Chances are, as a coach, you’ll be able to put that to the test one of these days.
interviewed Coaching Life Magazine Editor-in-Chief Stewart Fleming on my Logan 101FM Monday morning show (see what I did there?) and one of the areas we discussed was the difference between a coach and a trainer/teacher. Stewart said, “A teacher wants you to learn but the coach wants you to win!”.
The same applies in business although, here on the Gold Coast in Queensland, there’s a decent community of self-styled coaches who wouldn’t be out of place in a John Wayne Western. Want a 20-year-old life Coach? 20? Life Coach? Come back in ten years, maybe! How about a ‘life alignment coach’ or a ‘find the inner spiritual, 3rd dimension, higher plane coach’? We have them all here and I’m sure some of them gained their qualifications (they are qualified, are they not?) from a Groupon voucher that offered a 10 year course to be completed in 16 hours, originally worth $4,000 but yours for only $97!
I’ve worked in the media all of my life and started in hospital radio when I was 14 in a small European village called Glasgow. From a very early age I realised that interviewing people could be fun (for me anyway) and that I could earn a decent living by talking on radio. Those humble beginnings resulted in what’s laughingly called a media career and I moved into television news and sport in 1986 as a cameraman/interviewer for ITV Anglia in Norwich. I’ve interviewed many sportsmen and women, business leaders, football managers (when I say football I mean the proper game with a round ball that you may know as soccer but it’s football really!) boxing coaches, speedway riders, CEOs, senior managers and even politicians. What many of them had in common was a fear of talking to the press as it wasn’t something considered important by the club, coach or management.
As an interviewer, if it’s a recorded interview, I’m looking for a soundbite, a clip, something that fits the story. That clip can be anywhere from 20 seconds down to 5 seconds in TV news – less in America where a 2 second clip or just 6 words is not uncommon. You might think you can’t say much in such a short space of time but remember those 11 words that came back to haunt Bill Clinton? I’ll give you a clue: “I did not have… “
The point is that anyone can put a message across to the media if they know what the press actually want. Chances are, they’ll run the story anyway, but any decent news editor will be looking for a balanced report wherever possible so if you or your company decide not to accept the offer of an interview – who’s fault is that?
When you hear the phrase “Despite our repeated requests for an interview, XXXXX declined to comment”, what do you think? Guilty!
THE BLAME GAME
That’s the impression the public have. While you skim read this thinking it will never happen you, here are a few real-life examples that were part of the reason we set up our own media training company, Media Answers, in 1992 in the UK and have now opened an office here in Queensland. (See what I did again?)
Imagine you are the coach of a hugely successful heavyweight boxer. He’s just won another belt and is in line for a chance of a world title. He’s popular with the fans and has the world at his feet. . . along with 3 nightclub bouncers that he decked for refusing to let him into a local nightclub. The media can’t talk to him, so who are they going to call? Ghostbusters aren’t available so it’s down to you as the coach. Who will the media be looking to blame? Take a wild guess! One of the media objectives is to blame something or someone. In sport, if it’s not the player, it’s the coach. If the team isn’t doing well, who gets fired? The coach. The media love to point the finger of blame and, in the case of the heavyweight boxer, his coach was accused of not managing him, keeping him in line and being aware of his issues with alcohol and other substances.
One of the media objectives is to blame something or someone.
What about the swimming coach who walks into the changing room to see his “star” appearing to be engaging in some kind of acupuncture judging by the holes in his leg? Couldn’t happen? It did!
LEARN TO WORK THE MEDIA
There are positive encounters with the media too and by using the press to get your message across it’s a win-win situation. You are seen to be helpful and pro-active, and the media have their soundbite. Press conferences are hugely common in sport and they’re a great way to reach a mass audience. Sir Alex Ferguson was the master of the press conference when he led Manchester United through the glory years of their success. He would read his statement, take a few questions then bring things to a close. The media hated it as he was in total control, but it worked. Any time I covered a football match for TV or radio it was the coach who would lead the post-match press conference and who would be expected to do the one to one interviews afterwards. Very rare that you would interview the players themselves.
Often the coaches are far better communicators than the sportsmen and women. Some world champion speedway riders, for example, have the most amazing skills on a motorcycle with no brakes but are incapable of stringing a sentence together.
There are a few exceptions: Australian Jason Crump was always articulate and more intelligent than most riders and knew how to play the ‘media game’. To prove the fact that you can be a great coach without having a history in your chosen sport or business, one of the most successful speedway team managers in the UK, Rob Lyon, guided his team and individual riders to championship success yet had never ridden a speedway bike himself!
In business, if you are coaching or mentoring a client, media handling should be high on your priorities as I guarantee the media will not be looking to YOU for that soundbite.
When the Deepwater horizon disaster claimed the lives of 11 people and caused one of the biggest pollution incidents ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico, I can’t imagine any journalist asking if the BP Boss Tony Hayward could send out his business coach for an interview. Now there’s someone who really did need a mentor as his lack of care and concern did nothing to protect the reputation of his company. Anyone who says to the media, “Nobody wants this over more than me, I want my life back” when the families who had lost loved ones were still grieving, deserves the public backlash that came his way. I also can’t imagine any business coach advising him to go sailing around the Isle of Wight the following weekend in full view of the media either, but that’s exactly what happened.
Knowing how the ‘media game’ is played can give you and your client a huge advantage but the ‘bury your head in the sand approach’ just doesn’t work anymore. Most people have smartphones with picture and video capability and are social media savvy, so who’s to say that Australia’s next rising star won’t appear on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube falling out of a club at 3am?
Mainstream broadcast media use Twitter as their number one source of information, so if your boy is trending, he’ll be on the news tonight! Your role as a coach or mentor is to ensure that this doesn’t happen, of course, but also to prepare for the worst. Some basic media awareness will go a long way in helping to protect your own, your client or your company reputation. Looking at every possible scenario may keep you up at night but you’ll be in a far stronger position if you have prepared for the doorstep interview, the radio studio and the dreaded press conference.
If truth be told, you can’t control the press, but you can manage them … and that’s when the fun begins!
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!