How to pick the right media trainer

Hiring the right media trainer is kind of a big deal. 

Think about're asking a group of your most senior people to invest a full day out of their busy schedules to sit in a boardroom -- away from their growing inboxes, away from their direct reports, away from their actual jobs -- to provide them with training aimed at improving the quality of your company's media coverage. 

Then, there's the cost. A full-day media training session can be a significant investment, particularly for a large group of participants. In these days of shrinking marketing/communications budgets, you need to make sure you're getting the right trainer but also at the right price.

Virtually every PR, marketing and communications shop offers something they call 'media training'. But not every media trainer or media training program is created equal. So how are you supposed to distinguish between a great provider and a poser? Unfortunately, basing your decision on the content of their websites isn't the answer. If their claims on their websites were all 100% accurate, they'd all be the lovechild of Walter Cronkite, they'd all be able to walk on water and they'd all have the ability to heal injuries with their magic hair (okay, that last one was from the movie Tangled, but you get the idea). 

Hire the right media trainer and the planets will align. Your spokespeople will be grateful, your company's media coverage will improve and you'll have added street cred with your C-suite executives. But hire the wrong media trainer and your spokespeople will never let you forget it, you'll have wasted thousands of your company's dollars, the quality of your media coverage will be no better than it was before and you might start getting funny looks from the CEO in the hallway.

Picking the right media trainer doesn't need to be difficult. You just have to know what you're looking for. Here's a checklist to help you differentiate between the posers and the real deal:

1. Client Testimonials: This is by far the most important factor in picking the right trainer. It's so important, in fact, that it should actually be numbers one, two and three on this list. The objective opinions of someone who's hired them in the past are invaluable. They've been where you're going. They've seen the trainer in action and will be able to provide invaluable feedback regarding their level of expertise, the quality of the client service they provide, the realism (or lack thereof) of their simulated interviews and overall value for the dollar. When looking for client testimonials:

  • Understand that more is better. A superior trainer will have no shortage of clients willing to talk about the positive experiences they've had.
  • Don't hesitate to 'make the call': Testimonial blurbs on a website are okay, but you'll get better information and be able to ask specific questions if you call their references yourself. Ask prospective trainers for five or six client names and phone numbers. If you get any resistance to that request, that's probably a red flag.

2. Experience as a working journalist: A media trainer without journalism experience is like a driving instructor that doesn't have their drivers' license. They might have read the handbook, but they're lacking firsthand experience that will be important to your session. Top trainers are able to offer their clients a combination of journalism and media relations experience. Ask for their journalism credentials. Do they have a college or university journalism degree? Ask to see some of their published stories from their work as a reporter. Be particularly wary when dealing with the big PR firms, since they don't always have former journalists on staff and you might end up with someone reading from the firm's stale, old slide deck and who lacks actual reporting experience.

3. Years of experience as a media trainer: If you're going in for a medical procedure, no matter how routine it might be, odds are you'll have greater peace of mind if you know the doctor has done this hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. The same goes with media trainers. You want someone who has decades of experience to draw from to provide you with relevant, valuable advice and answers to your questions. 

4. Check out their blog: The best trainers understand the value of messaging and how it should be done. They're also happy to share their expertise with others. When visiting the websites of prospective media trainers, check our their blogs. You should be looking for interesting, relevant posts that contain valuable tips, tricks and insights. If their blog content is lacking, that might be another warning sign that you're dealing with a poser. No blog at all? Proceed with caution.

5. Value for the dollar: With media training, as with most other things in life, you get what you pay for. Having said that, a higher price doesn't necessarily translate into a better offering. The big PR firms need to charge big bucks (e.g. $8,000 - $10,000 per day) to pay for their exorbitant overhead costs and the many levels of consultants in the food chain. By the same token, someone charging bargain basement prices (e.g. $1,000 - $2,000) per day is probably competing on price and not much else. There's no magic number and the cost will vary depending on the city you're in, the size of your group, etc. but you should budget for between $4,000 - $6,000 for a full day session).

6. Schedule an in-person meeting: Your prospective media trainer should be willing to visit your office for a pre-session consultation. This is a great way to gauge their level of interest in working together, how professionally they present themselves and whether you can see youselves working well together. If a potential trainer claims to be 'too busy' to meet with you in advance, consider that a warning sign.

When it comes to hiring a media trainer, it pays to do your homework in advance. By investing the time it takes to ask a few of these questions and check things like references, blogs and pricing before you hire someone, you'll have the information you need to make a well-informed decision and provide your spokespeople with a trainer who will teach them to handle media interviews in a more strategic, disciplined way. And you'll be helping to improve the quality of your company's media coverage at the same time.

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