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Media Training Life after Lights, Camera, Action!

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Jonathan Schenker, Senior Vice President/ Ketchum Public Relations

  • Your client, the marketing director for a national commodities board, has been asked to appear on a network morning talk show. Also appearing: the representatives of a foreign country faced with a severe drop in tourism due to international terrorism, and a consumer packaging firm whose products have been tampered with and withdrawn from retailers' shelves. The topic for the segment, which will lead off the shoe's two hour schedule, is "Marketing in a Crisis Situation." The spokesperson from your client's firm in the Midwest has 38 hours to prepare for the interview. Your assignment get him ready.

  • The local city council candidate (your client) is going to debate her opponent, the well liked incumbent who has held the position for 16 years. You've been informed that the incumbent's campaign is being funded by another politician in the community who wants him re elected. Though the action is legal, there are some serious ethical questions that the opponent would have to address if the funding issue were made public. Should your client bring up the funding issue? How will your candidate address the opponent and his agenda (which, of course, you must prioritize)?

  • The director of your local nonprofit performing arts organization is about to take the company on a five city national tour. This is the first time they are being booked in other than local concert halls and performing arts centers. Because the organization consists primarily of minority students, radio, television, and newspaper reporters in each tour site have booked the director. But they expect him to discuss more than his artistic aims. Hell be open to questions regarding a wide range of issues relating to the nation's minorities. Your problem: Ticket sales account for only 35% of the company's operating budget How do you prepare him for potentially antagonistic interviewers and still make sure he's able to "get the message out" about the need for public contributions?

  • Your company is introducing a new business machine, which they will both produce and sell directly to the public under a private label. The product will be introduced in a satellite press conference beamed to 35 cities across the country from your West Coast headquarters. Reporters without even being seen will be able to ask questions directly to company officers, marketing specialists, and designers. Once the fully televised question and answer session begins, your officers must address people without faces. How should they react and respond?

  • The phone rings. On the other end, a reporter asking your client about fourth quarter sales and earnings... before the figures have been officially released. What should she do? How should she reply?
Getting Involved in Media Training

Look to the larger public relations agencies in major markets or to corporations with a high media profile.

"If I were to advise students today what to study," says one Midwest trainer who counts many Fortune 500 companies among her clients, "I'd tell them to study journalism, study psychology, study courses in design, English, drama, and technology. And then watch TV, listen to the radio, read papers and magazines.

"Every interview you experience, just imagine being in the other person's shoes. How would you have answered that question? What would you have worn? What would be your agenda? How would you sit and where would you look?"

Clearly, the ideal person to work in this area of public relations is one with the ubiquitous love of people," but also (at least, perhaps even more, importantly) the ability to express his or her thoughts in a patient and thoughtful manner.

Most of all, someone wishing to enter this emerging field must be able to absorb a wide range of issues, current events, and topics as needed. In the last two years, I've led more than sixty sessions, teaching hundreds of men and women how to get their message across in any interview situation.

My clients have ranged from a man who smelled fragrances for a home decorating firm entering the market with a new floral decorator and the commodities representative described at the opening of this article, to a lobbyist on a media tour of New York State (just before a crucial vote in Albany that could cost or save his association millions), a nationally known star of a hit television series, a political candidate, two Olympic silver medalists, a Red Cross representative speaking on the issue of AIDS and blood contamination, and many others.

The media is a foreign country, and I'm the tour guide. Just as knowing the language, local customs, and laws will make any visit to a foreign capital more pleasurable and informative, my clients will fare better with the media and the media with them and they spend some time learning the lay of the land in the foreign country called "Media."

JONATHAN SCHENKER joined Ketchum Public Relations in 1983 as manage  media relations, responsible for coordinating Ketchum Contact, the agency's national media placement arm, as well as Ketchum SpeakOut!, the media training program for corporate executives and spokespeople who appear on radio and television. He is presently vice president of media relations.

Immediately prior to joining Ketchum, he was director of broadcast relations for the American Jewish Committee. It was in this position that he hosted two nationally syndicated public affairs radio programs that aired on more than 125 stations. A former account executive with Spencer and Rubinow, Ltd., public relations agency, his portfolio of accounts included fashion, travel, and banking firms.

Mr. Schenker holds a B.G.S. degree from Kent State University and also attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A former host of WEVD public affairs show, "Perspectives," he is a past president of the Publicity Club of New York (PCNY). He also speaks annually on media placement trends and activities at the annual National Media Conference in New York sponsored by Larimi Communications and has taught classes given by the PCNY. Under his direction, Ketchum Public Relations publishes Ketchum Contact, a monthly newsletter on media placement and training circulated across the United States.
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