Media Training 101: politicians, be prepared

Randy Simms
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Everyone involved in public life should have media training. All professions have “tricks of the trade,” and knowing them can come in handy, especially if your enterprise is politics.

Bill Barry acknowledges the crowd gathered at the Greenwood Inn and Suites Wednesday for his announcement that he is seeking the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party.

Media training programs are fairly short — usually less than a day — but they provide a general understanding of how public communication is supposed to work. While some people like to think that communicating with the media is an art form, there is science behind it. Thanks to the advent of technology, it’s training that’s needed now more than ever.

So, for the benefit of premier-to-be Frank Coleman, as well as others who might have political ambitions, I recommend that you seek outside training in communications.

Look at the dismal campaign launch Bill Barry orchestrated when he first announced his intention to run for the leadership of the PC party. It was pretty obvious he didn’t receive good advice or have the basic knowledge needed to effectively communicate with his audience. He got it so wrong it was pitiful.

Barry thought he should speak

to the people Newfoundland and Labrador, when really it was the PC party he needed to communicate with. You can’t condemn the people you wish to lead and expect them to follow.

Barry left the race when he discovered that his words and actions had alienated the very folks he needed to win.

So, let’s talk Media Training 101. A good half-day session can accomplish a number of things. The training usually starts with a look at the media itself: what is the news all about? What are reporters after? What do they expect from you? It’s  simple, logical and yet completely unknown to many people. Some trainers explain how the media works; it is a business, after all.

Trainers might also introduce the concept of key messages.

They will show you what they are, explain how to develop them and present them. They will explain what “bridging statements” are and when you should use them. Bridging statements are designed to keep you on message and not allow others to misinterpret your position.

Media trainers will also teach you how to conduct a proper interview, no matter the circumstance, and they’ll give you examples of the different types of interviews there are — everything from how to handle a reporter whose questions are accusatory to the more passive style of information-gathering interview that many people employ.

Media training often ends with a discussion of crisis communication — how to address the media and other interested parties when a crisis hits. Knowing what you should look like, what you should say and when to say it is critical.

A political crisis is not the same as a crisis in the community.

An emergency circumstance where the public needs immediate survival information is a different animal. In such circumstances, all communication must be direct and immediate.

Police departments, fire officials, and other first responders usually handle these things quite well. I bet most, if not all, have had some media training.

Handling a political crisis requires the same speedy communications approach though, but today’s politicians seem to think otherwise. They are wrong. That’s why media training is required.

If your leader finds himself embroiled in a debate over abortion or accused of influence peddling over a paving contract, when should he talk about it? The answer is, “faster than fast, quicker than quick.”

Get out in front of it before it consumes you.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of real communication, speculation will fill the void. Prepared statements and written responses are designed to avoid real communication.

It’s ironic, really — we have more communications personnel employed in government now than at any time in our history, and some of them still don’t know how to communicate.

If you want to win in politics, sign up for media training. It just might save your political life.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • david
    May 10, 2014 - 10:21

    Leave it to the Newfoundland media, already the very worst, laziest and most disinterested in ever breaking a news story if it requires being the least bit confrontational ---- basically a bunch of invited tape recorder and microphone holders ---- to recommend that politicans should be better prepared for obfuscation, slick talk, and bafflespeak. Bravo, Tely! Your editorial 'take' on this issue has certainly exposed the crux of your existential woes ---and it has nothing to do with the internet as a delivery mechanism. It has to do with why you were ever around at all.

  • Harvey
    May 10, 2014 - 08:51

    Can one assume that the reason for Randy's sudden disappearance from VOCM was because of a lack of media training ?