Media training: be authentic and tell the truth

colesMedia training: be authentic and tell the truth
In what should have been a well-staged media conference, the Labour government failed to get it right when they chose a young man, employed by Coles, to represent those workers who will be impacted by the Fair Work Commission’s decision to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers.

After the press conference, Coles released a statement saying the young man would be unaffected as he is employed under a enterprise agreement, which means the change in penalty rates would not apply to him.

We then uncover that the young man is a member of the ALP and recently posted on social media his support of the Labour government and his close relationship with the opposition leader, Mr Shorten.

Once the facts surfaced, the press conference became a talking point for all the wrong reasons. By not being authentic, and telling the truth, the story lost the desired outcome the ALP would have been hoping for. Not only has the press conference failed, the young man lost all credibility by misrepresenting the thousands of workers who will be negatively impacted by the Fair Work Commission’s decision.

During our media training sessions we go through many examples of what can go wrong when a spokesperson lies and fails to be authentic. We show the impact it has on their personal brand and the company brand. So our top tip for the young Coles employee is when fronting the media, be it live television, radio or being quoted in print media, you are responsible for telling the truth and being authentic. That also goes for posts on social media; if any conflicting messages have been posted on social media, they will surface, thanks to search engines. So, keep it real and be honest to ensure your key messages are not compromised.

Media Training: Trick questions

The interview is looming, you’ve rehearsed your key messages, as well as the call to action, (this could be directing your audience to your website for more information) and you’re feeling confident in your preparation techniques. So how do you handle the rough and tough questions, which can turn a well-prepared interview into a controversial headline? Here are the top three curly questions: speculative, false premise and accusatory questions.

Speculative questions:
Many journalists will try to trap you by pushing you to speculate about the unknown.  Many of these questions might seem innocuous; they’re questions asking you to predict the future and comment on the likelihood of a scenario; guessing the outcome. By answering speculative questions, a lot of damage can be done to your reputation, particularly if you guess wrong. Journalists can use sound bites from your response and use it against you in future interviews.

False premise questions:
Journalists may include a false premise in their questions with the aim of sensationalising your response. This line of questioning is common with political commentators for example, the question starts with a logical statement with an assumption that is false.

Accusatory questions:
This style of questioning is common when a journalist is chasing a story and looking for a defensive response. An example is a journalist approaching you unexpectedly either exiting a building or getting out of a vehicle. Being approached by a journalist with a microphone and camera pointing at you can be confronting.  Often the ensuing response is unprepared and defensive.  The best way to handle the situation is to keep calm; both in your tone and through your body language.

I’ve included a link to a CNN segment with the late Joan Rivers who was caught up in a interview full of accusatory questions. Watch as the interview derails as Ms Rivers becomes increasingly agitated and frustrated.

Media training: live radio

1458004497681There’s nothing like a fiery debate on talk back radio – especially when the interviewee gets hot under the collar. For the host, in this case, Neil Mitchell, its the kind of heated, sensationalist discussion that gets the phone lines jammed with passionate callers all desperate to contribute their own views.  Its talk back gold which is why this discussion runs much longer than a regular interview.

Anthony Kelly is the Executive Officer at the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre.  He agreed to be interviewed in the knowledge he had an opposing view to Mitchell. Listen as Anthony Kelly becomes more and more agitated, frustrated and angry.

In this kind of forum emotions need to be kept in check.  Be clear on your messages and above all else remain calm.  Towards the end of the interview Neil Mitchell doesn’t say much – letting Mr Kelly do all the colourful talking.

And remember – the radio host will always have final say.

Neil Mitchell talks about Melbourne riots with Anthony Kelly 

Media training: How to structure a press release that will stand out from the rest

We often hear from clients about their brilliant, show-stopping press releases yet they are baffled when they get no bites from busy journalists. Try these helpful hints when structuring your next press release.

  1. Know what angle you are going to take
    Make sure in your pre-writing thinking you consider the angle of the story. Is the news interesting? Will anyone outside of your organisation care? Make sure you keep to the facts; what does your product, service or event have to offer readers.
  2. Know what outcome you want
    Create interest in the headline and be direct. Make sure your release has a purpose. Keep in mind that your goal is to make journalists want to pick up the phone or send an email to find out more.
  3. Make sure nothing is missing
    Is your news timely? Or has it passed its use-by-date? With online news sites giving readers up-to-the-minute news updates your release needs to be factual and informative. Make sure you don’t leave out useful information making your release newsworthy.
  4. Include a quote
    Keep in mind the purpose of a press release – you’ve got news to share and a strong, descriptive quote will capture the attention of journalists. A quote also provides the journalist with name of your spokesperson and who they could potentially interview.

Lastly, make sure you do more than just email your press release to media contacts. Use your website to promote your news, preferably with a link on your home page. Not only are you adding fresh content to your site, search engines will love it.


Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff and her slip of the tongue: Media Training Mistakes

Recently Peta Credlin, well known in political circles as Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff made an unfortunate slip of the tongue when facing the media over a drink driving charge.  I’ve watched this clip a few times just to make sure I didn’t miss something ….

She addresses the waiting media pack with what seems to be a prepared speech.  She acknowledges her mistake, thanks police and the courts and then says ….

“Justice doesn’t have to be done, it has to be seen to be done.”

Watch the clip and see if  you agree with me.


I’m sure it was an honest mistake.

Incredibly The Australian fixed up her gaffe and quoted her as saying “Justice doesn’t just have to be done, it has to be seen to be done.”

But when her boss and other politicians are so harshly judged and scrutinized by the media, I wonder why Ms Credlin”s mistake was not even mentioned and in the case of The Australian, her quote was doctored so that the mistake was rectified.

What do you think?

Star media performers

When it comes to media training there are loads of examples of what NOT to do. Politicians usually star in these blooper reels, followed by ill prepared business people and stupid sports stars.
I’m often asked for examples where interviewees have done particularly well … Where they have confidently delivered their key messages and yet remained authentic and believable.

John Borghetti, CEO of Virgin Australia, is one of my favourite media performers. He is calm, compelling and on message. Here is a link to a fairly relaxed interview with The Bottom Line.

I’ve also got to give a gold star to Olivia Wirth from Qantas. Even when under siege by the media she is able to stay calm and focused on her Qantas key messages.″/

And whilst politicians usually get a bad wrap I have to applaud Anna Bligh who went from villain to hero thanks to her media performance throughout the 2011 Queensland floods. It wasn’t enough to win her an election however I think people really respected her honesty and her leadership through what was a catastrophic time for Queensland. title=”Anna Bligh “>

Why the mainstream media can’t or won’t name Australian Entertainer arrested in London.

Late last week rumours were rife that an iconic Australian Entertainer now living in London had been arrested on suspician of sexual offences.  The arrest is apparently not directly related to the Jimmy Savile case but is part of Operation Yewtree which has drawn attention around the world.

While the mainstream media remained conspiciously quiet about the exact identity of the arrested man, twitter outed him as did a number of smaller online media outlets.  The media in Australia said it was unable to identify the man for ‘legal reasons’ however no one could explain exactly what those reasons were or why suddenly this man was afforded anonymity when so many others before him were not.

Claire Harvey from The Sunday Telegraph explained her decision to refrain from naming the man in her column published over the weekend.

“So why do I think it’s not fair to name him?

“Not because I’m scared of any legal penalty for doing so, or because I’m worried about what the print media’s self-regulator, the Australian Press Council, might do to me.

“It’s because I believe we have absolutely no right to jump past the legal process.

“But people are named all the time as being questioned by police, you might argue. Sure – but they’re not hugely famous international celebrities.

“We have no confirmation – beyond gossip – of what this entertainer is supposed to have done.”

It’s a long time since I can recall such restraint and respect from journalists and so while this might explain Claire’s decision, I’m not convinced it speaks for the industry at large.

Then I read Nick Miller’s piece from the Sydney Morning Herald and suddenly the whole story made alot more sense.

Here’s Nick Miller’s explaination for why journalists are being so unusually coy about claiming a scoop …….

Last  Friday journalists in London camped outside the home of an Australian  entertainer in Berkshire. It was a chilly day, but  most complaints weren’t  about the weather. They were about the fact that they would not, unless someone  broke ranks, be able to publish or broadcast  the instantly recognisable name of  the man they were pursuing.

Partly they were being kind. Partly they had legal fears. And partly it was  due to the self-conscious paranoia that has enveloped British media for the past  year.

Last week an 82 year-old man from Berkshire was arrested by British police on  suspicion of sexual offences. He was not charged,  but bailed to a date in May  pending further inquiries. He is being investigated as part of Operation  Yewtree, launched after claims emerged that the 1970s’ TV host Jimmy Savile had  abused teenage girls.

The accusations against this man were not linked to Savile.

And that’s all the news fit to print according to official, on-the-record  sources, and it’s pretty much all you can find in the mainstream, professional  media.

However, those who tweet and blog have published the name of  a high-profile  Australian entertainer. ”What a disgrace mainstream media won’t name [the  man],” one Twitterer tweeted.

”The MSM propaganda machine is working overtime in a bid to sway public  opinion,” another blogged.

Australian PR director Geoffrey Stackhouse chose to name the entertainer and  then use it as a ”teaching moment” to spruik for business on his company  blog.

”Our legal system is based on the presumption of innocence, but sadly the  court of public opinion is not,” he wrote, without apparent irony. It was not  clear what his sources were for naming the entertainer.

Perhaps it was Twitter, which overflowed with the man’s name at the weekend,  some being slightly cautious about it (that is, phrasing it as a question), most  not, and many jumping straight to ”X is a paedo” without any visible pause to  consider its basis in fact, legality or compassion.

Or Mr Stackhouse may have played an easy game of join-the-dots. In the age of  Google, this narrows the field a tad. No wonder reporters at the stakeout  expressed fervent hope the antipodes would be the first to break the naming  taboo.

Fairfax Media has been unable to confirm from official sources the identity  of the arrested man.

Politics and media blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, has jumped the  hurdle that the press did not, naming the suspect on the principle of free  speech. He blogged: ”a secret police is a dangerous thing, reporting the arrest  of suspects is an important safeguard in a free society …  No judge has ordered  reporting restrictions in relation to [the man], no super-injunctions prevent  the reporting of news concerning him.”

Staines told Fairfax  many British media have plenty of evidence to  confidently name the suspect –  including seeing police at his house when it was  raided last year – but arrests following the phone hacking scandal have led to a  ”compliance structure” in the press.

Journalists have been arrested over their ”off-the-record” contact with  police. Last week The Sun’s  deputy editor Geoff Webster was in court,  charged with authorising payments to public officials for information.

On the subject of professionalism required of police officers, the Leveson  inquiry into press regulation said:  ”Leaks about forthcoming arrests or the  involvement of the famous in the criminal justice system are not in the public  interest.”

In this climate, newsrooms are unable to report stories they used to. ”The  Met[ropolitan Police]  just won’t give you any guidance,” one reporter told Press Gazette in December. ”They say there’s no such thing as  off-the-record any more.”

Fairfax understands that many in the British media have established the name  off the record. But they can’t publish on this basis.

”If a newspaper published that it was [the person], they would be asked ‘how  do you know?’,” Staines said. ”You can’t say that you have a contact at the  Met who confirmed it. Well, you can say that to the editor but not the lawyer.”  Staines said this was ”curtailing the freedom of the press through fear”.

Another reason for excessive caution is that media reforms prompted by the  Leveson report are still in the hands of politicians and the public (and actor  Hugh Grant). Offending the public mood could have long-term consequences for  press freedom.

Still another is the recent scandal involving former Tory treasurer Lord  McAlpine, who was wrongly accused of child abuse in a BBC Newsnight  report. If this investigation came to naught after the entertainer’s name was  tarnished, the press could take the blame.

”Heard of McAlpine?” one BBC reporter at the stakeout said. ”We’re never  going to be the first to name anyone ever again.”

The accused man has helped keep things quiet. Others investigated by Yewtree  angrily, publicly, quotably denied their guilt. In this case there has been  silence. His agent does not return calls, emails or texts. The stakeout was  uneventful.

Finally, and most generously, there is the ”being nice” explanation. The  entertainer is much-loved by generations of TV-watchers. Police are taking the  accusation seriously, but they evidently do not now have enough evidence to  press charges. He is old, and reportedly  was so upset by the accusation that he  spent Christmas in hospital being treated for acute stress. His camp is said to  be emphasising his frail health to newspapers.

Is it such a bad idea not to name him just yet? Or is such self-censorship a  slippery slope? So far, the old media have one answer to this question, and  social media another. But, as shown with the photos of naked Prince Harry in  Vegas, there is only so much a tabloid can stand until its instincts take  over.

And if one domino falls, every media outlet is likely to follow.

Nick Miller is Fairfax Media’s Europe correspondent.

Read more: