It used to drive me crazy when my reporter friends called me a “spin doctor”.
To them I had crossed over to the dark side. I had gone from being a keeper of the flame to selling secrets to the enemy. I was revealing to the world the secret handshake and it was not only disloyal, it was downright dangerous. How could reporters do their jobs if everyone knew their tricks?
Reporting is a tough job with incredible pressure but many stories fall into a pattern and are pre-written before the interview even takes place. Reporters decide what they want you to say before they arrive for the interview.
If you haven’t thought about your message or if you think you’ll just answer the questions then you are more likely to be drawn into the pre-determined story. People who have been media trained have a clear idea of what their message is and a very clear idea of what they want to say about the topic.
The reporter’s agenda is to get a good story. The agenda of anyone being interviewed should be to get a message out in an accurate, concise and honest way. In the best of worlds, those agendas mesh and everyone, including the audience, wins.
A reporter has to work harder to interview someone who has been media trained. Cheap tricks don’t intimidate them and a superficial knowledge of the subject won’t trick them. The reporter has to do his or her homework, keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions. Media training makes better reporters.
The job of anyone being interviewed is to provide as much clarity as possible and that can only be done by strategically planning out what you want to say before the interview begins and then practising how you’re going to say it.
Many reporters actually like to interview people who have been media trained because it increases the likelihood that they will have a well-defined, articulate and succinct point of view. Of course, if a reporter specializes in sensational stories that make people appear guilty or evasive, media training is seen as more of a hindrance than a help.
Over the years I’ve become more thick-skinned about comments from my reporter friends. Maybe it’s because I’ve media trained more than a thousand people and less than a handful of them ever looked forward to a media interview. Their biggest fear is usually that the media will get it wrong.
Spin doctor? I suppose so, but the spin that has worked best for my clients is one that might surprise some reporters. It’s the basis of any message and the quickest way out of trouble – tell the truth.
The trick is to tell it well.