until I get the answers. So I know how it works, and I can help you prepare to put your company or yourself in the best light. And at the same time, I’m helping clients find their authentic broadcast voice. That doesn’t mean sounding like your favorite anchor. It’s helping you find your own voice. So you’re talking like you would normally talk, using the words that you would normally use, but in a way that’s pumped up a little more. It’s amplified a little more for broadcast, but not so much that you don’t sound like yourself because the goal is for you to be presenting the best view.

Kalli: That makes so much sense, and probably helps people be comfortable if you’re telling them to, you know, be yourself. And, you know, I’m curious, in your experience, you know, who are the types of the people who need this type of media training the most? Is it the confident CEO who does know their business inside and out and is comfortable talking about it, but you know, maybe hesitates on camera? Or is it the less experienced executives who, you know, have kind of been thrown into the position of company spokesperson and haven’t really done this before?

Eileen: Well, well, you know what? It can be both and it depends on the individual, because you could have a very confident CEO who does a phenomenal job speaking to people within their own company because everyone’s talking the same lingo, they’re familiar with the lingo. But that same CEO may not be as effective once you put them in front of the camera, because they can’t boil down their message into simple terms that the average person can understand. So it depends on whether the CEO has had experience talking on camera. That will be a factor on how much media training might help them. And the same goes for the newly appointed company spokesperson. It depends on if they’ve had interactions with the media before. What’s their level of experience? Do they know what the media needs, what the media will be asking for? If it’s a news reporter calling, for instance, time is of the essence. You have to have your company’s message down. You have to be able to gather information quickly that the reporter needs and be able to deliver it within a very tight deadline. And then whether it’s, you know, the confident CEO or a new company spokesperson, it comes down to practice. Practice makes a huge difference. So media training can help you prepare for the interviews by giving you the skills and those tips. But then, down the road, the more interviews you do, the more comfortable you will be speaking publicly and on air.

Jenn: Now, what do you do though, when, as Kalli mentioned, with the confident CEO who thinks they’re killing it, and they really aren’t? They aren’t killing it, let’s just say. How do you get them to practice? And how do you get them to see that they’re that there are flaws in their delivery and there needs to be some of that practice implemented for future interviews? How do you get them to kind of change their ways?

Eileen: One of the exercises that I do is I record the client and I pretend to be the journalist. I am asking them the tough questions, and I’m there on camera. They’re being recorded, and I will keep asking the questions and keep asking the questions until I get the answer that makes them look the best. And then I make them watch it, and then we break it all down. And when you see, you might think, yeah, I’m doing a great job, I’m hot. And then you see yourself, and it’s like, “oh man, I gotta fix that”, or “I’m not looking in the right place” or “I’m, you know, looking down too much.” Once you see yourself on camera, it’s amazing the things that you pick up and the things that you know you can improve on.

Jenn: Oh, that’s a great point. And you certainly have the experience. You’ve worked internationally as a broadcast journalist. You’ve appeared on local and national shows, ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America. And you actually said earlier in our conversation that you, yourself,  are in the shoes of the journalists asking the hard-hitting questions. So in your top of mind right now, what do you think is the most important media training tips for somebody listening to the show that they could start working on right now, today?

Eileen: Right. Well, you want to be as prepared as possible. You have to know what first off, is your message? What are you trying to convey? Because one of the keys to being successful, whether you’re the interviewer or the interviewee, because I’ve seen it, as you mentioned, from both sides, is being prepared. So you want to be able to offer the best soundbite. You want it to be concise. You want it to be factual. It has to be impactful, and you have to know what you’re talking about. So whatever the outlet you need to ask, you know what is expected. You have to know, like how long is the interview? Who will be doing the interview? Is the interview live or recorded? And I personally treat every interview as though it’s live. It makes it makes it easier later on for editing if it’s being recorded. But also I find that the first take is almost always the best. So you also need to be able to switch gears like switch gears if needed. If, for instance, you are covering something or talking about something that’s changing quickly. If it’s a wildfire, let’s or let’s say if it’s your company is facing some type of crisis, there’s been a tragedy or an accident, and you need to be providing up to date information. You have to be accurate. You have to be appearing transparent. So you have to be prepared. That’s probably the biggest thing that I can offer. If you know your stuff, if you know what questions might make you look bad, you have to get ahead of it, and you have to be prepared on how you’re going to answer. And you practice that, and you figure out in your head, and you and you also do this with people like if you’re not talking with me, you’re talking with a colleague, and you are answering it, and you have them tell you like, oh, that sounded that didn’t sound right or you’re not. You know, that’s not very clear. I don’t get what you’re talking about. The other thing to work on is making sure that your conversational talk as though you’re talking to a friend. So when you’re getting your message out, you want it to be simple. You want your friend to be able to understand it so that they could repeat it back to you. So those are just some of the things. I mean, the one thing is practice, practice, practice, practice to be prepared. You know, ultimately, everyone wants to do their best. You know, whether you’re the anchor asking the right questions, you want to be able to ask the right questions. You don’t want to miss anything. If you’re being interviewed, you want to do your best. So you want to make sure that you’re making the show look good as well as yourself. You want to be presenting yourself in a positive light, and if you do a great interview, most likely you’re going to be asked back for future stories in order to tap into your expertise for future segments.

Kalli: You know, I love that you talk about being prepared because a lot of people think, “oh, you know, I, I have this down, I know the ins and outs,” but there is a lot more that goes into it than just, you know, the baseline of knowing what it is you’re talking about. You know, and you mentioned previously in our conversation now and then also when we spoke, you know, before this how important it is to demystify the media as part of that prep and how that do that to help your clients understand the process and build their confidence. Can you talk a little bit about how you help your clients see and better understand kind of what goes on behind the scenes and how that impacts their media training skills?

Eileen: Yeah, for sure. You know, there is fear of the unknown. We’ve heard that phrase, if you don’t understand how something works, there’s some anxiousness, especially if you’re about to interact with it. In this case, it is the media. So if you can learn more about what a journalist does, what their constraints are, and what they’re looking for in a good soundbite, then you know what you can offer. And you also know how to avoid or navigate some potential question traps. So I like to show a story either of mine or others, where I know what exactly went into putting the story together, what was the background, what’s the backstory? And usually, I show that story. I explain what went into it, and there’s surprised at the amount of legwork that went into it. Just getting the story done, getting the interviews, shooting the interviews, and then gathering the visuals needed to tell a memorable story. I talk about, you know, just the time constraints that news reporters are under. A journalist nowadays may be a one-person band. When they show up at your company, there may just be one person and they may be doing it all. They’re shooting their own interviews and video. They’re writing and editing by themselves. They’re setting up their own live shots. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and they may be doing more than one story a day. I know when I reported for KABC TV in L.A., I would have to do multiple stories in one day. So I would be doing live shots for multiple shows. And I can remember, you know, it was very common to be doing one story, having a story edited in one station track, and then having a second truck parked nearby where I’m editing a second story, and I’m running back and forth between the trucks because one story is airing at 4 p.m. and the other stories airing at 5 p.m., and then I’m writing a different version of the stories for the later shows, and then going live and then writing a story for the web. So there’s not a lot of downtime, not a lot of time. So I explain that to the clients, because the reporters are going to be in and out, and they’re going to be onto the next story. So it kind of reinforces and explains why you, as the client or the interviewee, need to be prepared. You have to be prepared with your answers. So by teaching clients about the sort of the basics of what goes on behind the scenes, it helps clients feel more comfortable because it’s removing that unknown, but also it helps focus their own message, like what are you trying to convey? How should you answer the question? And then you’re practicing your answer and practicing it so that it sounds conversational because you want to be telling your story in a way that’s focused and that it’s compelling.

Kalli: You know, it’s funny that you say it because a lot of times, even as PR people, we know that there are a million stories going on, but you forget that the reporters are covering multiple things. And like you said, they can be working and recording interviews, you know, throughout the entire day for the interviewee, whether the, you know, whether they’re experienced or more of a novice, you know, when you have, let’s say, those two minutes or however long you have, you know, what’s the best way to kind of create a rapport with the reporter? Because you don’t really have the time to, you know, kind of chit chat with them or, you know, obviously the point of the interview is, is to get to the point, but to kind of build that comfort with them. So it does go smoothly and it does feel like you’re talking to your friend.

Eileen: Well, I think what helps is with a pre-interview, a lot of reporters will call before the actual taped interview, and they will ask some questions and sort of get to know you before the actual time crunch of the interview itself. Apart from that, you know, all I can say is just doing a good job having your message down, not, you know, hemming and hawing and oh, let me check my notes or I’ll get, you know, can you just hang on one second? You know, if you have it together and you’re able to deliver to that reporter, then they’re going to ask you, they’re going to be calling on you again, most likely in the future, if it’s an area of expertise or if it’s an ongoing story, they’re going to come to you first. And that’s how you’re going to be building your rapport. You just want to be professional. I think that’s what reporters are looking for. They’re trying to do their job. They want you to do your job right and be able to give good soundbites. And I think that’s a way of kind of building trust.

Jenn: I know we’re talking a lot about what the interviewee can do. But you know, for Kalli and I especially, we’re both PR people. And, of course, we do our very, very best to make sure that our client is prepped and ready to go. We build briefing sheets. Sometimes we even do a quick, you know, Q&A with them. We pretend to be the journalist and throw some of those questions their way. Is there anything that anything additional that PR people can do for reporters that are moving so fast, outside of the obvious, of making sure our client is there on time and making sure the client is ready to go, but is there anything else that maybe pure people could do in addition to that that would really, really help out a reporter that’s just constantly on the go?

Eileen: Well, one of the things is obviously knowing what they’re talking about and being able to offer concise soundbites, especially if it’s for broadcast. But also if, like let’s say, for instance, it’s a controversial subject, and the journalist is there, and they need that soundbite. They need it as part of their story. First off, try to help your client think of a way. Let’s say something that they can’t comment on. And you don’t want to just say no comment and that’s it. Even if you can’t give all the information, then offer a little more, as in terms of an explanation of why you can’t comment in as human away as possible. For instance, you know, an example, if something has happened, there’s been a tragedy, the company is being investigated. You know your answer instead of just saying, I can’t talk about that or no comment. Have your client prepared with an answer where they can provide some kind of an explanation or a little more than saying no comment. So, for instance, you know, I would like to be able to comment on that, but there is an investigation underway. I want to make sure we’re giving you the most accurate information. So you’re giving it you’re kind of turning it back to the reporter and you’re giving them a little nugget more than no comment. But you’re also showing that, hey, I want to make sure that you’re accurate, that you’re that what you’re putting out there is factual. So when you say no comment, and you just walk away, reporters are going to keep firing off questions, as you know, they’re going to keep asking and asking, and you’re walking away and it looks like you’re trying to hide something. And that, you know, that’s the soundbite that the media is going to play over and over and over. So, you know, try and think of a way; if it’s something that they can’t go into detail with, think of a way or an answer that they can provide. You know, if it’s a tough question, dealing with some kind of controversy, the most important thing you do, you can do, and again, I go back to this is just be prepared because you already know what those questions are going to be that you don’t want to answer, that you’re hoping. Please, please, Lord, please don’t ask that question. So you don’t want to pretend that it’s not going to be asked. You’re going to get ahead of it, and you’re thinking of a way to answer that question. And as you said, you practice with your clients. Think of different ways that they can say the same thing, you know, answering the same question of what saying it, answering in a different way. And that will give the reporter a variety of soundbites to choose from instead of just saying, you know, no comment.

Jenn: That’s a that’s great advice, but I want to go back for a second to that stubborn, annoying CEO because, especially PR people, we have this all the time where even though we say, listen, your answers aren’t really hitting, you got a practice you got, and they go, “no, no, no, it’s fine. Once I’m in that chair when somebody. In the camera. It’ll be all good.” Now, what is your advice for that stubborn person? That isn’t. No offense to CEOs out there. I’m not saying it’s only CEOs, but as an example, we have a stubborn person who doesn’t really quite adhere to our advice practices a little bit. Now they’re sitting in that chair, and those tricky questions do come their way. Now. They’re not as prepared as they should be in the moment. What type of advice would you offer somebody to not say no comment, because we know that that’s absolutely no good. But what could they say if they’re not fully prepared? That doesn’t make them seem that they don’t know what they’re talking about or that they’re evading a question, but also kind of gets them off the hook.

Eileen: Well, if they if they really don’t know the answer or they’re not prepared, make sure they don’t pretend and fudge it. Right. No fudging answers. But, you know, they could say something like, you know, I don’t know the exact answer to that, but I’ll try and get the answer for you or I’ll put you in touch with the person that that can’t answer that. And then just make sure that you’re following up and you’re actually doing that. You know, there are instances where maybe a reporter has brought up something that the CEO really doesn’t know about. Maybe it’s something new that has just happened in the industry that day, even though they should be prepared. Maybe it is something they don’t know, so they can say, you know, I’m going to find that answer for you. I’m going to try to find that answer for you and then follow, make sure that they actually make the effort and try to follow up within a certain amount of time before the deadline of the reporter. You know, it just helps build trust, and it shows that they’re making an effort. Again, it goes back to… they really should be prepared if they’re the CEO. But yeah, if they’re stubborn, they don’t, you know, they don’t really want it. They think they know it all. You would think that they would feel slight embarrassment at not being able to answer. But I mean, that’s something that you can do is just sort of say, I don’t know the answer, but you know what? I’m going to try and get that answer for you, or I’ll put you in touch with the right person.

Kalli: I think that a lot of people, you know, a lot of interviewees, if they know that they’re being recorded and it’s not live, probably are more willing to do that. But yeah, it’s definitely, um, interesting to see sometimes when, you know, and I’ve seen interviews myself where there’s, you know, someone being interviewed, a CEO or whoever it is, and you can either tell that they’re unsure or really taken aback or that they can confidently say, like, it comes across so much better when they can confidently say, let me get you more information on that.

You know, and honestly, sometimes that’s a really great loop to try to get a second interview, you know, another opportunity.

Eileen: Absolutely.

Kalli: You know, and now, I mean, of course, there are so many reporters are out on the field all the time. You know, now we have virtual opportunities as well. Is the media training a little bit different for those? Because even though you’re on camera, you’re kind of in control of your own environment, you’re not going to a studio per se or going to a location, you know, what are the differences that the interviewees should know about or be trained for?

Eileen: Well, I think having the ability to do interviews virtually has certainly broadened opportunities for clients so that they can reach a larger audience. They can be seen in other cities and states, maybe even other countries, without having to leave their office or their home. In terms of training, when you’re doing virtual interviews, the questions are still going to be the same as in person, so you still need to prepare the same way. But some of the practical tips to be ready. Let’s say for a virtual interview, you have to remember to be looking into your webcam lens or the camera lens, which is kind of unnerving at first, but I think we’ve been doing it for so long, we’re getting used to it. You have to make that eye contact when it’s virtual in person interviews, the person being interviewed will be looking at the journalist. So you’re looking either to the left or the right of the camera, as opposed to directly into the camera lens. The only exception might be is if an anchor in the studio is interviewing you, then you’re going to be looking directly into the lens. You’re talking to the person who is talking to you. Again, that eye contact showing eye contact helps build trust. So one of the differences with an in-person interview, a reporter might ask you to show you doing something like showing something that you would normally be doing. They’re trying to get extra video or B-roll to help tell the story. So let’s say you’ve invented something. You have a product that a reporter might ask you to show or demonstrate. If it’s a virtual interview, that makes it tough to do so. For a story like that, where somebody is showing something, in person is better for in-person and virtual interviews, regardless of, you know, whether it’s virtual or in person, you need to pay attention to your background. You don’t want it to be busy. You want to have your background pertinent to what you’re talking about. When in person, while you should have some choices for interview locations for the journalist or the photographer they’re going to, they’re going to be the ones choosing the background. But you should be able to offer some locations for the journalist or the photographer to look at. And then, you know, whether you’re in person or whether it’s virtual, you have to look your best. When you look your best, you feel your best, your confidence shows. And plus, you know, if it’s a virtual interview, you don’t want that webcam slipping down and catching you in your undies, right? We’ve all seen that. The videos that have gone viral of that. So, you know, keep your pants on, look professional, and that goes, you know, look professional, whether it’s in person or virtual.

Jenn: And if you want to be really sneaky and you don’t like the question on a virtual, you could just close up the zoom and claim you had Wi-Fi issues. Gives you a few minutes to think about it.

Eileen: Technical issues? Yes.

Kalli: The wonders of technology.

Eileen: It will buy you more time.

Kalli: Those 30s instead of those dreaded “ums”.

Jenn: Exactly. That’s a little PR secret. I wanted to ask you a question about wardrobe. Just because you’ve said it a couple of times when you said earlier that you even help people physically be able to, you know, appear a certain way on camera and help them really look their best and be confident. Is it a matter of just feeling good, making sure you brush your hair and you’re making sure you’re like camera ready? Or are there actual like some fashion tips that people should follow? Like certain, I don’t know, patterns to stay away from where certain colors make you appear this way. Anything like that we should know of.

Eileen: Right. Well, there are certain like very thin stripes or polka dots. Like very thin, thin stripes or polka dots. Do not wear them on camera because they cause a vibration. It’s almost like there’s a little movement in your shirt, and it’s distracting. So no little stripes, no polka dots. Don’t wear white. All white can wash you out. Otherwise, wear what you are comfortable in. Like you want to look presentable. You want to make sure that if you’re speaking at, you know, let’s say you’re speaking at a very casual event. Let’s say it’s a race or something. You don’t want to be wearing like a three-piece suit. You don’t want to be wearing a gown, right? You’re dressed for the occasion, but dress professionally.

Jenn: Makes sense. But you still have to, even when things make sense. So you still gotta say to them, because people will show up in that gown, and you’re like, what are you doing?

Kalli: Right. It’s funny. It wasn’t for an interview, but, well, I mean, technically it was. And we needed a headshot. And someone once asked me if they could use a photo from their wedding…like their personal wedding. And I was like, I’m so glad that, like, because, like, they took that, like, look your best super seriously and like, I’m sure you looked beautiful that day, but like, that’s not what we’re going for today. Aside from not wearing wedding attire, you know, just to kind of general like, what are your top do’s and don’ts that you kind of share across the board with all your clients?

Eileen: Oh for sure. Well, don’t use words or terminology that the average person won’t understand unless you’re going to explain it. So you want to be talking conversationally. I always encourage people to speak as though you’re talking with a friend, and then don’t assume that the interview is taped, because these days interviews are often fed back live. They’re streaming, so you don’t want to stop mid-way through what you’re saying, and then you hope that you can do a do over because it’s going to look really bad. You want to act as though the interview is live, even though it’s not. Because again, I mentioned this before, but I find the first take is often the best. So for some people, if they know they can redo it, then they start to overthink it, and that’s when they start to stumble. The other thing is, don’t keep looking down at your notes. For one thing, I always encourage people don’t bring notes with you because you look unprepared. People want to connect with your eyes. Now you should know your stuff. You should be prepared, as we’ve talked about, so you don’t need to look at notes. It is okay to look down. Let’s say you’re double-checking there’s a statistic you don’t have off the top of your head, but you know the reporter is going to ask it. You could have that written down. And you can look down to cite that statistic. But make it brief. And then you don’t want to have what I call verbal diarrhea. And that is where you are rambling, you’re going off on tangents, you know, the reporter’s eyes are glazing over, and then this goes back to being it’s all being prepared. You have to know the focus. You have to know the focus of the interview. You have to be ready to answer the difficult questions, especially if your company or your industry is facing some controversy. And then, you know, by doing that, by knowing the focus and being prepared, you appear poised. You don’t have that deer in-the-headlights look, right? When somebody asks a question. And then the last bit of advice that I can offer, I think it goes back generations, because I know my mother and my grandmother would always say, you know, sit up straight, stand up straight, don’t slouch. And it’s true with this, even, you know, when you are on air, you will appear more confident if you’re sitting up straight. Standing straight, it also opens up your diaphragm. So you are you know, you’re pumping it up a little more. You’re energizing your speaking voice. So, those are just some of my do’s and don’ts that I like to share.

Kalli: Well, thank you so much Eileen,  really great tips. And you shared a lot of great insight today on how to help clients really rock any interview. For those tuning in, thank you also for joining us today. And if you have any questions, comments or episode suggestions, you can reach us at impressions@pollackgroup.com. Until next time.