Media Training


Did Kanye West’s Media Trainer Quit? Dealing with the Most Difficult Type of Client to Coach

I have to be honest, I find Kanye West to be HIGHLY annoying and I haven’t kept up with his latest drama. I heard rumblings that he had some sort of incident with the “Today” show, but never learned any specifics. When I ran across articles saying that his media trainer had quit after advising him not to do the interview, I started thinking about the most difficult clients a media trainer has to work with.

When it comes to media training there are essentially two types of clients–those that believe want media training and those that feel obligated to get it. Clients who feel obligated to be media trained are the hardest to work with because their confidence level is typically higher than it should be or worse, they believe that nothing they do will revamp their image, or even worse they believe that the media is out to get them and resent having to deal with it at all.

A third type of client is one that has been forced into it by necessity–either because their organization requires it or they’ve started a business and they have to be out in the forefront. Those clients are still way easier to deal with than obligated ones.

When dealing with those who are only signing up for media training because they feel obligated to do so, I have a few quick tips.

Dealing With Their Ego

Typically clients with huge egos have had good experiences with the media and have been lulled into a false sense of security. This may be because they’re good with the media in terms of poise and articulation; however, they may not actually be accomplishing anything. I find it helpful to practice messaging with my most egotistical students and I always record them. When I play the recording back I drill them on what they think they listener got out of the interview. Often they are surprised to find out that although they didn’t bungle the segment, they didn’t do anything spectacular either. Bubble busted. Too many people focus on what didn’t go wrong in an interview rather than what didn’t go right. Sure you may have talked about your new product, but did you mention the web site? The company name? Why your product is better than competitors?

Encouraging Quitters

This type of client is the King of Woe is Me. They think that any appeal to the media is pointless and that they’re stuck with their bad image (or no image at all) forever. They’re afraid to try and fail, and they believe media training is a waste of time. This is where case studies are helpful. Find public figures and incidents similar to what your client is struggling with and show them how the perception of that person, idea, company has changed with good coaching. Many times these clients also lack confidence–save the hardcore practice interviews for other clients. You don’t want to scare this kind of person, the fear of God is already in them.

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Clinton Portis Apology Proves–It’s Not WHAT You Say, Its WHEN You Say It

Yesterday NFL Redskins’ Running Back Clinton Portis apologized for comments he made regarding woman reporters. He was asked to discuss female reporters in the locker room. The question was spurred by the Ines Sainz story; although Portis was not specifically asked about Ms. Sainz and maintains that he was not aware of the Sainz controversy at the time he answered the question.

Essentially, Portis said that women reporters probably are attracted to men on teams and that it’s likely that there is or can be attraction on both sides. Some woman reporters, such as Jemele Hill of ESPN, took offense to Portis’ comments believing that he implied woman reporters are on the prowl in the lockerrom. No doubt Portis came close to implying that by saying that “I know you’re doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I’m going to cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I’m sure they do the same thing.”

Close but no cigar. What Portis is describing is the human condition as far as I’m concerned. Noting that someone is attractive doesn’t imply a plot, plan or obligation to act—though in a society as body conscious and sexually repressed as America, it’s no wonder that people don’t understand that. However, I know that if attraction and action always went hand in hand, I wouldn’t be able to keep a job anywhere, cause Lord knows I LOVE MEN. All types of men!

The public flogging Portis experienced just shows that sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s WHO says it, WHEN they say it, and whether or not the subject is toxic. Portis has a history of making comments that are decidedly not thoughtful and showing his whimsical side more often than not. So there’s a history there that colors everything he says, that’s what I mean by “who.”

When I use the term toxic, and you will see me use that from time to time, I mean not-able-to-be-safely-handled or navigated.

Portis spoke in an environment that simply wasn’t navigable. And the NFL and the Redskins organizations’ reaction to such benign comments proved it. Had they waited two hours they would have found there was no controversy here. I will never understand organizations’ rush to force apologies and throw employees under the bus.

The practice of handling media relations by denouncing benign comments made by people who aren’t authorities on subjects (no one is clamoring for Portis’ views on feminism) is a strategy that has proven ineffective more times than I can count.

To relate this more closely to the world of those of you who work in public relations…

There’s one huge mistake that I believe media trainers make when training people. For those of you who work in PR, you can tell me you agree or disagree. Every time the idea of putting together a training session for speakers comes up, some public affairs specialist/public relations rep says:

We need to have someone ask them TOUGH QUESTIONS. We gotta put them right in front of the camera—show’em how tough it is to talk to the media! That way they’ll take it seriously.

Sure, if you define “seriously” as scaring the crap out of someone and causing a brain freeze mid-sentence. I’ve been media training people for the better part of 4 years now. And I have yet to have a client who felt that talking to the media was “no big deal.” I’m not saying those people don’t exist, but I think they’re pretty rare as far as subject matter experts go.

Most people are scared to speak to the media fearing just the sort of treatment the hypothetical PR person suggested they conduct during a training session. [I’ll blog more about media training and putting those sessions together later.]

Unfortunately (sarcasm), most reporters are perfectly nice which lends to interviewees letting their guards down. –Insert foot in mouth—Fallouts for interviews where the reporter was tough tend to evoke public sympathy for the person being interviewed by the “mean ol’ ” media. (I said that in my best Sarah Palin voice)

Thus far, the biggest struggle I’ve encountered  working with academics, scientists, and executive branch executives is convincing them why they should do media and that training will give them confidence that bad experiences will be few and very far between.

I hate when a client has a bad experience and comes to me and says “See, I told you, I told you!!” Because, in those very, very rare instances, they typically did nothing wrong. They simply spoke in a toxic environment, and the only thing to do going forward is take the “L” and try your best to forget about it.

What I hate is when media trainers are informed about a clients’ bad experience and their reaction is “well, you have to be more careful next time.”

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do.  Media trainers should recognize and acknowledge those instances to avoid confusing clients.

As for Clinton Portis, he’ll be okay. He’s probably already receiving his fair share of behind the scenes support. Much of it probably coming from his disingenuous employer.




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