Why confident CEOs still need media training

The benefits of media training are not always obvious to everyone.

Something we often hear is that a CEO doesn't need media training.


Because 'they've done loads of interviews before', 'they've done lots of public speaking', 'they can handle difficult questions' or 'they are very confident'.

But this doesn't help bosses make the most of media interviews and get their key messages across to their target audience.

So, what should you do with a CEO who doesn't want media training?

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The power and pitfalls of media interviews

Media interviews present a great opportunity.

Leaders and businesses need the kind of exposure that only speaking to a journalist can offer.

A story on a broadcast media channel can help you reach millions. And don't underestimate the influence of a journalist writing for a newspaper. Gaining this type of coverage regularly can lead to almost constant exposure.

But the wrong sort of coverage can turn into a PR disaster.

Take Mike Coupe. The Sainsbury's CEO was caught on camera singing ‘We’re in the money’ while waiting for a TV interview to discuss the supermarket’s plans to buy rival business Asda, boosting the company’s value by £860m.

In footage released by the media channel, he sang: “We’re in the money, the sky is sunny, let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along.”

Mr Coupe subsequently issued a statement saying he had sung the song to try to "compose" himself ahead of his interview.

But the gaffe prompted negative headlines and social media posts. And it impacted subsequent interviews with other media channels. Channel 4 News forced him on the defensive, for example, asking whether he stood to make money from the merger.

Another memorable example for all the wrong reasons saw Jeff Fairburn, the then boss of Persimmon Homes, walk away from the camera when asked questions about his bonus.


The role of media training

Good media training, carried out by current working journalists, is crucial for helping CEOs survive media interviews and thrive amid the scrutiny that comes with 24-hour news channels.

But how do comms professionals and public relations experts convey this to the boss?

To answer that, let's have a look at some of the excuses we often hear and how to counter them.


They had media training years ago and have been interviewed before

It's brilliant they had training before and have presumably been interviewed by a journalist.

But the media world changes quickly. And so do the techniques and methods used by journalists.

In the past few years, we have seen far more interviews carried out remotely through video conferencing software. And, anecdotally, there seems to be a rise in journalists highlighting interviewees they believe are being evasive.

Recent media training by current working journalists keeps CEOs up to speed with these changes, updates their understanding, and provides essential practice on controlling interviews and honing messages.

Being a media spokesperson is like any other skill – the more you practice, the better prepared and more successful you will be.


They think they can handle a journalist’s questions

Your CEO may be experienced at answering questions from shareholders, partners, employees and officials.

But hard-hitting questions posed by a journalist are a different challenge.

And if they simply answer the questions, they will not get the media interview outcome the company wants.

Media training, featuring realistic mock interviews, helps prepare spokespeople for dealing with challenging questions. And it enables interviewees to take control of interviews and get their message across with confidence and clarity.


They don’t see the value in giving interviews

Not everyone sees the benefits of talking to the media.

Some might feel social media allows them to deliver news without needing to go through journalists.

Others might think trying to navigate difficult questions during a media appearance is not worth the effort to land your message.

It's crucial to remember most CEOs are not communications experts.

So, you need to help them focus on the benefits.

Talking to a journalist promotes the organisation or business and helps ensure its messages and story reach a wider audience.

But it also raises the profile of CEOs in their sector and beyond.

Joining in the conversation with engaging, entertaining, interesting and intelligent interviews, delivered with clarity and confidence, will ensure they are viewed as an expert and thought leaders in their field.


They prefer other people in the organisation to be spokespeople

It is possible to have some sympathy with this one.

The company CEO does not always need to be the spokesperson.

And it may be better to put forward people who feel comfortable talking to journalists and understand the benefits of working with the media.

If you have a pool of recently trained spokespeople, they can lead on the most proactive work and many crisis scenarios.

But there are some crises where the public expects the CEO to be visible, and that involves talking to the media and answering challenging questions.

How the CEO communicates during a crisis can have a huge impact on brand reputation.


They are not expecting any media interest in the business

All organisations have stories to tell.

They might not always be the stories that capture the attention of television channels and national radio stations.

But they may be something regional and trade media would cover.

Additionally, difficult situations and crises can strike organisations at any time.

Even if your company has a small profile, an accident, IT failure, data loss or product recall, to give a few examples, could propel it to the centre of the media’s attention.

If you don't speak to the media and provide regular news updates, gossip and speculation will fill the void and can take on a life of their own. And the organisation can quickly lose control of the narrative.

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They don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the rest of the senior leadership team

We get it. It is understandable why a CEO may fear a weakness being exposed in front of colleagues during media training.

But media training is not about embarrassing people. It is about building confidence in answering tough questions, having the composure to manage different interview styles and unexpected twists, getting your message across, understanding how media works and knowing what to expect from media appearances.

Our journalist tutors are respectful of group dynamics, and sessions include lots of one-to-one coaching and guidance.

But we can also deliver one-to-one training if it would help remove this concern.


The wider benefits of media training

If you still need to convince your CEO of the benefits of media training, it's worth highlighting some of the hidden advantages.

Of course, training helps spokespeople prepare for media appearances, understand different interview styles and how the various media channels differ.

But it also develops transferable skills.

The techniques used to handle a difficult question in a TV or radio interview also work in boardrooms and client meetings, when dealing with awkward questions from colleagues and during presentations.

Media training is also a great team-building exercise. It brings senior leaders - and the media team - together away from the day-to-day distractions of the office and creates an opportunity to focus on refining strategies and messages, develop ideas and talking points, brainstorm, and identify future risks (and develop prepared responses to those vulnerabilities).

It can ensure everyone is focused on the same priorities. And identify those with stories that best explain your product, process, service or campaign.

Media training can also help CEOs develop empathy skills. It has become an increasingly critical leadership skill as people deal with more stress and challenges.

Media interviews are about communicating with people you care about. That may be existing customers, potential new ones, investors or policymakers.

And they need to be aware you care.

The audience-first approach taken by our journalist tutors puts leaders in the shoes of the people they want to reach so they better understand their challenges, problems, hopes and dreams. 

If you want to improve your media skills further then check out our 15 top media training tips.


So, is your CEO ready for media training now?

Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our media training

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Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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