How to determine if you need media training

Just because a spokesperson or public figure makes a controversial statement means he needs media training. Here’s how to decide whether it’s worth the investment.

When I search Twitter for the term “media training,” I frequently come across a tweet that suggests a celebrity or politician who said something controversial “needs media training.”

That’s true in some cases, but people often reflexively want to send everyone who’s ever uttered a controversial or provocative comment to media training.

Media training isn’t about preventing people from ever expressing an unpopular or controversial view.

I occasionally work with someone who has a deep-seated belief about a controversial topic. We discuss the likely consequences of expressing that belief in the manner the person would like.

Sometimes the person will modify his approach to make the point in a less alienating way, but ultimately, once he understands the potential consequences, it’s his choice whether to proceed.

It’s important that spokespeople understand the potential consequences of saying something unpopular.

From a strategic perspective, expressing an unpopular thought isn’t always wrong. It can differentiate someone from his more traditional peers.

Bill Maher, for example, has made a career out of testing the boundaries of political correctness. He made a comment shortly after 9/11 that cost him his job on ABC (as host of “Politically Incorrect,” ironically), and his recent comments about Muslims have prompted strong backlash.

Could media training have been the remedy for those comments, or was Maher aware of the consequences of expressing his views?

As a rule, celebrities (e.g., Bill Maher, Miley Cyrus) and politicians (e.g., Sarah Palin, Chris Christie) have more license to brand themselves as provocative than spokespeople representing an organization (e.g., the CEO of Boeing or Johnson & Johnson).

If you see someone making a controversial comment, consider these five questions before declaring they need media training:

1. Is the spokesperson or public figure familiar with the rules of working with the media?

2. Is he aware of the real and perceived landmines awaiting his provocative statements?

3. Has he contemplated the risks of being perceived as provocative? Is he prepared to accept them?

4. Could he be more effective in his role if he chose his words and battles more effectively?

5. Will his words not only potentially threaten his personal brand, but hurt the people and brands he associates with?

If the answers to questions 1-3 are “no” or the answers to questions 4-5 are “yes,” the public figure could probably benefit from media training.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and author of “The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.” He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Topics: PR

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