Media training is hot. With the success of public relations-driven companies like Starbucks and growing awareness that PR is a potent marketing tool, many companies are using media training to strengthen their communication capabilities.

Media training can be a complex, expensive undertaking. But with a little planning, it can make your organization's message clearer and more compelling.

What Is It?

Media training is the process of equipping staff to interact effectively with journalists and present your organization in the best possible light.

For frontline employees, it means learning the basics—media inquiries are promptly and politely referred to the corporate communications department, and company gossip is not shared with the (seemingly) nice woman from the newspaper.

For corporate communications staff, media training ensures that different offices use the same techniques and information to handle journalists' inquiries. It can also involve simulations, where executives manage a rapidly unfolding crisis, often with incomplete information.

For senior managers who will represent the company, it centers on polishing their media-handling skills, usually with videotaped interview simulations and detailed appraisals. Training often supports an important event, like an acquisition or product launch.

Media Considerations

Regardless of the trainee, the program must equip them to deal with the media they will encounter most frequently. This can present some interesting challenges, because today's media range from small-town newspapers to issue-obsessed bloggers, and from propaganda outlets like North Korea's KCNA to respected global news services such as Bloomberg.

Level of skill, impartiality and sophistication vary accordingly, and spokespeople can encounter everything from cub reporters to knowledgeable specialists.

Planning the Program

Setting achievable goals is essential. A half-day session won't turn beginners into seasoned pros, but it will let you introduce basic concepts and determine who has potential, who is terrified and who is unlikely to effective.

Advance planning is particularly important if you are training busy senior executives. Holding the sessions off-site—at a hotel, the trainer's office or an annual conference—is one way to minimize distractions and disruptions from urgent phone calls and email. It can also create a sense of excitement around the program.

When you have identified the trainees, distribute a questionnaire to determine their experience and concerns. Then use this information to fine-tune the program and group trainees according to their needs and responsibilities. Mid-level staff are rarely comfortable being trained with senior people (and vice versa), particularly when detailed critiques are involved.

For training that includes interview simulations, small-group sessions offer the optimum combination of personal attention, flexibility and cost effectiveness. While less expensive on a per-head basis, larger groups are difficult to schedule and offer fewer opportunities for trainee participation.

Another option is to use programs that mix people from different companies. While better than nothing, these courses' pre-arranged schedules and content make them inflexible. And because they are public, they are unsuitable for rehearsing confidential or sensitive information.

Program Content

A program typically includes some or all of the following elements.

Policy review—For new hires and frontline staff, this is a natural opportunity to review your communications policy, including the interview approval, preparation and tracking processes. An external trainer can reiterate these policies to senior management, a task that may be difficult for corporate communications staff.

Media introduction—To give trainees a common foundation, you may include background information on reporters, how stories are written, and the differences between electronic and print media. You can also explain the media's interest in your organization and show examples of positive and negative coverage.

Interview preparation—For executives representing the company, include a section on selecting and "packaging" information. This is important because these managers usually have years of experience, which must be distilled into a few crisp sound bites. You'll also want to include techniques for handling difficult questions, and tips for TV, radio and print interviews.

Simulations—In post-training surveys, participants consistently rate interview simulations as one of the most valuable elements in the process. If you are training spokespeople, include simulations for each participant—there is no substitute for seeing yourself in action and receiving constructive, specific feedback.

Simulations should include easy, difficult, open-ended and "dumb" questions, and they should be appropriate for the trainees' responsibilities. A 60 Minutes-style ambush can be valuable for a CEO in a crisis-prone industry, but it is rarely appropriate for a novice trainee.

Finally, include plenty of Q&A time so trainees can resolve any outstanding questions. To keep the course topical, use actual examples from your industry. And incorporate some fun elements to relieve the tension trainees may feel about appearing on camera.

Choosing a Trainer

There is no standard media training curriculum or certification for media trainers, and some programs cost over $10,000 per day. As a result, whether you hire a global PR firm, an independent agency or a corporate training firm, choosing the right trainer is critical.

Referrals from trusted colleagues are a good place to start. Short-listed companies should be able to provide references and explain their course materials and training approach in detail. They should also be able to accommodate special requests, including company- or participant-specific idiosyncrasies.

Meet the persons delivering the training—not just the salesperson—to ensure they are credible and able to build rapport. This is particularly important if you are training top executives or specialists who may be skeptical about the program.

The trainer may suggest using freelance journalists in the program. While this can add realism, it can also create confidentiality issues. Everyone in the program should be covered by a nondisclosure agreement so you can discuss sensitive topics in confidence.

Wrapping Up

When the session is over, use a questionnaire to measure participants' satisfaction with the program, content and trainer. You can also hold debriefing sessions to determine what worked and what didn't. Use this information when you plan future sessions or refresher courses.

Finally, share your feedback. Good trainers are always looking to improve their services, and your comments are an essential part of this process.

Subscribe's free!

MarketingProfs provides thousands of marketing resources, entirely free!

Simply subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to how-to articles, guides, webinars and more for nada, nothing, zip, zilch, on the house...delivered right to your inbox! MarketingProfs is the largest marketing community in the world, and we are here to help you be a better marketer.

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


Chris Dillon ( is the principal of Hong Kong-based Dillon Communications Ltd.