PROs and their service providers don’t always have an easy
relationship. Under the Spotlight is a new series of features that will
ask the questions PROs want service providers - from cuttings companies
to celebrity bookers - to answer. The series will air the concerns of
PROs, and give service providers a chance to have their say, with a view
towards greater understanding between the two. In the first of the
series, we look at media trainers.
Increasingly, PR agencies are doing media training in-house. Does this
spell the end of specialist media training companies?
Most PR agencies employ former journalists, although not necessarily
from the broadcast sector, and they should have an intimate knowledge of
the issues facing their clients. So does this mean they are in the best
position to give them media training? Not surprisingly, media trainers
are doubtful. Although Hugo Brooke, managing director of Media
Interviews in Bath, concedes: ’As long as they’ve got someone who knows
what they’re doing they can do it in-house.’
But the big advantage stressed by the media trainers is that they employ
journalists currently working in the media, who are more in touch with
developments. ’We have 20 trainers on our books, so we can tailor
courses according to the client’s needs,’ says John Stonborough, who
runs Air Supremacy.
One of the big selling points from media trainers is that they use
journalists with training skills. ’Good journalists do not automatically
become good media trainers. This is a skill, like any other, which is
based on certain principles and has to be developed, and enjoyed,’ says
Jean Gurteen, training manager at Hillside Studios in Bushey,
Hertfordshire. Khalid Aziz, chairman of The Aziz Corporation, adds: ’Our
tutors have to pass a certification test to ensure their experience is
married to a genuine ability to train.’
There is also some doubt among media trainers as to whether PR agencies
really have the resources they need to do all media training
’Very few PR agencies can afford to run decent media training in-house
or, from the technical point of view have the resources. You can’t
always just do it with camcorders,’ says Stonborough.
PR agencies that do media training in-house have other ideas. Francis
Hallawell, board director at QBO, says: ’Because we understand the
client and the messages they are getting across, we can go further than
simply subjecting them to the horror of facing the camera, and help them
shape messages so they are media friendly.’ But Hallawell admits: ’There
is a benefit in stepping outside the client’s business and coming in
cold as a journalist would. You can get too close to the client.’
Lack of a suitable local supplier has prompted Northern Profile to do
its media training in-house. Managing director Nick Brown says: ’The
North is crying out for a good media training company in Leeds or
Newcastle.’ Brown, a former radio and TV presenter, adds: ’We’re not
ideally qualified to do it. It would be better if we could find a good
supplier in the area.’
Do media trainers really understand the media, and the PR industry, and
how they work?
Chris Loosemore, managing director of Ariel Communications, says: ’There
are many media trainers who simply don’t have enough experience of the
media to do the job properly.’
The feeling among the media trainers is that the best trainers have
broad-ranging experience. ’You need people who’ve worked in the press,
radio and television if possible, otherwise it does become a bit
narrow,’ says Brooke.
Aziz adds: ’Most of our tutors have experience across the board of
newspapers and the electronic media. We always tailor our media training
sessions to the precise needs of the client.’
Stonborough suggests that PR people need to spend more time choosing
their supplier. ’They must ask questions and demand the sort of trainer
who is right for the job.’
Understanding the needs of journalists is clearly a very important
attribute for media trainers, and one which they readily
’Our trainers, being experienced journalists have a good nose for a
story. We have regularly suggested story lines, and when we have been
working with PR professionals they have often thanked us for helping
find new angles,’ says Aziz.
Brooke thinks there is much truth in the observation. ’We are one of the
few, I think, who spend time on ’creating the quote’. You’ve got to put
your story into words that the journalist is going to want to use. If
you don’t fire his imagination he will pick the quotes he finds
Public relations agencies also expect media trainers to understand how
’What is important is that we achieve the right outcome for clients.
This means it is vital we have a grasp of the PR issues which is why we
have worked successfully hand-in-glove with PR consultancies who
understand where their expertise ends and ours begins,’ says Aziz.
Isn’t too much time spent on theory, rather than practical
For many, the real value of media training is the practical experience
they get of taking part in ’true to life’ interviews. The theory side
can seem less interesting. The emphasis given to theory and practice by
media trainers varies, but they all believe some theory is
’Understanding ’why’ makes ’how’ easier. We work on theory so that
people understand messaging, audiences and studio discipline,’ explains
Media trainers complain that many PR people simply don’t understand how
long training takes.
The key factor is time, believes Loosemore: ’There is always a tension
between theory and practice on a training course. Most of our delegates
are very senior so they grudgingly give up a day to come and train. At
the end of the day they almost always say ’that was really useful, but
it should last two days’. We know it needs two days so we can do more
practical exercises. The trouble is getting people to stump up the
Aziz says the balance on his courses is normally one unit of theory to
five of practical. Stonborough works on a ratio of one-third theory to
two-thirds practical, and Brooke 40 per cent theory to 60 per cent
Aren’t all media trainers obsessed with image, and body language?
Is television more about how you look than what you say? Some in the
media believe this, but media trainers acknowledge that image is only a
small part of the equation.
Needless to say, however, there seems to be a rogue element who believe
that looks are all-important. ’I have encountered lots of clients who
buy in media training only to find it consists of a few TV interviews
and some rather luvvy debriefs,’ says Loosemore. ’We say, get your
thinking sorted out first , and your body will follow.’
Brooke says: ’The really important thing is to have something to say, so
you can lead the conversation to something more interesting.’
And Aziz adds: ’Our tutorials are very much issue-driven. Without such
an approach you cannot achieve the desired results.’
Why don’t media trainers listen instead of telling clients what to do
and what their messages ought to be?
The media trainers we spoke to thoroughly approved of the consultative
approach, saying that their consultants are skilled in understanding the
corporate imperatives as well as those of the media.
Generally, the feeling among trainers is that it is the PR agency or
client’s responsibility to make sure they choose a trainer who will meet
their needs, depending on what they want to get out of the session.
Gurteen says: ’We do not believe it is our job to tell the clients what
their message should be.’
Conversely, media trainers say it would be helpful if more clients
thought through the message they want to get across before training
starts. ’Time is sometimes wasted in trying to sort out the messages and
policies before tuition can continue,’ says Gurteen.
One PR professional recognises this can be a problem: ’A former client
of mine used the training session as an internal communications forum to
discuss work issues with a colleague he had not seen for three months.
It happens, and more often than anyone would care to admit.’
Why don’t media trainers have more understanding of the client’s
business so they can make the training more effective?
Media trainers rely heavily on PR agencies or clients to brief them
before training sessions. ’To get the best out of the training PR
agencies need to provide plenty of background information about the
client, copies of press cuttings, details of current issues and
questions that will be difficult to handle, and do all this well in
advance,’ says Williams.
When PR agencies do not provide briefing material early enough, and
clients are not prepared, it’s difficult for trainers to understand what
the training is supposed to achieve.
The Red Consultancy director Mike Morgan says: ’We realised a couple of
years ago that a face-to-face planning and briefing session with the
trainer beforehand had to happen. This certainly seems to affect the
As for preparing clients, Hibbitt says: ’We expect our clients to be
part of the planning, and to have a full understanding of what media
training can deliver for them.’
Media trainers point out that many journalists do their research at the
last minute before going into an interview, and do not necessarily have
an in-depth knowledge of the interviewee.
Stonborough says: ’Most interviewees need to learn how to express
complex ideas for a lay audience.’
According to Gurteen, good journalists and trainers, are skilled at
asking the right questions. ’Many of our clients express surprise at how
much our tutors know about their business - they are adept at asking
seemingly knowing or searching questions.’
But Aziz believes that business knowledge is important. ’A key
requirement for out tutors is to be able to understand the client’s
business. This means our media trainers have to have business experience
either through journalism or corporate exposure.’
Why is the Paxman-style grilling given so much emphasis?
All of the media trainers we spoke to refute the idea that they give too
much emphasis to this style of interviewing.
Gurteen says, however: ’There are trainers who believe in knocking down
interviewees with a Paxman-style interview and then building them up
However, this can be a very destructive way of training people, and we
have, on occasion, had to put back the pieces after someone has had
their confidence and self-esteem shattered in this way. People need to
have their self-confidence built up slowly and learn the techniques for
dealing with interviews before being subjected to the Paxman style. We
believe it should be used sparingly, when the client or subject matter
Aziz points out: ’Most people will not face such a grilling. Most media
interviews consist of ’soft’ questions which, paradoxically, can be
harder to answer than a brutal questioning style.’
Why don’t more media trainers provide a written report, rather than
videos that no one watches, after a training session, to point out tips
and weaknesses in a personal way?
Opinions seem to vary among media trainers as to whether written reports
should be provided. ’We have it on our shopping list, and if people want
it they can have it,’ says Stonborough, ’but I find very few ask for
it,’ he adds.
Others believe it is important to have a written report. ’We always
offer a written post-tutorial audit,’ says Aziz. ’The audit is a vital
part of the service and helps clients focus on the issues which relate
to their media performance. Many clients use the audit as part of their
But some say this is a sensitive area. ’Evaluation is a complicated area
which needs careful attention. A written report may not give a true
picture of a delegate’s ability, and if it goes into their personal work
file it can be unnecessarily damaging. Written feedback should be very
carefully worded to provide useful feedback without making too many
value judgements,’ says Loosemore.
Why is media training so expensive?
Costs for media training courses vary enormously, a fact readily
acknowledged by media trainers. ’What some people are charging is
absolutely exorbitant,’ says Brooke. He has carried out a survey and
found that prices varied from pounds 75 a head for ten people, up to
pounds 2,000 a head for half a day.
One of the reasons that prices are often so high, says Brooke, is when
training takes place in studios with expensive equipment and
’In my mind this is unnecessary. Most interviews take place on site, so
you might as well do training on site - a digital camcorder and
microphones can be enough,’ he says.
The general consensus is that you get what you pay for in media
training, and not surprisingly media trainers are keen to suggest that
they offer good value for money.
’Media training is a relatively expensive item, but it is good value for
money if it includes good tuition from one or more professional
journalists and, when appropriate, is held in an authentic studio
environment,’ Gurteen believes.
And Claire Williams at Coulter Ford Associates adds: ’What is the cost
of poorly delivered and mistimed messages?’. She mentions Gerald Ratner
and the Zeebrugge ferry disaster as examples.
The media trainers we spoke to insist they are in touch with the needs
of their clients, and provide them with an appropriate, good value and
effective service. They suggest the reason why some PR people have a
negative view of their sector is that there are unqualified people
jumping on the bandwagon in a booming market.
’We know there are plenty of cowboys out there all claiming to give a
service, often hugely expensive, under the broad banner of media
training,’ says Ken Warburton, partner in Broadcast Media Services.
One problem is that the industry is unregulated. But this could
’I think there should be some quality control in the top five players,
which is something we talk about from time to time,’ says
In the meantime, Warburton advises that the answer is to take up
’We say don’t take our word for it - ask someone just like yourself in a
similar business. Take up half a dozen references. And make sure the
references come from very senior people in known companies.’
There is room for improvement in the relationship between media trainers
and PR agencies, says Morgan at The Red Consultancy.
’There’s clearly a need for more straight talking between media trainers
and agencies,’ he says. ’The best starting point would be to give a
greater role to evaluation, which is generally limited to
one-dimensional end of day feedback forms. Trainer commitment to
longer-term measurement of how the training advanced the overall
campaign is vital. It would provide a basis for an on-going
relationship; better by far for all parties than the current wham bam
one day stand.’ l
- Future topics to be covered by Under the Spotlight are press cuttings,
media analysis, market research, visuals, news services, VNRs, and
celebrity bookers. If you are in PR and have comments on any of these
services, or you are in these sectors and have suggestions for how PRs
could get more out of your service, please e-mail assistant features
editor Ben Bold on firstname.lastname@example.org.