Media Training: Get Ready for 15 Minutes of Fame

Artist Andy Warhol in 1968 predicted that everyone will eventually have 15 minutes of fame. Combine the rapid growth of podcasts, blogs, e-newsletters, and streaming video — in addition to old-school media like newspapers and TV — with escalating interest, and this prediction has never been truer for wellness professionals. A little media training could help prepare you for that moment.

Are you ready for your 15 minutes? Here are examples for getting into the public eye:
  • A wellness podcaster wants to interview you about your organization’s program
  • A local newspaper runs a story about a wellness award you won and asks you to provide details
  • A national media outlet is running an article about wellness incentive regulations and calls to get a quote from an employer your size
  • You’ll be presenting at a professional conference, and the sponsor wants to preview your message in its preconference promotion
  • A trade publication seeks to learn about your financial wellness offerings for a planned article.
Use Key Messages

I was once fortunate enough to receive media training from my employer’s PR consultant and have continued to develop my skills. For example, later in my career, while working as wellness manager at an insurance company called Apex, our hometown newspaper interviewed me by phone. My colleague, Ellen, an Apex PR manager, arranged the interview and stipulated that she sit in on the call — our standard procedure. The reporter asked typical questions about the wellness program’s history, participation rates, and impact on healthcare costs. Afterward, Ellen met with me to debrief.

“You did a great job,” she told me, making me proud of my media savvy. “But…” (Uh-oh!) “You rambled a little. Next time, have 2 or 3 key messages planned before the interview, and no matter what you’re asked, try to angle your answers toward those messages.”

It was a valuable lesson. We communicate more calmly and effectively when we’ve crafted and memorized primary messages. And for us to be accepted as essential to our organizations, those messages should align with the employer’s mission and values.

Thereafter, one of my main messages was “Apex is a leader in employee wellness because we cherish our employees and always aspire to be an even greater place to work.” As a response to a question about ROI, for example, this message more effectively served Apex and our wellness strategy, compared to my knee-jerk response about the pitfalls of measuring ROI.

Reinforce Company and Product Names

On another occasion, at a charity walk, the sponsoring nonprofit had a videographer capturing sound bites from team captains, like me, who had entered large numbers of employees. Again, my involvement was coordinated by Ellen, who stood in the wings during the interview and kept me relaxed beforehand, calmly offering suggestions when I panicked about what to do with my hands on camera. (“Clasp them naturally in front of you or keep them by your side,” she advised.)

The videographer showed up and after some formalities said, “Ready to start?”

“Ready,” I said. In fact, as much as I enjoy talking to reporters, I — like many people — turn to jelly in front of a camera.

“Okay. We’re rolling.” There was a pause. Then he said, “Tell us why you’re here today.”

“Well, we’re committed to the importance of —”

“Stop!” he said, gruffly.

He looked at Ellen, then at me, and said, “Who’s ‘we’?”

“Apex,” I said.

“Then you need to say that. I don’t think Apex will appreciate you not mentioning their name.”

This guy was over the top, as Ellen later agreed. But his point had merit. Reinforcing the name of your organization and/or your product is an important part of PR.

I started again: “Apex is committed to this cause and to supporting our employees and community…”

Eventually, Ellen authorized me to face the media alone, but I always appreciated her presence. She offered moral support, managed logistics so I could focus on the messages, checked my appearance before videotaping, responded to unexpected non-wellness questions — like those about company finances or leadership — and took meticulous notes so we had our own record.

If you have a PR professional’s help, embrace it as the most important logistical step to external promotion. Also learn and respect the boundaries of what’s acceptable in your organization; many employers restrict the contact employees are allowed to have with media.

Tips for Better Media Communication

When you do interact with the media for information or promotion purposes (and not in response to a crisis like a data breach or participant lawsuit, definitely topics you need to refer to your PR or legal department), these tips will help:

  • Scout the media outlet — whether a newspaper, blog, podcast, or trade publication — and confirm it’s suitable for your organization
  • Rehearse your key messages
  • Secure a private, quiet space for recorded interviews (even air conditioners and other noises you usually don’t notice can be distracting on a recording)
  • Use a landline with handset, if possible, for phone interviews
  • Relax, and remind yourself that you’re in charge of the interview
  • Sit up straight if you’re videotaped while seated
  • Prepare notes and have them available for reference during phone interviews
  • Don’t say anything “off the record” to a reporter
  • Assume any camera or microphone in your presence is recording, even before and after interviews
  • Decline politely if you’re not comfortable answering a question
  • Don’t say or imply anything negative about your or any other organization or person
  • Confirm for the reporter your name, your employer’s name, and the spelling of both.

Remember to pay close attention to major media interviews, noting how guests present themselves as well as what is and isn’t effective on talk shows, news broadcasts, radio interviews, and podcasts. Watching the same guest on multiple shows, like an author or actor on a publicity tour or politician on the campaign trail, will reinforce your understanding of how key messages can skillfully be woven into interview responses.

Just as I went through media training and afterward learned from Ellen — and to this day continue to learn from experience — you’ll grow more proficient with each opportunity and soon be eager to star in your own 15 minutes of fame.


Bob MerbergBob Merberg
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.

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