"You Are Never Off the Record!"

You Are Never Off the Record! 
People Often Forget What Great CEOs & Leaders Are Trained To Remember 
Guest Post on (Social) Media Relations by Rory Kelly Connor

Over the course of my career, I’ve developed and managed many multimillion dollar initiatives. These programs focused on marketing communications, branding, issues management, crisis communications, public awareness and corporate reputation for an array of noteworthy clients. Outside of strategy, the key to the success of every campaign has been the role of the designated spokespeople chosen to deliver messages and answer questions with stakeholder audiences, most importantly the media.

For this reason, one of the most important tactics included in every campaign I created was Media Training for designated spokespeople. These individuals included CEOs and C-suite executives, mid-level management, physicians, thought leaders, patients, parents, entrepreneurs and authors, among others.

The goal of media training was always to prepare spokespeople to successfully respond to any and all possible questions, especially controversial questions, during interviews, presentations and other speaking opportunities. In addition, it was imperative that spokespeople were able to answer questions credibly and confidently in different formats, including live face-to-face or remote broadcast interviews, taped interviewsphone and email interviews, and presentation Q&A sessions. (which can be edited to distort context),

Media Relations: Be Prepared

As a media training expert, I have personally prepared numerous spokespeople to successfully and strategically navigate any and all questions – both professional and personal – from international, national and regional media of all kinds. As a media relations expert, I have also successfully generated an enormous amount of media coverage around the world. I understand how media think and what gets their attention. I also am always aware that they are a business, and controversy makes headlines, which translates to sales around the world. Therefore, media adore a good controversy.

The best way to navigate the media arena effectively is to be prepared. No matter what the size or focus of your business, whether corporation or entrepreneur, create a strategic Q&A overview that includes all possible questions you may ever be asked with powerfully strategic answers you would want to see in print. Include the hard questions, too. Develop a list of 3-5 key messages that should be delivered in every media or speaking opportunity. These messages should be crafted to generate a strategic outcome, such as providing information, motivating an action in the audience, or creating position or goodwill.

The next and most important step in being prepared is identifying and media training any and all spokespeople to be powerfully effective communicators on behalf of your brand or idea. Depending on personalities, the CEO, “leader” or owner of a business may or may not be the appropriate person to be the “face” of your company or product, and may not have the availability to be the designated spokesperson for every opportunity. Even the White House has a Press Secretary to handle many media responses. Therefore, media training several potential spokespeople and all designated external spokespeople is highly recommended, even if you have a publicist or public relations’ representation.

One of the most important things I stress during media trainings is that, no matter how friendly an interviewer seems, you are NEVER EVER off the record. Avoid lengthy or chit-chatty dialogues with reporters that stray off topic. Every word or phrase you say is quotable. EVERY WORD. I also train people to answer questions in complete sentences, making sure to repeat any part of the question back that provides context for the rest of the answer. This seems unnatural, yet it protects the nature of the sentence. How many times have you heard people say, “I couldn’t possibly have said THAT??!!” Yet, they did. In some situations, when used out of context or standing alone, a quote can be very damaging.

Media is Media, Even Social Media

During the last decade, the nature of much media has moved away from objectivity and news, and moved closer to agenda setting and entertainment. Added into the media equation more recently is the ever-exploding array of online media, both news-based and social media portals, including YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and many others. While many people view these portals as arenas to connect with friends, play online or be entertained, these portals are entities engaged in the business of making money and designed as portals for people to market themselves, their products or services to a captive audience. And the very nature of how these outlets make money is through visibility.expectation that anything is private anymore is simply an illusion (read the fine print). Therefore, the

That said, the user-friendly and social nature of these media has also blurred the lines that used to separate our professional and personal lives, requiring a level of authenticity and care regarding what we “post.” Every day, we are hearing a news story about someone getting fired over harsh criticism of an employer on Facebook, situations where a person is legally held liable for video comments on YouTube, or a serious public uproar over seemingly private comments made during a lunch meeting that were secretly videotaped on someone’s cellphone and then posted online. We won’t even mention the nude pictures and sexting scandals involving numerous politicians over the last six months. (Oops, I did!)

In an ever transparent, digital, WikiLeaks world where almost every person has in-hand picture and video capabilities, I cannot stress more strongly that YOU ARE NEVER OFF THE RECORD. Mean what you say and say what you mean. If you post something or do something in public, assume the world may be watching, including your “enemies,” the media, potential customers and investors, and “the competition.” If you want to be provocative, that’s okay, too. Just make sure you are being strategic and can answer the question “why” with integrity. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and get good counsel before using your “voice” to say something. This goes for everyone…as we are all CEOs of our own lives, our own designated spokespeople!

Last Word

The value of being media trained with an expert media trainer cannot be stressed enough for anyone who has a public presence of any kind. The right time to be media trained is as soon as you are public with your business, your presence or your messages. Too often, people start doing interviews or giving public presentations with no preparation on how to maximize these opportunities and handle any potential questions that may arise. They have no sense of impact or consequences of their words in the world. Even seemingly private individuals are often called out on personal postings online, held accountable by a vocal public.

Media training prepares you to more effectively and confidently navigate all conversations with both benign and confrontational (and often skeptical) “audiences.” It allows you to communicate appropriately and strategically during any crisis and speak with poise, substance and authenticity in any situation to anyone. It teaches you how to utilize specific strategies to ensure messages are delivered. It allows you to avoid being led down a path of entrapment, preventing you from being misquoted or taken out of context. You are trained to make every word count and think on your feet when blind-sided by an unexpected question or response. And media training gives you the ability to better manage reputation and build trust.

Most important of all, it reminds us that our words have power, for good or not. So “watch your mouth!”


Based in New York and Philadelphia, and serving clients worldwide, Rory Kelly Connor is a Peak Potential Coach, Certified Life & Career Coach, and Brand/PR/Business Strategy Expert. For more information, please visit www.canyouimaginelifecoaching.com.
Can You Imagine Life Coaching LLC © 2011

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