How Do You Screen a Media Trainer?

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    [This supersedes and is a greatly expanded version of a post originally published on May 14.]

    Retaining someone to provide a service about which you know little yourself can always be tricky, whether it be an auto mechanic, a lawyer, a plumber, a computer tech or — the topic du jour — a media trainer.

    Below are a list of questions to ask any potential media trainer. The answers should provide you with insights critical to making an informed decision about using his or her services.

      1. Have you been a working journalist yourself?

        Good answer: Yes! It’s much harder to understand the workings of the media if you haven’t spent any time on the “inside,” at least at the collegiate and/or intern level.

      1. If yes to #1, what type of journalist were you (e.g., anchor, investigative reporter)?

        Good answer: Investigative or feature journalists are much more used to “digging” for a story and hence ask more of the tough questions for which you need to prepare. Some anchors engage in investigative reporting as well, but not all, so be sure to ask if the answer is “anchor.” You want a trainer who knows how to “dig.”

      1. If no to #1, what is the basis for your understanding of the media?

        Good answer: I made a point of spending part of my PR career actively networking with working journalists.

      1. Does your training include how to deal with non-traditional media, e.g., social media?

        Good answer: Yes! If the answer is no, say goodbye. Traditional media is no more than 50% of the media that will impact you and/or your organization.

      1. Do you teach us how we can maintain the skills we have learned from you? Be specific.

        Good answer: Yes. I do that by coming back to conduct refresher training twice a year, teaching you how you can practice on your own, etc. One or even two days of media training, alone, are insufficient to maintain the new skills you’re learning; practice is essential.

      1. Does your training prepare us both for routine interviews and for crisis-level interviews?

        Good answer: Yes. We focus __% of the time on routine interviews and ___% on crisis-level interviews.Then you decide if that balance represents your needs.

      1. How long have you been a media trainer?

        Good answer: 10 years (or more). That said, everyone has to start somewhere. You may find a very skilled trainer with less experience and correspondingly lower pricing, but check their references carefully.

      1. Could you show me anything you’ve written about this topic, and/or articles in which you’ve been interviewed?

        Good answer: Yes, and I’ll get you copies or links right away. If someone’s really good at what they do, they understand that they need to both publish in that field and make themselves available as media interview subjects.

      1. If the stuff hits the fan, can you also provide us with spot advice on what we can say?

        Good answer: Yes, I can help craft messaging as well. You want a trainer who is more than just a trainer, but someone you can call on when “the real thing” happens.

      1. Are you an experienced media interview subject yourself — i.e. do you practice what you preach?

        Good answer: Yes.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]