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Big media training lessons of 2013

1 January 2014
While there were lots of big media issues in 2013, four stood out that offer valuable media training lessons for anyone who will, or may, find themselves in the news during 2014. foot in mouth1 If you make a mistake, apologise completely and immediately. Aaron Gilmore found this out the hard way. He first offered a semi-apology for abusing a barman in Hanmer Springs and then went to ground. By the time it came to the full apology, he had already lost the PR battle. A good lesson here is that people usually care more about how you handle a mistake, than the fact that you made one in the first place. 2 Make sure your spokespeople have undertaken media training. During the Fonterra fiasco, a spokesperson who appeared on Campbell Live was clearly out of his depth. He even wrongly said the suspected contamination of baby formula extended to more products than were under suspicion. Anyone who may need to do a media interview at some time in the future must be trained well in advance. That’s because a media interview is like no other conversation and the inexperienced can get into all sorts of trouble and damage reputations. 3 Remember your audience are the people watching from home or reading the newspaper, not the person interviewing you. When Simon Bridges appeared on Campbell Live to talk about Deep Sea Oil Drilling, he was clearly angry at the presenter. His whole interview was focused on attacking John Campbell for his bias reporting and disrespect of the Minister. While he had a point, the audience he should have focused on were the people watching their TV at home. It was a great opportunity to allay their fears of oil drilling, but instead, his focus was on the presenter. A few weeks earlier John Key appeared on the same show to allay fears of the GCSB legislation. In similar circumstances, he instead put his disagreements with Campbell to one side and focused on the people at home. He appeared statesmanlike, and got his points across clearly. 4 Always have a clear message to focus on for every media interview. EQC Boss Ian Simpson was an expert at this. While he would answer all questions, he would then transfer back to points he wanted to get across. This included his empathy for victims and his plans for getting their houses fixed. This not only made sure people received his messages, but it stopped him getting into trouble if asked a difficult question. It allowed him to answer that question briefly, before deflect ting the interview back to something he wanted to talk about. This was something Conservative Leader Colin Craig failed to do. He never appeared to have his own message. Do you know what his policies are? So not only did he fail to get any message across, he got stuck on difficult questions. For example, when asked about Chemtrails, he said he was not sure if the theory was real. That left the reporters obvious room for follow-up questions. What he should have said was something like: “I don’t think the theory is real, but what I do know is that New Zealanders have a right to know exactly what their Governments are doing. That’s why binding referendums are a major policy plank of ours.” A response along these lines would probably have satisfied the reporter on Chemtrails and got a major Conservative Party message through. That’s if that was a key message he want to get through? Remember, in a media interview, it’s not only about a reporter or presenter asking questions and you answering them. It’s a conversation and you also have a right to have a say about where it leads. 2014 will be a fascinating year from a media standpoint. The stakes are always higher for politicians in an Election year. Lack of media training skills will see many fall into common traps. At the other end of the spectrum, whether in politics or business, those will the skills will thrive.

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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