For as long as the US has had an effective media, there has been a
need for media training. But while the PR industry as a whole has
enjoyed a huge and widely recognized growth spurt, the revolution in the
media training business has gone largely unrecognized.
There are many reasons for its relative anonymity. First, there are no
national media relations training companies, and the small one-man
operations don't have the size or scope to make a splash. Second, media
training is playing second string to the overall media relations
business at agencies.
And, for clients, media training has typically been an annual or even
one-time expenditure - and something that they are even loath to
T.J. Walker, a New York-based media training specialist, believes the
word "training" is itself off-putting. "Particularly at the C-level,
they see 'training' as an insult to their experience and seniority. I
prefer to use the word 'rehearsal.' When I point out that Broadway stars
rehearse, they start listening."
Yet, media training is more in demand than ever before. The growth is
linked to the same issues that fueled the PR revolution: the explosion
of TV, radio and print-based business journalism; a greater awareness of
reputation issues; and unprecedented global mergers and
"Directors take us all over the world to make sure their spokespeople
are singing from the same hymn book," says Anne Ready, president and CEO
of Ready for Media. "This month alone we'll head to Tokyo, Hong Kong and
then throughout Europe for a client."
And now there's new media, which is redefining the business for
"For instance, rock stars are being shipped in droves to media
trainers," Ready reports. "With all the digital cameras out there, they
have to be prepared for impromptu interviews that will be thrown on the
Just as PR is expanding, so is media training. "From a CEO's vantage
point, media training can mean anything from a five-minute conversation,
to a three-paragraph e-mail, to a seven-hour dress rehearsal," says Joel
Drucker, an Oakland-based independent communications trainer. "So while
80% of CEOs say media training is useful, that's misleading. There's
really no harmony to media training as a PR sector because it involves
so many applications."
"Presentation training, whether it's for an analyst meeting or up on
Capitol Hill, is taking media training as a discipline to the next
level," points out Michael Kempner, president and CEO of The MWW Group.
"People are also doing more combined media presentations."
Independents versus agencies
There are literally thousands of independents across the country, and
the increased need for media training (plus recent layoffs at some
network stations) has led to their proliferation. These hired guns range
from 20-year veterans to moonlighting reporters.
A number of agencies also have specialist media training units and all
report an increase in demand over the last few years. At
Burson-Marsteller, Anne Strianese, EVP and managing director of media
training, has a team of 14 and has seen the number of training clients
increase from 167 in 1997 to 440 in 2000, a 163% increase. She estimates
680 clients in 2001.
Hill & Knowlton has possibly the largest media training unit in the
Including recent additions from the acquisition of regional companies
like The Rockey Group and Socket, the team is now 40 strong and US
director Derwin Johnson reports that training revenues are up 35% in New
York so far this year, and are 40% over budget for 2001.
Strianese puts Burson's growth down to hard work ("we're available 24/7
as clients now demand"), but she also acknowledges macro factors at
"Over the past decade, more companies have recognized the need for media
training of their own executives and third party spokespersons
(physicians, celebrities, etc.)."
Even the near-mythical C-level client is on the rise. The number of CEOs
coming for training increased by 168%, Strianese reports, from 37 in
1998 to 98 in 2000. "There's an increased awareness of the link between
the CEO's performance as a presenter and the reputation of the company.
Now, instead of a one-off program, we find they're coming back for
Strianese also believes the popularity of Webcast press conferences has
helped spur media training. Burson has developed a special Webcasting
training session that combines training for media, satellite interviews
and presentation skills.
Both H&K and Edelman acknowledge that they now scout for business
independent of the media relations department. "A good media training
unit can really crack open new business," explains Jeff Ansell,
president of Jeff Ansell & Associates in Toronto and a former journalist
who has spent time as an SVP at H&K.
Many agencies use independents under their own banner either to bolster
their own operation or to obviate the need for their own studios. "Being
on a project basis, as opposed to retainer, you don't have to worry if
the CEO likes the trainer, and don't have to 'yes' them to death to
protect the status of the overall account," says Joyce Newman, head of
The Newman Group, a New York-based independent.
Debbie Wetherhead spent 15 years cutting her teeth as a media trainer at
agencies like Ketchum, Cone & Wolf and H&K. Even after she left Ketchum,
she spent two years serving as a back-up trainer for the agency.
As an independent, she still augments her income by acting as a back up
for two Atlanta-based agencies: Duffey Communications and ABOVO
"I come in under their flagship as media trainer and work with the
account rep to customize the program," she explains.
Many national firms are hampered by an "hourly billing mentality,'
claims Ansell. "I recently had lunch with an agency media trainer who's
under pressure to bill 100 hours a month at dollars 280 an hour," he
says. "They expect him to bring in dollars 28k a month, but it just
doesn't work under that model."
Most agency fees range from dollars 2,500 to dollars 10,000 for the
first person trained (on a half-day or day rate basis). Lesser fees are
charged per additional employee trained. Many media training programs
are part of an overall account relationship, so prices are sometimes
discounted. Independents usually charge less, as they seek to build and
retain client rosters. They also don't have the same overheads.
Sometimes travel and research is built into the price. At Burson it's
only extra if the training takes place in a city where they don't have
an office, while Edelman has a roadshow bus. But many of the
independents retain their price advantage precisely because they are
However, several independents report that they travel. Steve Dunlop, CEO
of Dunlop Media, says referrals come from everywhere. "We started out
only in New York. Now we get calls to do training around the country and
globally." Ansell adds that he gets a lot of business throughout the
states as well.
"The media training business is primarily made up of boutique firms,"
adds Jon Rosen, president of Impact Communications. "Geography doesn't
really play a part because the practice is so highly specialized. If
someone has great credentials, they can deal with any medium and any
Ansell agrees that it's specialized. "There's no one size fits all. You
need to go for the best in the area in which you specialize, whether
it's crisis or product launch or pharmaceutical." Indeed, Edelman's
media training unit is seeking to gain an advantage by bringing
specialists aboard. "We just got an expert on dieting whom we now market
to healthcare clients," explains Ann Koepel, manager of media
Sourcing a media alternative
But specialization makes it increasingly hard to find trainers. There
are three main sources:
First, look to your own agency. If it doesn't have an in-house
specialist, it usually has a relationship with a local or specialist
Second, advertising in the directory section of PRWeek and other trade
directories (such as the PRSA Green Book) is also a good starting
Third, and most vital, is word of mouth. "Get a personal referral from a
client who has a long history of success," says Rosen. "Ask the media
trainer to submit a list of references. Or find someone you trust and
respect and ask who they use. If you call four or five people and the
same name keeps coming up, you've probably hit the jackpot."
Rosen, a former journalist, believes that former poachers are the ideal
gamekeepers. "It's important to make sure a media trainer understands
your business or can learn it quickly," he says. "I got a call once to
do media training for radio pharmaceuticals," he recalls. "I could
barely spell it, and I certainly had to find out a lot about it. You
have to hire somebody who understands how to find out what they don't
But there's more to it than just journalism experience. "Make sure the
trainer has a history as a media trainer, client lists and the ability
to establish rapport with a client on all levels - from the CEO down,"
Jim Cameron, president of Cameron Communications, is concerned about the
lack of quality and standards in media training. Winner of a Peabody
award at NBC News, and recently marking his 20th year as a media
trainer, Cameron says: "Unfortunately, a number of media trainers are
just unemployed journalists flipping back and forth. Talk about
conflicts of interest! I even see, though more so overseas, reporters
moonlighting as media trainers."
There is no shortage of horror stories. Dunlop recalls at a recent
training seminar in the Midwest, how "one man raised his hand and asked,
'Our last trainer told us the best way to take control during an
interview is to grab the mike out of the reporter's hand and talk
directly into the camera.
Is that true?' Obviously, that's not true, but he asked me with a
Still, ignorance can be bliss for media training experts. "I don't think
a day passes when I don't hear on the radio, see on TV or read in a
newspaper a really poor interview by a CEO or company spokesperson,"
says Andy Bowen, VP of Fletcher Martin Ewing Public Relations. "So, as
long as they keep pummeling their reputations, we'll be there to help
increase their quotable quotients."
INDEPENDENT MEDIA TRAINERS
COMPANY/PHONE CONTACT LOCATION
Jeff Ansell & Assoc/ Jeff Ansell Toronto, Canada
Cameron Communications/ Jim Cameron Darien, CT
Dunlop Media/ Steve Dunlop New York, NY
Joel Drucker/ Joel Drucker Oakland, CA
Karen Friedman Karen Friedman Blue Bell, PA
Impact Communications Jon Rosen New York, NY
Mitchell Friedman/ Mitchell Friedman San Francisco, CA
The Media Relations Michael Owen Schwager Fort Lauderdale, FL
The Newman Group/ Joyce Newman New York, NY
The Publicity Hound/ Joan Stewart Saukville, WI
Ready for Media/ Anne Ready Santa Monica, CA
Spaeth Communications/ Emily Rockenstein Dallas, TX
T.J. Walker/ T.J. Walker New York, NY
Wetherhead Debbie Wetherhead Marietta, GA