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Every executive and many other senior-level leaders will have times when they need to speak to the media, and doing so without media relations training is never advisable. The media event could be a positive event, like announcing a business expansion, but often it’s a crisis event like a union organizing campaign or a strike. The organizational leaders talking to the media become the voice of the organization, and anyone who watches the news understands how treacherous it can be with “gotcha questions” and other traps. Whether it’s media relations training in general or more specific training like media relations training during union organizing or media relations training during a strike, advance preparation is always advised to avoid saying things that could be harmful to the organization.
“Media training is not about what color shirt or blouse to wear or how much make-up is necessary to prevent glare on the TV,” says Mike Lake, Managing Director with IRI Consultants. ”Media training is a specialized form of training that develops leadership skills for communicating and interacting with the media. Effective media training gives participants the tools and skills to deliver an organization’s key messages to its stakeholders through traditional and non-traditional media.”
Media relations training offers generalized training on how the media works and the most productive way for organizational leaders to interact with media representatives. No one should talk to a media representative without preparation and practice, so you control the shaping of the narrative. Without proper training, the risk of a misstatement or missing an opportunity to tell your story can shift the interview from a positive to a negative.
A media training program instructs on topics such as:
Most organization leaders are not thrilled about engaging the press and approach the process with anxiety, apprehension, and reluctance. The best media training increases comfort and confidence, so leaders realize and utilize the media as one of the most powerful conduits to tell their story.
You can think of media relations during a union organizing effort as a crisis management situation because it has the ability to significantly alter the business model going forward. Successful media training allows leaders to concisely share their key messages, tailor their responses to specific audiences, and be seen as credible sources of information. They are the face of the company and its voice. As an executive or senior leader, the public, employees, elected officials, and labor union representatives will pay special attention to what information they share.
It’s no secret that the media likes conflict and drama, and supporters of unionization are waiting for management to say something they can use to amplify their narrative. Whether opponents are describing the workplace as unsafe or company management doesn’t treat its employees with respect and dignity, the organization must engage in the public dialogue to ensure there is a balanced discussion of the facts and any misstatements or incorrect information is corrected immediately.
During a union organizing campaign, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) details employer and employee rights and what can and cannot be done and said during an organizing campaign. Without proper training and understanding of the law, it’s easy for an employer to violate the NRLA. An example is threatening a plant closure should employees vote for union representation. A statement like this can lead to an Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) charges being filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Because we see a significant increase by organized labor to involve the media in their organizing efforts, companies and organizations must be prepared to engage the media in their storytelling strategies. The law allows a union a lot more latitude in the talking points they share with internal and external stakeholders. If an organization doesn’t engage the media, they will simply share union messages unchecked. Not engaging creates an information void that will easily be filled with union propaganda and point of view.
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Warren Buffet said, “ It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Union organizing can damage a company’s reputation and community relationships when unions and their supporters make false statements about the business. Talking to the media is good public relations, especially when we see union organizing campaigns targeting customers, suppliers, faith-based organizations, as well as employees. The executive could mention how the company supports the community, provides customers with essential products, or has established a safe entrance for supplier deliveries.
Unprepared spokespersons increase the risk to their organization’s brand and credibility as well as their personal reputation as effective leaders. They need to be prepared to comment on a wide range of topics and to provide clarifications of untrue statements made by employees or union representatives.
Union organizing campaigns are filled with emotions, making it easy to slip up when interviewers apply pressure. Maintaining professionalism, sticking to core messages, staying within the law, and remaining calm are important to a successful media event.
IRI Consultants has a four-step process to give leaders the confidence to interact with the media. The steps are:
One of the most impactful elements of media training is the mock interview process. Having participants sit for an interview with actual, relevant questions about their issues and organization is invaluable. These on-camera scenarios help leaders take control of the interview process, refine their “push-button” answers, and reveal their strengths and challenges.
Strong communication skills benefit all leaders. Whether talking directly to employees or reporters, ensuring your message is clearly delivered is worth the investment because it allows you to present a positive image for yourself and your company.