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
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
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
Benefits of Media Training
Relations, by Allan Bonner