Anybody can claim to be a media trainer – but I am often shocked by what passes for media training, which I often doubt will have done the job at all. So before putting forward such coaching for your client or organisation, ask yourself whether it could fall into any of these common traps:
1. WILL IT BE TAILORED ENOUGH?
Too often media training courses are put together to a ‘cookie-cutter’ design that doesn’t really take account of what media those taking part are actually likely to face – there is no point in giving people practice for BBC Breakfast if they’re more likely to appear on Bloomberg TV or speak to Risk magazine or Estates Gazette. The trainer needs to be skilled enough to be able to give challenging interviews from a wide variety of media outlets with realistic feedback. If those being coached have had little or no media experience, it is particularly important to give them a clear idea of the journalist’s mindset, rather than just plunging into interview practice and hoping the main points come out along the way.
2. WILL IT BE CHALLENGING ENOUGH?
An important element of any media training session is to help participants get their message across effectively whether they get much help from the interviewer or not. However just ensuring you ‘get in your key messages’ is not enough. Often, trainers miss out the really tough questions through lack of knowledge, or fear of being ‘negative’ with the client – particularly if they work directly for the PR company and don’t want to upset the person paying the bills. The client’s key message is not necessarily a story for the journalist.
3. DOES IT RISK TURNING OUT ROBOTIC SPOKESPEOPLE?
This is a common problem and one that gives media training a bad name in general. I despair when I see company spokespeople being interviewed who are so on-message it makes you wince, as they never really answer the questions. You have to be seen to deal realistically with the tricky issues, otherwise people think you’re in denial. A good trainer has to help you recognise this, and to get the style and tone right. You want to be authentic and for the journalist/audience to like you – not to think you’re a plonker.
4. IS THE TRAINER IS TOO CLOSE TO THE CLIENT?
Sometimes to cut costs the “media training” is just a couple of hours of practice carried out in-house by the PR who was involved in putting the messaging together. Such individuals can be far too close to the subject – a reporter might come at things from a completely different angle. An external trainer won’t be making the same assumptions as you, and is usually much more likely to take the hard-nosed journalistic approach that the client needs to be ready to expect.
5. DOES THE TRAINER KNOW TOO LITTLE – OR TOO MUCH?
A trainer who has too little experience of the client’s target media is unlikely to be able to give realistic practice interviews. For instance a trainer who comes from a general news background is very unlikely to understand the sorts of questions a financial journalist might ask. By contrast, someone who is too deeply ingrained in the client’s industry may be too much of an ‘insider’, encouraging the client to ‘pitch the message too high’ in a way that may be jargon-laden and go way above the average reporter’s head.