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Key comments raise important media training consideration

18 April 2013
The one thing our media training clients fear the most is having a reporter appear from nowhere and fire questions at them with a TV camera rolling. It could be on their way to work, an ambush outside their house, or a number of other scenarios. Our media training advice is always to keep calm, tell them you are happy to talk, but are off to a meeting so you can’t talk now. That footage would be too boring to use, so they are likely to agree to your conditions of an interview at a later date and give you time to prepare. However, this gets more difficult for politicians. Journalists know exactly where and when to find the MPs they want to talk to in the corridors of Parliamengt. So they basically Ambush them, throwing all sorts of questions at unprepared ministers and other MPs. These are called ‘Stand-Ups’. My media training advice to the MPs would be the same as that above. Agree to an interview, but not immediately. The only exception to this would be if a person knew the questions were coming and had already prepared. For example, Louisa Wall would have known media would have wanted to talk to her after the passing of her Gay Marriage Bill. Therefore, she should have been prepared for the media ambush. Recent examples from John Key have shown the importance of this advice with both media interviews and answering unexpected questions in the Debating Chamber. Because he is so genuine, Key likes to answer any questions thrown at him. The problem with this is that anything he gets wrong or regrets can be used against him in the stories the journalists produce. And as Prime Minister, he can be asked just about anything. From a media training perspective, he needs to either buy time to avoid these mistakes, or offer a quick sound bite (if the question is expected and he is prepared), but keep moving. Key has already said that he may need to be more careful answering media questions without notice. I would advise him to take that advice before he gives the media another opportunity to challenge his credibility.

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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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