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S4 E2: Media Relations and Media Training with David Wills of Media Profile
Episode 225th January 2024 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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This episode provides valuable insights into the world of media relations and offers practical tips for successfully engaging with the media.

David Wills, senior vice president at Media Profile, discusses the evolving landscape of media relations and the challenges faced by public relations professionals in breaking through the clutter. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the news cycle and connecting clients' stories to current trends and topics of interest.

David also highlights the value of building and nurturing relationships with reporters and editors, as well as the need for effective media training to ensure spokespersons can deliver their messages in a concise and impactful manner. "Media training is important because if you don't get it right, you often don't get a second chance."

Key Takeaways

  • The media landscape has changed significantly in recent years, with fewer reporters and editors expected to produce more content. This makes media relations skills more valuable than ever in order to break through the clutter and get clients' stories covered.
  • Building and nurturing relationships with reporters and editors is crucial for success in media relations. Understanding what they cover, their interests, and their preferred communication methods helps establish trust and increases the likelihood of media coverage.
  • Media training is essential for spokespersons to effectively deliver their messages to the media. Training sessions should include simulations of interviews to prepare spokespersons for challenging questions and help them stay focused on the key messages.
  • C-suite spokespersons should be trained to speak at a higher level, focusing on the mission, vision, and benefits of their organization. Details and tactics can be provided by PR professionals or in background materials.
  • The skills learned in media training are transferable to other communication channels, such as presentations and meetings. The ability to deliver messages concisely and engage the audience is valuable in various professional settings.

About the Guest

David Wills is Senior Vice President at Media Profile, Canada’s largest full-service, independent PR agency. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Media Profile has a 30-year track record of providing the highest standard of communications planning and execution to leading Canadian and international companies, the public sector and not-for-profit organizations. They are a full-service agency with thriving practices in public relations, corporate and brand communications, content marketing, social media and digital marketing.

David is an experienced media trainer who has helped countless politicians, executives, spokespeople and community leaders improve their success with media interviews. With Media Profile for more than 25 years, David provides the firm's clients with counsel on earned media strategies.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

David Wills:

Hi, I'm David Wills. I'm a senior vice president with Media Profile, and Media Profile is one of Canada's largest independent public relations firms.

Abbie Fink:

So, David, I think one of the primary reasons that clients come to a public relations agency is they want to get in the paper or they want to be on television. And we would refer to that as earned media, the opportunity to tell stories in traditional media outlets. Correct?

David Wills:

Correct. I think that it is still one of the most valuable things why clients come to us. The mix has certainly changed in the last few years with other services that PR firms offer, but media relations still is at the top in terms of ability to influence and perceived value from clients.

Abbie Fink:

But it's getting harder, don't you think, to break through the clutter? There's, as you said, there's more ways to communicate. There are more, potentially more publications, but maybe less staff that are doing the work. It's increasingly more complicated, I think, to break through and actually get to a reporter or an editor to listen to what you have to say. So that really requires some creative thinking, not only from the agency perspective, but really helping our clients understand how the whole process works.

David Wills:

That's absolutely true. What we're seeing is a shrinking of the traditional legacy media. Even with the media that's remaining, there's fewer reporters, fewer editors. They're expected to produce more content than they ever had before. And what that means is that media relations skills are very valuable. They're generally moving up in the world to being more senior people because of relationships and relationships matter. And the other side of that is the ability of a spokesperson to deliver their story in a meaningful way that media in today's environment can use the information that they provide to do their jobs.

Abbie Fink:

So let's maybe start from that initial conversation with the spokesperson or the representative from an organization who believes very strongly that they have something important to say and that the media would be interested in hearing it. Certainly, our job has to be in evaluating the news value of what that is. But from that early conversation, how are you working with those thought leaders, those spokespeople, to really create a good story filled with good information and then take them through that journey to ultimately sitting across the table or on the phone with a reporter? order?

David Wills:

I think where we start is we have an honest discussion with the client, with the spokesperson about whether what they want to talk about is in fact news and how it fits in with the news cycle. And by the news cycle, I mean the trends that media are following and that the audiences of those media are interested in. You can't put your news out there in isolation of everything else that's going on. So one of the things that we look to do is how do we connect it? How do we connect things to what people are talking about, what people are worrying about, what they're debating about? You know, these are big topics like affordability, for example, safety, public safety. Depending on what the spokesperson is, does it fit in with any of those broad topics and if not, where does it fit? And then you adjust your messaging so that you can be attractive to the reporter and the media outlet so that it fits in with what they have because they have limited space, they have limited time. So we have to make it part of their agenda. And that's the first step. And that's often where a lot of the energy is extended.

Abbie Fink:

How do you, you mentioned early on about sort of relationship building, and I had a boss in my early career that always said that we really should refer to what we do as public relationships or media relationships, right, that we have to establish this level of trust and conversation with reporters and those that help us tell our clients stories or our own individual organizations. But it really is, there is a skill in developing those relationships and maintaining them. And especially for those of us from an agency environment, recognizing that we represent a variety of different organizations that all may be covered by a particular media outlet or a particular reporter. So, how do you manage those and cultivate and nurture those media relationships so that they are successful for your clients?

David Wills:

Well, I think like any relationship, you have to earn trust. That's first step. And one of the ways of earning trust is knowing what those reporters cover, what they are interested in, what they've covered before, how it fits in with what they do. And that's step number one, because if you're pitching a reporter just because they work at an outlet and you want to be covered in that outlet without a connection of why that reporter should be the right person, it's going to be a hard go. And they're going to think, oh, why is she calling me? Why is he calling me? So if you can earn that trust and that respect by saying where they know, yeah, he does bring stories that are of interest to me. You know, even if I don't have time to do it, it was something I was interested in. They're more likely to take your call, read your email in the future. So that's what I mean by the relationship is that you are respecting what they do. You know what they do and you're not wasting their time. And then you get more success with the clients. And that's increasingly becoming the advantage of using an agency because with the bulk that we have of talking to media is that we're very good at building those relationships. And if you're not doing a shotgun approach, if you're doing very targeted. Giving them information in a way that they like to get it, that is relevant to what they do, they will return your calls and they will open your emails.

Abbie Fink:

Are you finding that ability to develop the relationships, especially in today's world where we've become very reliant on using social media to communicate with people? I find out things about reporters I work with by following their LinkedIn page or their Facebook profiles, where, you know, in my younger days of my career, we would sit across from the, you know, the table from then at a coffee shop and build relationships. We're using other ways to develop those more personal connections. Are you finding it more challenging to build the relationships?

David Wills:

Definitely. And I think it's changed. The, you know, Reporters don't have time to go and have coffee anymore. They're very busy. They often don't leave their desks. They're doing everything from one place. So they don't have that luxury anymore. But one of the ways you do it is you figure out by through engagement and by watching and by paying attention how they like to be communicated with. There's a reporter that I have a great relationship with. with and the only way that we communicate with each other is direct message on X or Twitter.

Because he's he told me I’d like to keep our conversations in one place and that's easier for him than email so I’m like oh okay so that's how I’m going to pitch him every time but if I wanted somebody else in my office to pitch him he would want that to go through email not through the direct message because he wants to keep our conversation separate. So you have to respect all of those things. You invest in it over time. You're not going to get the coffee shop, but you know, we throw a big annual Christmas party, holiday party, and we invite the media and they like to come because we don't pitch them anything at it. We just get to know them. We talk about weather, kids, vacation, all sorts of stuff. And they like that because we don't put the pressure And so I think you have to take the time to do all of those things and it does pay off over the long run.

Abbie Fink:

And because these relationships are so important to the work that we do, I find that we are very protective of those relationships, right? We honor them. We nurture them. As you said, you respect the request to communicate in one way versus another way. We do share that knowledge and expertise amongst our team so that they can begin to nurture those relationships as well. But then we have to transfer that level of trust from you and the reporter to the reporter and our clients, because now we've created this conduit. We've built the relationship and therefore the media trusts us. So the person we're putting in front of them to do an interview is someone that they trust because we've said so. But we have to make sure our clients are ready for those conversations. And that's where that training, media training is so important. And I know you've done hundreds of trainings over the course of your career across a variety of different individuals and probably skill sets and stories. But, you know, talk a little bit about, you know, what is media training and why it's so important for those that are going to stand up and make those conversations with reporters, whether they're seasoned and done it, you know, hundreds of times or it's their first time to still have a training before they sit down with a reporter.

David Wills:

Yeah, I would say it's important because if you don't get it right, you often don't get a second chance. So where we like to start with our training is going into pretty good detail with our clients, with the trainees, on what it's like from the other side of the microphone, the other side of the table, the reporter. We go into great detail about the pressures that they have in their jobs, the pressures they have in their industry. You know, here in Canada, we've had a lot of media closures. We've lost about like in the last decade, about half of our paid journalists. So we have less people producing more content. So these people are really busy. And what they need is the information presented to them in a way that's going to fit with their story. They don't want to be told what their story is. They don't want to be told that somebody else is wrong. What they need is something to fit into that, the story that they are following and that they're looking to have you contribute to. What they need from that is people who can deliver the information, the messages in a concise and memorable way. So those are not just delivering the key messages that have been written out, but to tell stories, to connect it to humans, to connect it to their audiences that the media is producing for.

And that's what they like about it. And also to not be self-serving. You can't look at a media opportunity as an advertisement. You have to think, okay, what is it that I have that is of value that this reporter's audience is going to benefit from? And go in with that frame of mind, and you're going to give the reporter something that they need, need, something that they value and something that they appreciate. And that's an investment in a relationship over time because you probably don't want a one and done with earned media you're looking for long term.

Abbie Fink:

Is there a significant difference in how you train if you are talking to a president, CEO, you know, the C-suite individual versus maybe a program manager or someone, you know, that is more of a tactical representative of the organization maybe than the top leader? Do you change how you do your training or the role that they play in those interviews?

David Wills:

It is quite different because we want to train that C-suite, those real leaders, to talk at a much higher level. They should be talking about the mission, about the vision, about the benefits. The other people at the program level can talk about the details and the tactics. We need to if a CEO is going to be in in the media they shouldn't be the one providing the date and the time and the number of people they should be talking about the benefit of why this is what's going to change what's going to impact this why the audience needs to know they have to talk as leaders they have to be trained to do that and to stay focused on that and not get dragged into the details which can be provided you know by a pr person or a background grounder.

Abbie Fink:

So there's, you know, we probably can all point to interviews that we've seen, certainly not from any of our clients, but others that we could potentially look at and say, oh, they could have used a little bit of media training because they ventured into places they might not have, should have possibly not gone. And I think that does happen even to those that are trained and comfortable and such that they may go off track a little bit. How do we help clients understand the nuances of an interview, where some of that uncomfortableness might come from, and then really how to move it back to the direction that we had intended to set forth?

David Wills:

Well, with our training, the thing that we pay a lot of attention to is that we want to do simulations. So we will work with them ahead of time to create a scenario that reporter Abbie Fink wants to talk to you about the following topic. And we'll write up a scenario that puts in some details and some parameters that Abbie's interested because your company has an annual meeting coming up. And there's four things on the agenda to be voted on that could change the direction of the company and wants to go into details about your issues with climate, with labor, and so forth. So we create a scenario that we can then use in training and we go in, you know, acting as the reporter, we videotape it, and we think about the hard questions. We don't try and jump them or do anything that isn't really likely to happen. And we try and do it as accurate as possible and kind of push them through those uncomfortable things. And then we play it back and you say, see how this work, see how it landed.

It's an odd thing. Seeing yourself say something is a very powerful tool. So using video and training is really important. And I would say, while we do a lot of online training now through Zoom, nothing is as impactful as in-person media training because we you know we'll keep doing those simulations over and over again until they get comfortable until they learn those lessons of, "Gee, what I think I want to say is not actually what I want to say because it comes out flat or comes out misinterpreted." And I think that where our clients are finding the greatest value is in those on camera sessions. And usually with the CEO, we make it a very intimate experience. We don't have a bunch of people in the room watching because they want to be able to work on certain things about their performance without the people that report to them watching that.

Abbie Fink:

And do you find that the skill sets that we're working with them on as it relates to interviews are relevant in any format for an executive leader that has to communicate? So we started the conversation with, you know, there's a variety of different ways to communicate today. And, you know, media training or earned media is, you know, a mainstay, I think, of what we do. But the skill set is certainly transferable to other communications channels that our executives and our leaders may be asked to participate in.

David Wills:

Absolutely. I think a lot of the same skills, how to deliver a message effectively, how to headline it first, how to lead with your most important fact to grab people's attention, that also works in presentations. That works in meetings. anywhere where you want to influence somebody or to adjust what their thinking is on a particular topic. All of these skills are transferable, but they're most real for people in a media scenario. It becomes real to them. They can kind of envision it, but it's a little hard to imagine delivering a presentation to a group of hundreds of people without hundreds of people there. But I think most people say, wow, this is actually really important for me. I'm going to apply this to our weekly town hall meeting because I've been doing it backwards. So we do get a lot of that feedback.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.