Having your PR agency do your media training is a missed opportunity

You wouldn’t get the guys at the quick oil change place to install a new engine in your classic car. You wouldn’t go to your dentist for complicated dental surgery. I think you see where I’m going with this…

When companies let their PR or marketing agency facilitate their media interview training sessions, they’re taking the path of least resistance. They’ll say things like, “It’s included in our monthly retainer" or “We already have a relationship with them”.

Maybe so. But the reality is that getting your PR agency to do your media training session is a mistake. It’s the easy move. After all, every public relations and communications company lists some sort of media training service on their website. However, that doesn’t mean their training will adequately prepare your spokespeople to safeguard your company’s brand in their dealings with the media.

Many people who don’t have a lot of experience with media training tend to think of it as a binary service offering. Their company’s spokespeople either got media training or they didn’t. If they check the box, the thinking goes, they’re all set and their people are ready to meet the press.

But that’s not the case. Media training isn’t binary. There are many styles, approaches and levels of quality that all fit under the umbrella term ‘media training’.

To be fair, any media training is better than no media training. However, if you’re going to make the investment in dollars and your executives’ time, doesn’t it make sense to arrange the best quality training you can? The difference, both in terms of impact and quality of media coverage, can be significant.

This isn’t about taking a shot at agencies. They absolutely have their areas in which they excel. It’s just that when it comes to the preparation of front-line spokespeople to handle media interactions, there’s a better option: experienced pros who make media training their full-time career.

I realize, gentle reader, that there could be the appearance of an inherent bias in this post. “But HE’S a full-time media trainer!” Valid observation. So please note that I’m not saying that these companies need to hire me instead of having their agency do their training session. I’m happy to throw my hat in the ring and let the market decide, so to speak. But there are probably about a half dozen or so (that I’m aware of, anyway) dedicated media training coaches in Canada who would be more than capable of delivering a great training experience for your spokespeople. I’m not going to list all of their names here (after all, this is a business, it’s not Wikipedia). But a quick Google search should provide you with at least three names from whom you can ask for proposals.

So why is your agency the wrong call to conduct your media training session? Here are a few specific reasons in my opinion:

  • It’s not a core service for them - If you check their ‘services’ page on their website, it will include a list of about 20 things ranging from media lists to influencer relations. Media training is usually near the end of the list. How much effort do you think they’re putting into that training program?

  • Agency turnover - Agencies have notoriously high rates of employee turnover. Their ‘go-to’ media trainer today probably won’t be working there 18 months from now. It’s hard to master something like media training in a short stint with an agency, especially when it isn’t your core day-to-day job.

  • They will be reluctant to do anything to damage the ‘relationship’ - When you hire a media training pro to facilitate a session, you’re going to get the Simon Cowell treatment. They’re going to tell you, hopefully in a tactful and empathetic way, exactly where you stand in terms of your skills and what you need to do to improve. They won’t pull any punches. They’re there to make you better. Your agency reps, generally speaking, may be reluctant to provide frank, honest feedback because of a fear of bruising egos or hurting the client relationship.

  • Their simulated interviews will be lacking - Because of a combination of all of the other reasons listed here, the simulated interviews probably won’t be as challenging as they should be to give your spokespeople a great workout. There’s an art to conducting a tough but fair simulated interview (and providing relevant feedback).

I appreciate that all of this is just one person’s opinion. If you work for one of those companies, however, that has its PR agency do its media training, I would suggest that the objective proof of this hypothesis is in your media coverage. Audit your media coverage. The quality of your quotes. The placement of them. The tone of the stories. The amount of ‘interview regret’ or the number of times you and your colleagues were emailing about how to manage or respond to coverage that wasn’t what you hoped it would be. If, after an honest assessment, you realize there’s a gap between where your company’s media coverage is and where you’d like it to be, the culprit probably isn’t the journalists you’re working with. Chances are it’s that when someone in your company arranged media training, they took the path of least resistance.