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Advice on Hiring a Media Trainer

By William Wray Carney

The following is an edited excerpt from the recently published book, "In the News The Practice of Media Relations in Canada" by William Wray Carney. The University of Alberta Press. ISBN 0-8864-382-9.

Media training is highly recommended for any media spokesperson, whether a novice or a veteran. In-house communicators can provide media training, if they have media experience, or training can be provided by outside consultants.

The typical media-training package will be a one- or two-day seminar that includes media theory and practice (such as this book contains). It should also include an examination of the organization's media policies and procedures and should provide some background on how the media currently perceives the organization or its issues. (You will have obtained this information through your research in developing the media plan.) Good training will include mock interviews (on video) with selected spokespersons and critiqued for improvement (this can be done in a group or individually). The interview topic, which should be discussed beforehand, should be the area the spokespeople will be commenting on or the major issues facing the organization.

Mock interviews should be handled with care. Interview subjects are highly stressed, sometimes even traumatized; most reporters are not sensitive to this fact. For most people, a media interview is on a level with a job interview, public speaking or defending a thesis - that is, among the most fearful undertakings imaginable. A good media trainer will recognize the subject's stress, provide a real-life media experience but not attack or degrade the subject to the point that he or she doesn't want to do media or is intimidated by it. The purpose of media training is to give spokespeople the skills and attitudes that will make them good representatives for the organization and for the media. You want to build them up, not tear them down.

If you offer the training in-house, you must have a media background or extensive dealings with media; otherwise, hire a trainer. There are companies that provide media training (look in the Yellow Pages under Public Relations or Advertising). There are also community agencies that provide low-cost or no-cost assistance to like-minded advocacy groups, particularly those dealing with environmental and health issues.

If you hire an outside media trainer, you should follow some basic guidelines. First, do a reference check, particularly on the persons who will be performing the hands-on training. Find out their experience in media and their preferred training style - particularly how they handle the interview subject. Ask whether they can mock up different interview situations, such as the scrum, feature, live television, open mike and so on. Teaching or publishing experience helps, as does specific experience in media relations with your business or issue.

Some media trainers specialize in particular areas, such as government and political issues, health and the environment. Your trainer should know your business and the issues you deal with; if not, he or she should do the necessary research. However, that research will cost time and money, and likely won't result in a good "feel" for your organization. You need to weigh your options carefully.

Determine whether the trainer's style fits your needs, issues and organizational culture. For example, if you are preparing for highly politicized public hearings on which your business depends and which you know will be high profile and contentious, you will want a politically savvy, tough-minded trainer who can offer support in other areas such as testifying and lobbying. On the other hand, if you are a non-profit group with a less confrontational style and more basic media needs, you will want someone lower-key who understands your values and concerns.

Check out the handouts the trainer intends to give participants. You should be allowed to see them but don't expect the trainer to give them to you: these materials are part of their business and the service they charge for. Handouts can range from copies of overheads to manuals; quantity doesn't matter much as quality.

Finally, check out the fee structure and what it covers. You can lower your costs considerably by sharing your research and the policies and procedures you have developed, but do expect the trainer to charge for preparation time. Also expect the trainer to ask some questions: what are your media needs and issues, will this be generic training or focussed on a particular issue? Give extra points to companies who ask for personality profiles of the interview subjects and who ask for briefing before they conduct training.

Costs depend on services purchased and the amount of time a company invests in providing the service. Fees can range from as little as nothing (from a company willing to do pro bono work) to $150 (a typical one-day university or college workshop) to $500 a day (generic training for non-profits) to $5000 a day (high-profile, customized workshops). You can also expect to pay much more if you have a very ugly and very high-profile issue that requires extensive media consultation.

See also:
The Intangible Benefits of Media Training
Review: Media Relations, by Allan Bonner
Sources Media Training