By Tom Maddocks, Course Director, Media Training Associates, London
If you are going to face the media on behalf of your organisation, it is vital to get some good media training. Journalists in the UK have a notorious reputation for being tricky at times, while London has wide range of specialist publications and channels which create a large volume of specialist content, with some highly knowledgeable editors and reporters.
But poor media training is frequently counter-productive. Anybody can say they are a media trainer, while journalists frequently say they 'do a bit of media training' on the side. However, few have the skills and background to consistently engage senior executives with a relevant and structured programme. It’s one thing to ask hard questions, quite another to show you how you could have answered them effectively. Meanwhile, PR-focused media trainers who tell you just to 'stay on-message' risk turning out robotic interviewees who don’t answer the questions properly, and end up antagonising reporters, editors, viewers and listeners.
The key in the training is to be able to give constructive feedback to build confidence, not to make the interviewee feel small for having got it wrong.
These, therefore, are some of the questions we believe you should be asking yourself when choosing a provider:
- What level of experience does the trainer have? Is it limited to the trade press or local radio, or have they worked for national level media outlets, for both broadcast and print media?
- Some people equate ‘media training’ with 'TV training' but they are not necessarily the same thing. Will the trainer have enough specialist knowledge of your sector to ask the right questions and give realistic feedback, say for a Financial Times business interview in one part of the training session, and Newsnight or CNBC in another? Can they help you with body language, hair and make-up tips as well as well as how to deal with a persistent trade journalist?
- How flexible is the programme?
- It may be more relevant to make the session 'print-focused' for some clients, 'broadcast-focused' for others. Should it be at foundation or advanced level? PR-focused or full-blown crisis? Look for an experienced coach who understands your requirements and can flex things accordingly.
- How many people need to be trained?
- For a small group (say up to three people) with some experience, an intensive half-day may be sufficient. For a larger group (say up to 4 or 5) or those with little media experience, a full day gives more chance for interview practice and feedback. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cram too many people into the session - to make the training work, each person needs to be given the time to be interviewed more than once and have individual feedback.
- What follow-up is there?
- With many media trainers, you do the session and that’s it. Ask if your potential provider will provide continuing support for those who have participated in the training; some have a whole library of support materials.
- Do you need to carry out the training at the client’s offices or at a studio?
- A studio may be appropriate to get clients out of the office and get them used to an intimidating or unfamiliar environment. However it adds to the cost and for many situations won’t be particularly relevant, for example if you are largely dealing with ‘print’ media rather than broadcast. Much highly effective media coaching is carried out at a meeting room at the client’s offices, using a trainer-operated camera kit or a professional camera crew. Look for a training company that can offer options that fit around your circumstances, rather than one that tries to get you to fit with what it has to offer.
- If you require crisis media training, do they have the skills and background to provide a realistic experience?
- This may be a matter of dealing effectively with tough but relevant questions if your organisation faces negative issues, or you may need a full-blown 'crisis scenario' for those taking part, with doorstep interviews and breaking news. Can they provide this if required?