Media Training Tag - BissettMatheson Communications Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:18:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb What's all this Media Training stuff about anyway?

I am asked every once in a while what our media training workshops are all about. So I’m thinking, given that we happen to have our next course coming up next week ,and there are still a few seats available, wouldn’t this be good time to blog on this issue? Well yeah! As they say, timing is everything. 

I can tell you our media training workshops are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you might dismiss that as a biased, self-serving view. So, how about the view of a typical past participant.


There are lots of other testimonials on the media training page of our website.

More specifically, our media training is a combination of theory, examples, stories, and lots of hands on practice, both on and off camera, followed by discussion on the responses - what worked well, what didn't, and other approaches to consider. In short, the workshops are very interactive. What we hear over and over from participants is that what they learn is invaluable, and can be put into practice immediately. Stuff like this:


Another focus of our workshops in the attitude you should adopt in dealing with the media. We find that often there is a mistrust that can be paralyzing. We talk about what reporters are really looking for, and hopefully by the end, participants see the media not as an intrusion to be avoided, but an opportunity to be embraced. But embraced with the appropriate amount of caution. We're all for honesty, but there are limits to what you should share. The workshops look at those boundaries.

They are a lot of fun as well, from the discussion in general, and from video of some media encounters you will learn from, such as an excellent example by actress Anne Hathaway of handling a very awkward question to an appearance on a CBC panel by a representative of Ethical Oil that would make you cringe.

There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

Which brings me back to our upcoming media training workshop next Thursday. If you or someone you know may be interested, details are here.

Thanks for reading. As usual, you can "like" this blog above, rate it below, and ReTweet it if you feel so inclined. And especially, thanks for sharing with anyone you feel may be interested. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:02:42 +0000
My experience researching elevator speeches

In advance of one of our recent media training workshops one of the participants asked if I could spend some time on elevator speeches.

We pride ourselves on customizing our workshops to best meet the needs of participants, so as long as it is communications related, we do this. Usually it is a request to focus on one media or the other, or crisis situations, or how to go about getting good publicity, that kind of thing.

This is the first time we were asked to spend some time on elevator speeches.

What we teach about messaging are skills that are quite transferable from dealing with media to public meetings to one-on-one, and of course elevator speeches would be included.

But I wasn’t terribly comfortable that there aren’t specifics to elevator speeches I wasn’t aware of, so as part of my preparation I hit Google to see if there were any words of wisdom or techniques I should be aware of.

I did find a bit to add to my content but what struck me more than anything else is the amount of crap I found. Some of the advice defied common sense and it was obvious whoever wrote of this stuff had no clue whatsoever about effective communications.

I actually read that in an elevator speech, the most important thing is to make sure you highlight your biography, where you went to school, who you worked for, list your accomplishments, yadda yadda yadda. Can you imagine? Other advice was along the same line. This coming from people who apparently own or work in media consultancies.  That’s scary.

The problem with this, of course, is that people without a communications background may believe it.

I know it’s impossible but as I read from some of these sites I couldn’t help wishing there was some kind of standard people who purport to be authorities on a subject have to meet.

The take away, and no surprise here, is don’t believe everything you read. Or, maybe more on point, if it sounds stupid, that’s because it is.     

Thanks for reading. Now please consider rating, liking, RTing, sharing or adding a comment.  

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 24 Jun 2014 02:22:02 +0000
Media Training - Don't wait until after you need it


“Experience Is Something You Don’t Get Until Just After You Need It.”

-Steven Wright

In almost every media training course we do, there is inevitably at least one person who signed up because of a media encounter that did not go well. Experience just after they needed it.

It is obviously better to make your mistakes in the safe confines of a classroom, than hear them on the local news or read them in the local paper.

While I believe anyone who deals with the media should have media training, please appreciate that this view comes from someone who teaches this stuff, so there may be a bias in my comments. But I’m not saying you have to take our workshop. There are other options.

Read a book on dealing with the media (I can recommend some titles) or go on-line as there is a ton of material available, from very good to simply awful, but with some searching, you will find lots of solid information.

Do some homework and learn how to deal with reporters with confidence. Don’t just decide not to engage with them. Overcome your fear of being interviewed because it can be paralyzing, and counterproductive.  They don’t bite, unless it’s a consenting adults thing but I digress.


I can’t count how many times, when I was a reporter, I would phone an individual or a company, usually because they were being beaten up in the media and I was acting out of a journalistic fairness obligation to get their side. But the person representing the other side of the story wasn’t interested in talking to me.

Often the conversation would go something like this:

Me: Mr. Jones, I’m phoning because I’m doing a story on such and such, and since you are involved, I’d like your comments.

Mr. Jones: Thanks for calling but look; we have a policy that we don’t talk to the media.

Sometimes that would be the end of it, but sometimes, depending on how much I wanted that quote or maybe just based on my mood, I would push further.

Me: Why is that?

Mr. Jones: Because we got burned once by a reporter and decided that we were never going to allow that to happen again.

And if I pushed further they would tell me the story. It’s amazing the number of times I was told that what happened, happened years before and they have been avoiding the media ever since.

So whatever was being said about the company, that they were polluting the environment or were unfair to employees or whatever, would go unchallenged. The damage to reputation unmet. The opportunity to turn a negative into a positive missed.

This strikes me as awful. All those opportunities lost. All those occasions to balance out the bad news or share good news that would go unnoticed. All those occasions to present the image you want people to have of you, your company or your organization squandered. Allowing people with sometimes totally different agendas to decide what the public perception of you will be.

In our media training I use an analogy I read somewhere years ago that refusing to deal with the media is like allowing the hockey game to begin without even putting your team on the field. So the other team is going ahead and scoring goals with the public while you are hiding away, avoiding an interview because it might not go well.

Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t the more sensible option be to learn how to improve the odds of your interview going well and then using those skills to get in the game and defend or promote yourself?  It’s a thought.

Thanks for reading. Now please take a second to "like" it above, rate it below, RT, share, or leave a comment.   


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 27 May 2014 00:56:22 +0000
Storytelling - the most effective form of communications


In our media training workshops, I often talk about the power of telling a story to communicate an idea or convey a message. One of the examples we sometimes use is former US President Ronald Reagan. He was an absolute master, so even though his stories are getting a little dated, I'm reluctant to let them go. This example from back during the Cold War is one of the reasons why.

You notice what he did there. We were drawn in to that short story about he and Nancy on the streets of Moscow. He got us engaged, then made his point that communism doesn’t respect freedom. How much more effective that is, than if his speech simply made the point, perhaps supported with statistics. In other words, the approach many others may have taken.

The reason I am mentioning this now is because I just read of another great example of storytelling that I’d like to share. This is from a piece in the Harvard Business Review Blog Review, focused on the power of storytelling as a strategic business tool.

It talked about research focused around that Budweiser ad that went viral after it aired on the Superbowl. You know the one with the adorable little puppy who had a thing for this Clydesdale, and they became separated when someone took the puppy away, but then the horse organized the other Clydesdales and that led to the unlikely couple getting reunited, and they go back to frolicking together and supposedly live happily ever after.

It’s goes right off the scale for cuteness, leaving viewers feeling good in a collective aaawwwwww. But what makes it work beyond the cuteness of the puppy is the story of this special bond and how they overcome adversity. It’s like a mini-movie in 60 seconds.

The writer of the article goes at this from an academic perspective, explaining why it works from the perspective of the neurological affects on the brain when we watch it, the techniques at play etc. etc.

All of that is interesting, but what caught my attention was another example he used of effective storytelling. He wrote about a lawyer named Moe Levine who was seeking compensation for his client, a man who had lost both arms in an accident.

Rather than a long summation focusing on what happened, and why, and going on and on about safety measures and medical reports and whatever else might have been useful in swaying a jury, Levine instead relied on simply telling a short story. It only took him about 30 seconds, but in that time he painted a brief and emotionally compelling picture. Here’s what he said:

As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.

Levine reportedly won one of the largest settlements in the history of the state of New York.

Storytelling. In communication I am hard-pressed to thiunk of anything more powerful. 


Did you find this blog worthwhile? You can "rate" it below, "like" it above, and if you feel so inclinded, leave a comment or RT. Thanks. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 13 Mar 2014 00:42:05 +0000
Media Training - What it's all About

I was asked the other day what our media training workshops are like? So I'm thinking, how convenient (wink). Given that we have our next course coming up a week from Thursday, and since we still have some seats to sell, wouldn't it be timely to blog on this issue. As they say, timing is important, so here it is.

I can tell you our media training workshops are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you might dismiss that as a biased, self-serving view. So, how about the view of a typical past participant.



There are lots of other testimonials on the media training page of our website.

More specifically, our media training is a combination of theory, examples, stories, and lots of hands on practice, both on and off camera, followed by discussion on the responses - what worked well, what didn't, and other approaches to consider. In short, the workshops are very interactive. What we hear over and over from participants is that what they learn is invaluable, and can be put into practice immediately. Stuff like this:



Another focus of our workshops in the attitude you should adopt in dealing with the media. We find that often there is a mistrust that can be paralyzing. We talk about what reporters are really looking for, and hopefully by the end, participants see the media not as an intrusion to be avoided, but an opportunity to be embraced. But embraced with the appropriate amount of caution. We're all for honesty, but there are limits to what you should share. The workshops look at those boundaries.

They are a lot of fun as well, from the discussion in general and from the video of some media encounters you won't believe but will learn from.

There's a lot more, but you get the idea.

If you want to learn about our media training, or to register for the workshop on the 28th – it's in Fredericton, here's the link.



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 19 Nov 2013 13:46:00 +0000
Lac-Megantic is also a disaster in crisis communications


Who can blame the surviving people of Lac-Megantic from demanding answers and wanting someone to blame for what happened over the weekend.


Most of their outrage is aimed squarely at Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the company that owns and operates the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway. Watching Global News I saw a sound bite of a local resident saying they should take a rope and hang him. That comment, I suspect, fairly reflects the raw the feelings of many.


As the face of the company that many see as responsible for the runaway train and the subsequent explosion that leveled the centre of the community, leaving, at the time of this writing, 20 confirmed dead, and an estimated 50 others still unaccounted for, he has done precious little to temper that anger.


It's easy to understand. Frankly, my initial reaction watching him in an interview was "what as asshole", but when I listened further I realized that this isn't the devil incarnate here, he's just a guy that is facing something far worse than anything he has ever had to face before, and doing so without the slightest notion of proper crisis communications. It makes him look bad, but that doesn't mean he is bad. 


The way this whole thing has played out underlines the importance of understanding crisis communications, and why it matters to do certain things, even if on a strictly logical sense, they may not appear to be important, or even the best choices. Because in a crisis like this, it's emotion that carries the day, and if you don't realize that, and respond accordingly, you will be vilified.


In this case, Burkhardt and his company made many serious mistakes. And each one left a negative impression. The biggest ones included:


  • Burkhardt not showing up in the community until nearly four days after the incident. This is interpreted as him not caring about the people of the community. "How can he care, he didn't even bother coming here"
  • Deflecting blame. A failure to take responsibility makes people mad because it is seen as Burkhardt being more concerned with covering his own behind, than about the true victims.


There were others including a delay in getting any kind of communications out, lack of contrition, apparently terrible communications in French with lousy translation, and more recently Burkhardt throwing his own engineer under the bus, but let's focus on the two main ones because there are lessons here. But as we do, ask yourself if in his shoes, with no crisis communications training, would you have acted all that differently that he did?


- Not showing up in Lac-Megantic until Wednesday. His point is that he could perform his related functions better form his office in Chicago, and he's correct about that. In this situation, you can imagine his need to connect and deal with any number of people - lawyers, government people, insurance people, his own management people, plus, he rationalized that there isn't much he could do in the community anyway, since the whole area was off limits. He also explained that many others from his company, including the President have been on site for some time.


All of that is true, but what he's missing in his equation is the importance of him being there simply because it is the place he is supposed to be, to be among the community to show that he cares, even at the price of being less efficient. Logic doesn't dictate that, but remember emotion thumps logic in a crisis.     


He only made things worse with his comment from afar "I hope that I don't get shot at. I won't have a bullet proof vest on". Inappropriate? Yes, but it's probably how he honestly felt.


- Deflecting blame. First it was at the local volunteer fire department. Then it was the industry standards of practice. Then later it was his engineer's fault. Again, he may be right, but this wasn't the time to talk about that. His comment on fault should have gone no further than saying the various investigations will determine what happened. But in his shoes, with no crisis communications training, this is what people do. It's human nature.


What came across is a man who doesn't care; who is void of compassion, who cared only about himself and his company. But if you watch his interview you can see that he is devastated by this. He simply didn't have the tools to express it effectively.  It was there; it was just buried among all that other stuff that came out of him.


And related, it should be noted that the company is otherwise responding as it should. Burkhardt has stated that the company's financial resources will be devoted to this, they have an army of people on site or on route to help people directly, and while unfortunately the message was fudged, the company did say it takes responsibility. The weak link here is the communications.


Some people will say crisis communications is performance over substance. Those would be people who don't understand its purpose. Sure it's about protecting or restoring a company's reputation. But as well it's about connecting with the people who are most impacted, and helping them recover through empathy and sincere compassion.


If you don't do that it doesn't necessarily mean you don't have compassion, it just as likely means you haven't had training.  


I expect I am in the minority here because of how badly he blew it, but I think that's the case with Mr. Burkhardt.


If you found value in this blog, please click the Like icon above, and if you have some thoughts on it, please share them below. Was I too soft on the railroad chairman? 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 10 Jul 2013 17:14:00 +0000
Another take on that Australian Army video


Yesterday, I blogged about Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian Army, and copied a video of him because it was one of the best examples of non-verbal crisis communications I had come across in a long time.


I'm not the only crisis communications consultant who saw the value of the Australian Army chief's no-nonsense response as an example of effective communications. A fellow practitioner, and fellow Canadian, Melissa Agnes of Melissa Agnes Crisis Communications also reviewed that video, but from a bit of a different angle.


For those with an interest in crisis communications, or for that matter effective communications, I am pleased to provide her take has a guest blog.


  If you like this, please indicate so above, and if you have a comment, please include it below. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 26 Jun 2013 17:13:00 +0000
Australia's top soldier good example of non verbal crisis communications


The number one rule when it comes to crisis communications, is assuring the public you need to reach most, that you care, and that you are doing something to make things right. It's as simple as that, but often people fall short, not because they aren't saying the right things, but because they don't come across as sincere.


It's what we call non-verbal communications – how you come across beyond what you are saying. It's the body language and the tone of voice. Do you come across as believable and with credibility and true empathy? If not, it doesn't matter what you say, your audience isn't going to buy it, and in fact they may not even hear it because they have already tuned you out.


In our media training we quote a study by Stanford University that shows 93% of our communications effectiveness depends on our non-verbals. There are many other studies into this and most show similar results.


The reason I am blogging about this today is because I have come across a piece of video that is a great example of effective communications.


This is Lieutenant General David Morrison, the top soldier in the Australian Army.  He is responding to a sex scandal within his ranks. The words he chooses are strong – no weasel words or so-called “spin”, and that of course is good, but beyond this, notice how his non-verbal communications complement his language perfectly.  You can sense he is talking through clenched teeth because he's so angry, and he leaves no doubt he's serious about dealing with it.


This is about three minutes. Have a look and let me know what you think. 




]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 24 Jun 2013 17:12:00 +0000
Media Relations - Pot Czar gives example of when a media question shouldn't be answered


In our media training courses we often get into discussions on when it is best not to answer reporter's questions.


Our philosophy is not to be evasive, that if it is a legitimate question, it deserves an honest answer. But that's not to say there aren't times when you simply shouldn't answer a question, and especially not answer it with a simple yes or no. Not because the answer would be embarrassing, but because it would take the focus off the bigger issue. Our advice in these situations is to simply explain why you can't, or won't, answer.


A great example of this cropped up recently, when Mark Kleiman was interviewed by various media, including Jian Ghomeshi on CBC's Q and by Erin Burnett on CNN's Outfront.


Kleiman, who has now been labeled with the nickname The Pot Czar, is an academic who specializes in drug policy. He was recently appointed as the lead guy to figure out how to roll out the marijuana legalization law in Washington State, on the heels of people there voting in favour of such legalization.


So as you might expect, Burnett, Ghomeshi and probably everybody else who has interviewed him on his appointment, wanted to know whether he ever indulges.


He refused to say. And in this case, that was the right response, because neither a yes nor no answer would serve him well, and his explanation made it crystal clear why.


Here's his explanation from the Ghomeshi interview “If I say no I never smoked, then I place myself as “no I don't know anything about this stuff you can ignore what I say”. If I say yes I smoked then I'm a lawbreaker and you can ignore what I say”.


He's absolutely right. There is no up side if he gives an honest answer to that question, even though it is a fair question to ask. And so while he wouldn't want to be dishonest, the best course is to explain why he is refusing to answer.


The take away from this is that you do have a responsibility to answer legitimate questions, but you get to decide how to respond, and often a yes or no answer will not serve you well. And in some cases, like this one, failure to give a definitive response is appropriate, but it should be accompanied by the rationale of why you are refusing to answer.  


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 08 Apr 2013 16:59:00 +0000
Campaign issues aside, Peter Penashue is the latest victim of misguided media training



By now, you probably know about Peter Penashue, the former federal Cabinet Minister from Labrador who the other day resigned amid allegations of breaches of the Elections Canada rules related to his campaign.

In a nutshell, here's what it is about.

First, that his campaign overspent the limit, by something like $48,000. Also, that he took corporate contributions. Corporate contributions are not allowed. In this case they include Provincial Airways writing off $17,000 in flights, and a sizable contribution from a construction company. Now, it has come out that there were many more illegal corporate donations. His campaign also took out a $25,000 interest free loan from an Innu group led by his brother. Also illegal.

But that's not what this blog is about. I mention that only for context. My focus here is the way he handled the media, and specifically, how it is a prime example of the kind of counsel that gives media trainers a bad name.

I cannot say with 100% certainty, but I know from experience that his response in this interview, which you will see in a moment, is exactly what some media trainers advise. I have seen it time and time again.  They give one line with instructions to simply repeat it as a response to whatever is asked.

So here is the result. The interviewer is Peter Cowan of CBC Labrador, who apparently was the first to look into Penashue's campaign. This interview was back in the summer, when it was just starting to heat up. As as you watch, you judge whether his repeated response serves him well…..

Did his rehearsed line in lieu to something with substance help him? Here's a hint – he has since resigned.  Mind you there are times when this strategy is the best course, and there is no question this type of interview, in this situation, is awash in minefields. Media advice has to be extremely strategic in this case, but the tactic of robotically responding with the same one line to every question was not the way he should have gone in this case.

To me, and I suspect most viewers, Penashue's response suggests one thing – he was determined not to divulge anything. 

But they were valid questions that deserved a better response.

Maybe he shouldn't have done the interview, but once in it, the stakes were such that he was either going to enhance or diminish what people think of him. 

More recently, as the evidence became more public and more damning, he changed his response, but it didn't get much better. In essence, he threw one of his campaign team under the bus, blaming his inexperience for the apparent overspending and questionable funding. But two things about that – the man was not inexperienced, having worked on many campaigns, plus, common sense suggests Penashue must have wondered where the money was coming from to fly him in and out of remote community after remote community over his vast Labrador riding, something none of the other candidates could afford to do.

Here's the point – communications can do many things, but it cannot right a wrong.

There's no magic thing he could have said that would have make everything all right. It doesn't work that way. That's not to say there aren't better responses he could have given.

But for a media trainer to give this guy a single line with instructions to simply repeat it ad nauseam no matter what is asked is poor advice that diminishes both the credibility of the politician and, for those who understood where it was coming from, the credibility of the media training profession.

But maybe I'm too close to it since I do media training. I'd like to hear what you think. How did the way he handed this interview work for you?

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 15 Mar 2013 16:54:00 +0000
What is this media training stuff all about anyway?  

A while back, when I was promoting one of our media training courses, a person weighed in on Twitter with a comment that was quite misleading. I can't remember what it was exactly, I think something about how media training teaches people how to avoid answering questions or some such thing.


She was way off base, and while I wasn't shy about pointing it out, what I found especially heartening is that others who had actually taken our training were quick to weigh in to set her straight. It was wonderful to see. You know who you are, and thank you again for that.


My intent here isn't to drudge that up, in fact that lady had the courage to reach out to me privately to apologize, something I saw as quite classy, and appreciated.


But I bring it up now for a specific reason. There is still a lot of misconception about what media training is and since we have another course coming up, I want to take a moment to explain what it is and what it is not in regards to media questions.


In our media training we teach techniques on how to take as much control of an interview as possible. Reporters go into interviews with an agenda, and we teach that you should too. But our philosophy is also that if you are asked an honest question, it deserves an honest answer.


This isn't about question avoidance unless there is a legitimate reason why you shouldn't answer a question, and the key word there is legitimate. That doesn't mean a convoluted reason, but a real one that goes beyond just not wanting to. And if there is a good reason not to answer a question, you'll learn how to handle it properly so you don't look like Mike Duffy trying to sneak out through a hotel kitchen to avoid answering a question about where he lives.


Ah but that's another issue for another day, isn't it?


Let me end on a general point about our media training. When all is said and done, it's about telling your story; it's about delivering your key messages as effectively as possible. It's about effective communication.


There are a number of tried and true techniques that help you do that, and lots of tips that help.


At the risk of turning this into an infomercial, there are also some pretty cool good and bad video examples (the bad ones are more fun) and lots of practice both on and off camera. 


The full day workshop is coming up on March 19th. Go here to get details and once on that site, scroll down to see what past participants have to say. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 27 Feb 2013 16:07:00 +0000
Media Relations 101 - don't hide under your desk


I can't count the number of times when, back when I was a journalist, I'd call some company or organization to get their side of the story over something or other, usually because they were being criticized in the public. 


It was amazing the number of times the response would be something like – “Look, thanks for calling but we have a policy here that we don't comment in the media.” And often that would come not from the CEO or manager, but from someone underneath them whose job it was to make sure the reporter doesn't get access to the company spokesperson.


Depending on how pressed I was, or maybe even on my mood, I might ask why. And often the response would be something like “Well, we were burned once by the media and we swore we were not going to ever let that happen again.”


I'd ask about that, to find out that it was sometimes years earlier, and ever since, the policy was to avoid the media.


At the time, as a reporter, I'd say “OK fine” and then write the story based on the other side's views only, because that's all I would have. So through no fault of mine, the story would be unbalanced, and quite possibly served to turn public sentiment more against the company in question. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.


Now, as a media consultant with clients and as a media trainer with those in the class, I push how dumb a strategy it is to not deal with the media, especially when you are in the news anyway.


I talk about that mindset where CEOs actually instruct assistants or receptionists that part of their job is to run interference and keep the media away. “Tell them I'm in a meeting, tell them I have gone to Bermuda – tell them anything”.


And then when this results in the reporter going away, they see it as a victory. Mission accomplished. He or she didn't have to deal with the media.


Sometimes I talk about the lengths some would go, to avoid the media. And often I would joke that it's almost like they would hide under their desk if they had to.


As I mentioned – I said this as a joke – Now, under the category you can't make this stuff up, catch this story. And when you do, consider the impression it leaves of the company in question.


This happened the other day. It's a TV report from a station in St. Louis, but it is typical of the “On Your Side” stories many TV newsrooms do, including ones around here, based on investigating consumer complaints.


Obviously the story makes the receptionist look pretty silly, but it's not her fault. She was simply doing what she assumed her boss would want her to do – and that was not to have anything to do with the media.


What are the takeaways? For one thing they could start acting like a responsible company. But for another, it's as good an example as any I have seen of why not just the top people should have media training, but front line people as well.


Watching this kind of story as a TV viewer is fun. For the company at the centre of it, probably not so much.


Our next media training workshop has been scheduled, and registrations are now being accepted. Details on our home page

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 21 Feb 2013 16:07:00 +0000
A successful media interview requires a strategic approach Preparing for a media interview isn't rocket science, but to be successful there is some strategy involved.


One of the fundamental sections of our media training workshops is what we call the “Three Keys to a Successful Interview”.


In this video, lifted from one of our sessions, I focus on Key #1 – figuring out what you want to say.




A couple of points beyond what's captured on the video.


  1. Get your key message out there early, as part of your answer to the first question asked. This is because you don't know how long an interview is going to last. In many cases, the reporter is simply looking for a sound bite – if he or she feels he has it after the first question, he may say thanks, and he's out of there, leaving you to wonder what to do with your carefully constructed key message. In other words – you've just waved goodbye not only to the reporter, but also to your opportunity to get your most important point out there.
  2. Redundancy counts. Once you have gotten your key message out there – in response to the reporter's first question – DO NOT check it off your mental “to do” list. Look for opportunities to reinforce it by repeating it. Obviously it has to relate to the question asked, but there are ways to do that. Also you don't want to sound like a broken record, so we're not talking about repeating it word for word here. There are techniques on how best to do this.


In subsequent videos, I'll look at Keys 2 and 3, and at a whole host of other tips and techniques on how to prepare for and give an interview that serves your purposes as much as it does the reporter's.


For details on our media training workshops, go to our website,   

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 07 Dec 2012 15:38:00 +0000
Are questions and responses by email going to replace face-to-face interviews for journalists?  

I have been conducting media training since I left the CBC in 1991. The content has evolved over that time, but that's mainly because of updated video samples, and to keep up with current trends.


One such trend struck home last week and it got me to wondering how much of a journalistic norm it has become, and what it means to journalism. I'll get to it in a second but first, let me set it up.


One of the questions I inevitably get in every workshop is whether it is OK to ask the reporter for his or her questions in advance.


For years my response was always “no”. And I would explain that that wouldn't be considered professional.


To back this up, I would explain that I would never show someone I interviewed the questions in advance, because while I might have half a dozen questions in mind, the response to the first one might take us down a completely different path, and if that happened, they would accuse me of misleading them. So to keep life simple, I would never do it. And neither would any of my journalistic peers, I expect for similar reasons.


But then a few years ago it started. There would be someone in the workshop who would challenge me on that, explaining that they have asked for questions in advance, and got them.


So I became left definitive, and in fact started relaying that people in previous workshops told us that they have done it and the reporter gave them the questions. I did notice though that these were people in rural areas, dealing with the local community paper, and there is a different dynamic at play with community papers. They were the exception to the rule.


Now fast forward to last week.  We were setting up media interviews throughout the Maritimes and Quebec as part of a client's national campaign. There were logistical problems because the spokesperson was travelling, so making the person-to-person connections was a challenge.


What we found is that several reporters preferred to email the questions and get email responses if that would be faster. Not complaining because it makes it easier for us, but I do wonder if this has become the new norm.


And this isn't just questions in advance. This is a step beyond that. These were submitted questions followed by submitted answers and the reporter and the interviewee never interact beyond that. They don't talk.  


I asked a friend and former colleague who is now a senior person at the Telegraph-Journal about this. She says they don't like to do it that way, but they do sometimes, especially with cabinet ministers because they are hard to nail down.


So I guess it is the way journalism is going. I'm not sure what it means in the big picture. In the small picture it means further tweaking of our media training content.


Journalists won't like to hear this, but I have to wonder if questions and answers via email back and forth will become a standard condition for interviews? Is this the logical next step?


Obviously TV needs pictures so it's not practical for that medium, but I can see it in the print world. And I can see where media consultants and PR people would love it, because it affords their clients more control and eliminates much of the risk.


Something to ponder. In fact if you are a journalist, what are your thoughts on this? 


On a related issue, we are starting to take names for our next media training course. 
The date isn't set yet but it will probably be next month.  
Details on our media training can be found here. 
Zap us an email or tweet if you're interested in a seat. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sat, 18 Aug 2012 15:29:00 +0000
The straight goods on the biggest misconception about Media Training  

Last weekend, I posted a blog related to the coverage of the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Then to draw attention to it I tweeted the teaser question “Is mainstream journalism going downhill because of pressure from citizen journalism?”


This prompted the response tweet “No it's going downhill because of spin doctors who train public figures to bullshit the media”.


I assumed because of the reference to training that the lady who posted this message was referring to media trainers. It's not that odd a response because it is indicative of a perception of what media trainers do. Not odd, but quite inaccurate.


I appreciate that several people who have actually gone through media training weighed in to tell this woman, who obviously had not, that she was wrong. But she's far from alone in that belief. There is not enough room in this blog to discuss everything that proper media training is about, but it is an opportunity to at least offer some clarification on the biggest misconception – that it is about training people to avoid answering questions, or to use the vernacular of the lady who responded to my tweet, to bullshit.


First of all, like reporters, there are good media trainers and there are others that give the rest of us a bad name. It's unfortunate but I know there are some, very much a minority, who instruct not to answer questions.


Most do not and with very good reason. It doesn't work. It is obvious when someone is avoiding a question. We have all seen it. It diminishes our respect for the politician or CEO or whoever. And we are left with the impression they are hiding something. How can this possibly be a good thing?


Good media trainers do not advocate this strategy.


Our philosophy on this is straightforward. If it is an honest question it deserves an honest answer. There are times when for various reasons you shouldn't answer a question, but there should always be a legitimate reason. In these cases, simply give the reason. There are exceptions, but they are specific and rare.


However, there's more to it than just answering or not answering the reporter's questions. It's about taking control, or more accurately as much control as possible.


That doesn't mean you don't answer honest questions, but it does mean you don't just answer the question and stop. Just like the reporter has an agenda, whoever is being interviewed should have an agenda too, and that should be to effectively communicate his or her key messages.


For example the reporter asks, “Is you company responsible for this massive traffic jam?”


Assuming it is, you could simply answer the question “Yes”, and stop. Or you could go a little further. “Yes, but let's put this in perspective. Our company runs 400 trucks that average 1000 kilometers a day, and this is the first breakdown we have had in ten years. We realize that's cold comfort to people who have been inconvenienced, and we regret that, but our track record shows we take our truck maintenance seriously, but more importantly right now, we are working as quickly as we can to get that truck out of the way and get traffic moving again.”


The point is, and some will call this “spin”, it is about showing your company or party or association in the best possible light, but doing it in a way that is honest and answers the questions asked.


In subsequent blogs, I'll discuss other aspects of media training, including when you shouldn't answer a question, even if you know the answer. And the reason isn't what you think.


For information on BissettMatheson Media Training workshops, click here 






]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 25 Jul 2012 15:24:00 +0000
In crisis communications - beware of lawyers - and not just those on the other side  

When we started delivering our media training courses back in the early 90's, we developed what we called our Ten Commandments (for dealing with the media). Over the years since then our observations and experiences prompted us to add three more, so now there are 13 commandments, but that doesn't have as good a ring to it, so we still call it our 10 Commandments. But it is one of those that we added that I want to focus today.


That commandment is #13 – Beware of Lawyers. 


Obviously that's a pretty flippant thing to say so it does beg some explanation. For the record we don't completely agree with Shakespeare on lawyers, but there have been moments.


From our observation and experience, especially in dealing with clients in some kind of crisis situation, we have found too many lawyers have tunnel vision, in that their sole focus is to either keep a client out of litigation, or, if it's too late for that, to mitigate the damages.  The problem with this is that this strategy doesn't consider the client's reputation. It's not unusual, for example, for a lawyer to instruct a client to say “no comment” if approached by the media on whatever the issue is.


This makes life easier for the lawyer, in that it avoids any possibility of the client saying anything legally damaging. But reputation wise, that's a different story. Our point is that you can win in the court of law, but if in doing so you lose in the court of public opinion, that's often too high of a price to pay.


It goes without saying that lawyers serve a useful purpose, and it would be foolhardy and irresponsible for me to suggest ignoring legal opinion, and I am suggesting no such thing. What I am saying is that the balance between legal and public relations objectives needs to be there, and too often it isn't, and all too often the client pays dearly because of it.


This is on my mind lately for a specific reason. We have been working with a client that, through no fault of its own, found itself in a crisis situation that had the potential to seriously damage its reputation. We ended up dealing with two lawyers on this file and I was pleasantly surprised that they both “got it”. “Pleasantly surprised”, because from past experience I knew this would be far from a given, and I was gearing up to do battle. It was so good to see that that wasn't necessary.


In our media training, participants learn of a Saint John firm that didn't get it at all, and the grief that that ended up causing.


But overall, it seems to be getting better. We've certainly had some excellent working relationships with lawyers on behalf of mutual clients, and we notice that more and more often in the larger corporate and not-for-profit world the Public Relations priorities are given appropriate weight as related to the legal priorities when there is an issue. It's certainly better than it was 10, 20 years ago.


There are still lots of bad examples, and I'll look at some of those in a subsequent blog.


For information on BissettMatheson Media Training

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 11 Jul 2012 15:22:00 +0000
To the bad media interview examples everywhere - I salute you  

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do media training. Because of this, I'm always on the outlook for interesting video examples that serve as either good or bad examples of how to handle a media interview.


I must say though that the bad examples are much more fun.  Good ones you just learn from, but the others – well, you learn from those too, plus you get that extra entertainment value.


There's no shortage – there are clips of people saying and doing the most self-destructive things – from the newly elected mayor of Toronto acting like an ass on As It Happens to the now former Director of Alberta Health Services insisting on eating a cookie rather than answering serious questions about bed shortages. And the list goes on, and on. And I'm thankful for that.


One of the most recent ones is interesting. In this interview, this guy, Australian MP Bill Shorten has cemented his reputation as possibly being the most loyal politician in the world.  Have a look at the video above.   


On behalf of media trainers everywhere, I salute you Mr. Shorten. You and the many others who have selflessly sacrificed credibility for the sake of providing a bad example, make our work just that much more fun.   

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 12 Jun 2012 15:19:00 +0000
Dealing with the media - silence is not usually a good strategy  

When an issue related to your interests becomes public, a question many struggle with is whether to dive in with your two cents worth, or to stay out of it.


There's no one size fits all for this one. There are times, for sure, when it is best to keep your head down, but not often. Nine times out of ten you should be weighing in on behalf of your company, industry or organization.


The reason is that if the issue affects your organization, it is usually in your interests to get your views out there because if you don't, the issue will be driven by others, who's agenda may not coincide with yours.


Or, as Ronald Rhody, former executive with the Bank of America put it when he developed his rules for proactive media relations: “No contest was ever won from the sidelines. Be players, not spectators.” Another of his rules – “Fear of controversy or criticism is a luxury no institution in today's society can afford. Silence never swayed any masses and timidity never won any ball games”.


The other large point on this is the misguided belief that if you don't comment, the issue will go away. Usually, no. Mind you sometimes adding your comments may keep it alive a little longer when you would just as soon see it die, but most of the time the media will just go to someone else; often someone who's views may do your side more harm than good.


I want to go back to that point of commenting keeping the issue alive. Usually, there are pros and cons, and you have to weigh them.  While you might just as soon see the story fade from the limelight, keeping it alive is often the tradeoff; the price you have to pay to get your side presented. But if it isn't, if the story runs its course without your views included, you have to ask if you are OK with the impression that is left.


This is just scratching the surface on the whole issue of dealing with the media. In a future blog I'll get into the pros and cons a bit more. And if I can figure out what I'm doing wrong in editing and uploading in iMovie, I'll throw up some relevant video on this issue from our media training workshops. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 03 Jun 2012 15:18:00 +0000
Ethical Oil on-air disaster brought to you by misguided interview strategy  

One of the interview samples I have been using in my media training workshops lately is from the CBC newsmagazine show Power and Politics where host Evan Soloman is doing a segment on whether a proposed oil pipeline should be permitted in western Canada.


On one side is John Bennett from the Sierra Club and on the other Kathryn Marshall of Ethical Oil.


I use it as one of the bad examples – the what not to do. It's an example of the type of media interview I'm seeing more and more often. And while I can't say with certainty, I have a very strong hunch that this is another example of, how can I put this delicately – half-assed media training – the kind that gives media training a bad name.


There's a belief out there, held by many journalists, that media training is about showing people how to avoid answering questions.  That's certainly not my philosophy. I do teach how to take a reasonable amount of control in media encounters, and increase the odds that the media isn't going to screw up what you say, but I also make no bones about the fact that an honest question deserves an honest answer.


The trouble is that not all media trainers agree. There is one school of though that in an interview, you should ignore the question and just deliver your message. The problem is that this doesn't work all that often. And even when the reporter doesn't come back and ask you again, and sometimes again after that, you still come off as sounding evasive.


Which brings us back to the segment with Ms. Marshall of Ethical Oil. From watching the piece I'd bet the mortgage that she had media training in which she was told – here is your line – “this is about foreign special interests and their puppet groups trying to hijack the process” and I bet she was told to just keep repeating that, no matter what she is asked.


The trouble though, is that Solomon is a skilled interviewer. Her repeated use of the term “puppet groups” in reference to environmental organizations, prompted Soloman to ask where Ethical Oil's money comes from and is it a puppet group of Enbridge?


This is where it got dicey, only because she refused to answer. He asked repeatedly whether any of her funding comes from Enbridge as the company that wants to build the pipeline, but all she would do would go back to her line, and remind Solomon that “this is about foreign special interests yadda yadda yadda”. In other words – Don't ask where our money comes from, that's irrelevant – just focus on the other side's funding. 


Her consistent refusal spoke volumes about whether Enbridge funds Ethical Oil. By the end of the piece I can't imagine there would be a viewer anywhere who wasn't dead certain that Enbridge is exactly where at least some of their money was coming from. Through her performance she lost whatever credibility she might have had going in. As interviews go, from the oil industry side, Ms. Marshall's performance was a disaster.


The interview went poorly for Ms. Marshall because she wouldn't answer the simple, straightforward, and I might add predictable question of whether Enbridge funds her group. Her points feel on deaf ears because the interviewer kept asking about the funding and she kept evading, all the time keeping the focus on that issue. They couldn't get past it.


And because they couldn't get past it, she lost the opportunity to perhaps score points by bringing the focus to the tactics of the environmental side to clog up the process. People may or may not have bought it, but it would certainly be better than what happened.


Some might say she could never admit Enbridge money was behind Ethical Oil. Well, her refusal to answer on that I expect for many, served as all the proof they needed.  So why wouldn't she just be honest – something like – “ We are funded through a lot of sources and yes, Enbridge is one of them, but that doesn't diminish the fact that the other side has adopted unfair tactics aimed at clogging up the consultation process and stalling the project, affecting jobs….etc etc etc and then she's off to the races. The focus would have shifted to the environmental side's tactics.


I suspect we have seen the last of Kathryn Marshall speaking on behalf of Ethical Oil. The new communications spokesperson for Ethical Oil is the soon to be former Fredericton, New Brunswick city councilor Jordan Graham.


Hopefully he's astute enough to understand that if he wants to be an effective spokesperson, he should start with honestly answering legitimate questions. We'll see.


Meantime, click here to watch the Power and Politics segment in question. 



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 26 Apr 2012 15:12:00 +0000
JetBlue's CEO in the wake of the pilot who snapped - a lesson in effective communications  

You undoubtedly heard of the recent incident on a JetBlue airliner where the pilot had to be restrained by passengers after he snapped.


As they say it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and this one gave me something – a great new example for my media training courses.


In his interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show on NBC, JetBlue's President and CEO Dave Barger did an interview that many could learn from.


Watch this and notice how, without avoiding answering any questions, he manages to continuously turn the focus from negative to positive by repeatedly referencing how the training of the JetBlue crew, and the courage of the passengers saved the day. 


Lots of people know to try to do this but few pull it off as effectively as this guy. Not only does he say the right things but also his tone and body language are just right.


The measure of a good interview is the combination of the interviewee getting his or her key messages out effectively, and coming across as credible, forthright and sincere. In this example, on both counts the JetBlue CEO nails it. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 01 Apr 2012 15:07:00 +0000