Why CEOs need to be media trained more than ever

By Chris Calland

Wednesday 25th October

This is because media audiences don’t entirely vanish, but move elsewhere.

So, while not as many people watch the BBC Six O’clock News, plenty read the BBC News website, listen to BBC podcasts, or get their news from Facebook and X posts and TikToks which are often derived from original journalism by the BBC and other “old media”.

That makes media training important for three reasons.

First, not only are newer media outlets often more hostile in their questioning, but even traditional outlets are in a war for eyeballs with these newer competitors. This means journalists are increasingly keen on turning interviews into headlines.

For example, when Rishi Sunak was Chancellor and asked about the cost of a loaf of bread: his initial answer was clear and human, telling the interviewer that the loaf he typically buys had gone up from about £1 to £1.20.

But when asked which brand of bread he buys, he said his household gets several different types. While hardly a crime, it was seized upon as an example of decadence while ordinary families were struggling. A good case study in the importance of message discipline.

The second reason for proper media training is that the boundaries between types of media have dissolved. These days a print journalist might also post video or audio content online – meaning more opportunities for a bad interview to be shared.

In this vein, what begins as a local TV interview can grab the national headlines – just ask Jeff Fairburn, the former CEO of housebuilder Persimmon, who was interviewed by BBC TV’s Look North in 2018 and asked about his £75m bonus. Rather than anticipating what should have been an obvious question, he not only refused to engage but his press officer tried to stop the interview.

The result was a clip that looked evasive and calamitous and went viral. A lesson in the importance of “optics”.

The third reason to be media trained is that news is now almost instantaneous. Interviews and off-the-cuff remarks can be uploaded to social media in seconds.

To try to get ahead of this, many leaders – especially celebrities and sports stars, but also some corporate bosses on LinkedIn – are taking to social media to try to explain their messages “unfiltered” by a journalist. But without careful preparation, this too is a risk.

That’s because a social media post can very easily be commented upon, parodied and ridiculed. Without the message discipline and appreciation of optics mentioned above, this type of self-generated content can become self-defeating.

Ultimately, media training is about respecting how important media interviews are. In any aspect of business, the best leaders will prepare rather than run away. The same should hold true when it comes to interacting with journalists.


By Chris Calland

First published by PR Week on the 25th October. The original article can be found here.

If you’re looking for support with media or presentational training that helps you master the skills needed to communicate your message in the face of any challenge or opportunity, please get in touch at hello@pagefield.co.uk. You can also look at our approach to media training here: https://www.pagefield.co.uk/expertise/training

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