Jonathan Bernstein: Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training - Author interview

President of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., and media relations expert Jonathan Bernstein, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his very practical and eye opening book Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training.

Jonathan Bernstein describes how media training will help develop key messages, to improve the chance for balanced coverage, enhancing transferable media relations skills, and assisting in identifying effective media spokespeople.

Thanks to Jonathan Bernstein for his time and for his interesting and informative responses.

What was the background to writing this book Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training?

Jonathan Bernstein: Most media trainers I know – self included, in the past – seem to use a collection of materials from multiple sources as handouts for their training sessions. I thought it might be very useful to have that type of information all in one place, in manual format, and discovered to my pleasant surprise that no one else had done that before.

In general, why do business executives need media training?

Jonathan Bernstein: Because nothing you learn in business school or any other professional training prepares you to deal with the media except in the most plain vanilla circumstances, like a trade press interview.

During a crisis, why is being well trained in media relations so critical for executives?

Jonathan Bernstein: It takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to lose one – the seconds during which an executive inserts his foot in his mouth during a media interview.

There are many types of media and many different definitions. How do you define media, and are the rules the same for alternative internet based media, including blogs and podcasts?

Jonathan Bernstein: That’s a very perceptive question. I define media as all channels employed to get your messages to your stakeholders, internal or external. Thanks to the Internet, the number of potential channels has grown exponentially.

The basic precepts of effective crisis communications are the same for all media, but the logistical and informational needs and motivations of alternative media can vary dramatically. And, there are no editorial controls or ethical standards established (yet) for alternative media, not that traditional media scores very high on the ethical scale anymore.

Jonathan Bernstein (photo left)

What are some of the major concerns and frustrations that executives have with journalists and the media?

Jonathan Bernstein: Some are accurate, some are delusional. The major concerns expressed to me by executives are editorial bias and inaccurate reporting. The former is definitely true, but if you understand that bias you can still make the most of the interview. Inaccurate reporting is sometimes the journalist’s fault, but it’s also sometimes the fault of an untrained interview subject, who can’t communicate clearly.

How can business leaders prepare more effectively for a media interview?

Jonathan Bernstein: Get trained, then practice what you’ve learned. Without practice (which could include actual interviews), interview skills erode rapidly. Oh, and buying my book wouldn’t hurt 

Your book describes what you call the Three C's of Crisis Communication. What are they and why are they so important?

Jonathan Bernstein: I say that effective crisis communicators need to come across as Confident, Competent and Compassionate.

Think "Rudy Giuliani" on and after 9-11. It was his attitude, his non-verbal cues, which gave his audiences comfort. If he had delivered the same messages in a stereotypical governmental manner, the amount of fear and anxiety felt by listeners would have been dramatically higher. Instead, what they clearly felt, for the most part, was "However horrible this situation is, Mayor Giuliani is going to get us through it, he's doing the right thing, in the right way." He actually delivered little substance, initially, because so little was known. But he won over his audience (not to mention laying the groundwork for his future ventures).

If stakeholders perceive you as Confident, Competent and Compassionate, they are far more likely to believe your messages. In fact, if you're really good at projecting the "Three C's," you can get away with some messaging errors and still win over your audience.

Are there some effective tactics that business leaders should understand and utilize when speaking with members of the media?

Jonathan Bernstein: There are many tactics, but chief of them is being able to ingrain in oneself the concept that your job in a media interview has little to do with answering the reporter’s questions and everything to do with communicating your key messages. It’s completely counterintuitive to the way we usually talk to others.

Should a business leader be honest and avoid lying or sidestepping questions, and what are the consequences of being caught in a lie or misrepresentation?

Jonathan Bernstein: There are four ways to be dishonest – by commission, omission, exaggeration or understatement. If you try to obfuscate the truth in any way, that’s a lie in the mind of your stakeholders, and lying damages reputation far more than the humble truth.

Are there a few tips that are useful for all interview situations that are especially important in times of crisis?

Jonathan Bernstein:

1. Know your key messages and how to communicate them succinctly.

2. Understand and epitomize the “Three C’s” as mentioned above.

3. Assume that anything you say or do while in the presence of a reporter is “on the record,” even if a camera or digital recorder is allegedly off.

Can every business person be trained to work better with media representatives, even if the meeting is less than friendly?

Jonathan Bernstein: Almost all business people’s media skills can be improved from whatever level they start at. However, some are better at certain types of interviews (e.g., print, broadcast, radio) than others. And some are truly untrainable.

Does continual media relations practice make for better interviews and communications?

Jonathan Bernstein: Yes, and the opposite is true; lack of practice makes for poorer and poor interview results.

What is next for Jonathan Bernstein?

Jonathan Bernstein: Well, I never stop being busy at my “day job” of providing crisis management planning, training and response services to a wide array of clients. In the publishing arena, my next book will be specifically about Crisis Prevention. Look for that sometime in 2011.


My book review of Keeping The Wolves At Bay: Media Training by Jonathan Bernstein.

About Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training

Anyone who has achieved some degree of success in business, government work, helping run a non-profit organization, or any other field may be interviewed by the news media. This is a rich opportunity to gain positive publicity, but you can also find yourself in a position where you look bad. Jonathan L. Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., has varied professional experiences, including public relations, crisis management, journalism, and covert military intelligence operations. Bernstein is a regular guest commentator and expert source for national media outlets and PR Week described him as one of 22 individuals nationwide "who should be on the speed dial in a crisis." For more details visit

Jonathan Bernstein (photo left)

About Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training. He is a former journalist and a veteran of five years in U.S. Army Military Intelligence covert operations. He is also publisher and editor of Crisis Manager, a first-of-its-kind email newsletter written for “those who are crisis managers whether they want to be or not,” currently read in 75 countries. Bernstein is a regular guest commentator and expert source for national media outlets and PR Week described him as one of 22 individuals nationwide “who should be on the speed dial in a crisis.”

We invite you to join us for the Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training virtual tour. The schedule and more details can be found at bookpromotionservices.com. For more information and to get your copy, visit thecrisismanager.com or Amazon.com

Tags: Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training, Jonathan Bernstein, media relations, business author interviews.