Strategy is a word used too often in public relations circles. Actually scratch that. It’s an over-used term in business overall. People make a list of things to do and they say it’s a strategy. It might be a very good do-list but it’s not a strategy.

People sometimes come to us wanting help with their press interview and presentation skills which is fine, it’s what we do. We want to help you (or your clients if you’re one of our colleagues from the world of public relations) to hold on to the agenda and control the messages people attribute to you in public.

Other times they come to us and it becomes obvious they want us to build their sales. Or do some lead generation.

Don’t get us wrong, lead gen and sales are completely respectable things without which most companies – including this one – would be dead in a very short order of time.

If you don’t apply some sort of strategy, however, there’s no point in even trying.

Strategy and your starting point

Pic of a satnav to illustrate strategyWhat we mean by strategy is that your communications (and the people behind it) need an idea of where they’re going and why. As you can see we have put in a not-at-all predictable picture of a satellite navigation system to make the point. The first thing you need for a satnav to work – let’s take “decent maps installed” and “a signal” as read – is a destination.

Surprising numbers of people, in other words “more than none”, come to us and ask to talk about media and presentation training without a destination in mind. Worse, they come in with an unachievable destination they want to reach.

Let’s take an example. Someone might come in with an idea that they want to prep for an interview with the Economist or Financial Times. They might want to sell more of their product offering, let’s say it’s sourdough starter.

Let’s look at that again. They are thinking there are readers out there who will be looking for bread making tips in the FT. To be blunt: no there won’t.

That doesn’t mean the FT’s readers won’t want to know some things about sourdough starters. If you’re a serial entrepreneur who is doing brilliantly selling sourdough starters your story could be valuable. You could use it as positioning if you were looking for investment.

You’re still only starting

Even then, it’s not going to work unless it’s part of an overall whole. “Please invest in my company because I’ve been interviewed in the Financial Times” isn’t going to get the cash flowing in. It has to be part of an overall campaign and strategy and one which goes much further than a communications exercise; the communications element is one portion of it, albeit an important one.

To stretch the satnav metaphor even further, lead trainer Guy lives near Croydon. If he wanted to get to Brighton but insisted he wanted to travel via the North Circular then a decent working satnav would be able to do it but anyone who knew the geography of southern England would confirm that’s quite a diversion and would slow him down rather than help.

Likewise if your wish was to sell more of your product and you insisted to your PR company that you wanted an interview in the Financial Times they would most likely advise against it. Even if they had the right connection and you had the right story to interest the publication (and these are non-trivial “ifs”) the interview would most likely take up a lot of your time and not get you any closer to your goal. Other moves would be better.

Let’s stop talking about satnavs

To everybody’s relief we’re now going to abandon the satnav image. It’s inexact because in reality not every pitch, even to the appropriate publications, will land. Also your goals might change along the way. Over the last few years we’ve seen the pandemic and its aftereffects having dramatic impacts on the business world, what’s achievable and how.

This is why there is a picture of a chess set at the head of this entry. Guy has been playing a lot of bad chess recently (took it up again in middle age and is nearly at the stage he’d reached at about 11). One thing he has picked up is that if you have a plan that’s better than not having one but there are other moving parts. The King, which you’d planned to trap in three moves, might have the audacity to move. A knight might move in to protect it or the Queen could take your piece.

At all times you need to keep that objective in mind – check that King in such a way that there is no legal move out. But the moves needed to do so will change as the game moves on and if you’re inflexible then the chances are you’ll lose. Worse, if you insist on using only your bishops or only your pawns, you’re going to neglect some pretty powerful hitters. The thing to do is to understand the power of each of your pieces and how they work together.

Back to strategy and media

The best way to go about securing the right coverage to take you where you need to go is with the help of an expert. We’re going to put our hands up and say that’s not us; we’re a training company and can support you in developing and honing those presentation and interview skills you’ll need to deliver those messages and not get blown off course. Your strategy will be best handled by someone with an overview, whether they are in-house experts or a full-blown PR company.

But whatever you do and whether you use an external trainer like Clapperton Media Training, never assume that interview/media skills will work in isolation. They’re there to be part of a strategy. Once you know where you’re going and the staging points en route can you really be sure to get to your destination – then it’ll be worth acquiring and honing your interview skills.


Our lead trainer Guy was at a session yesterday in which there was a lot of focus on messaging. Yes, he was there to deliver input on delivery but understandably the client wanted to talk about what they were saying as well as the way they were saying it.

One notable area under discussion was the extent to which you believe you should tailor your message according to the medium. To paraphrase the client, he basically said:

If I’m talking to someone for broadcast then I keep it brief and factual. If it’s for a written piece then I take it as read that I can go on for longer.

Those weren’t his exact words. You get the idea though; he wanted to change his tone according to who he was speaking to.

This can be a good idea or it can be a disaster. It’s worth taking a look at some of the reasoning.

They have more space in written media

It’s often true that someone researching something to go and write about it will have more space. If they don’t have more space then they are likely to have more bandwidth in their heads to edit down your long(ish) statements into digestible chunks. So it’s OK to go on at some length, some might think.

Well, yes and no (we know that’s unhelpful). Depending on the broadcast you may well be right. If it’s news then they will indeed want to get the facts pretty quickly but that’s what they want.

What you want or need may be quite different.

Make sure you don’t sound shifty

You’re likely to have some messaging you want to get into an interview and the first thing you need to ask if you’re going to keep it factual is: how much of a message can you get into a one-word answer? Have a quick look at this interview if you have the time. If you don’t, it’s the then-chief executive of the British Dental Association answering the BBC’s queries about mercury in fillings. His first and third answers are the ones you’re looking for: he says “yes” and “mmhmm”.

Consider how much more value he could have added to that. He could have added “yes but” or my favourite, “yes and the reason for that is…” and continued into something that would have shared a lot more of his expertise. Later on in the interview, when they let him do his retake, he gets it right but the damage is done.

In his first take, he ignores the opportunity to put some messaging in place. His organisation gets no benefit and equally seriously in my independent view, the audience misses out as well. Those earlier monosyllabic answers sound more like evasions than anything else.

Transferring the messaging power

The flip side of the client’s view is his belief that you can speak at some length to the written media because they have more space or at least mental bandwidth. They can translate what you’re saying into journalese so why not let them?

In principle that’s fine as long as you have a completely trustworthy journalist who is not only on your side but also understands the exact point you want to make. Except it’s unlikely to be like that.

The first point to make is that a journalist should never be on your side, they should be independent. We always assure clients that if they make thirty-three trillion dollars in a week they will be reported accurately. They will be reported just the same if they lose the same amount. The journalist’s job is to report the facts.

Another issue is that if you offer the journalist a 100-word quote and they only need ten for their article, you’re handing them the power to choose whichever parts of your quote they want. It won’t be inaccurate but let’s say you wanted them to write about your new international expansion and you mention the investment you secured to make it happen. The journalist then goes away and writes about the investment while your priority was to make new markets aware of your presence.

Essentially if you want the press to focus on something then focus on it yourself while you’re speaking. They can only write what you’ve given them and if you give them a lot they’ll do their best to prioritise.

Messaging prep takes time

There are two more basic reasons to be consistent in messaging across the media, however:

  • Timing. Let’s be perfectly honest, if you’re managing a business that’s attracting media attention there’s a very good chance you’re quite busy. You have to ask yourself just how granular you want to go: short sentences for TV? Long ones for print? And if you’re doing an interview for a profile piece on TV or radio, then you’ll have to vary those rules anyway. Just how much time can you allocate to tailoring the length of your messages to every individual outlet, even if you had the aptitude to do it?
  • Consistency. Journalists and other media professionals do check each other’s work, it’s how they stay up to date. It’s therefore worth prioritising a consistent message and making sure you don’t trip over yourself trying to cater for different media the whole time.

This doesn’t mean you should never prepare for different media and different audiences. We always advise, however, that people should think about the audience rather than the medium. If you’re in business and you’re speaking to one of the financial press (the sort of thing we might have Pádraig help you with) then you might well be able to talk about EBITDA, P&L, all sorts of stuff like that. If you were speaking to the technical press, Guy or Chris might comment that the technologists who write it will know their bytes from their blockchain so you should be fine with a bit of jargon. If you were speaking to the Nationals or even mainstream international press you’d need to assume a bit less knowledge

Our client from yesterday is happy tailoring his message to the medium he’s addressing and we’re really fine with that. If you’re new to communicating with the media, though, we’d suggest your time is better spent thinking of who you need to talk to and what messaging they will take away from your words.