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Surviving the spotlight: selecting a media trainer.

Sadly, as Dow Corning, Exxon, Sears and United Way of America have bitterly learned, more and more executives are finding themselves on the firing line. In fact, as institutions become more complex and come under increasing scrutiny from regulatory agencies and the media alike, odds favor your organization being called upon to respond.

The late Andy Warhol suggested that, like it or not, each of us will have several minutes on the nightly news. Reassuring all your constituencies will probably become a priority, and clearly preparation is the key.

The increased scrutiny has caused an explosion in the demand for media training -- sessions offering techniques and role-playing opportunities to better prepare spokespersons. There also has been a surge of people entering the media training profession, some better than others. Here are some guidelines you can use when selecting a media training firm.

Faculty: Working or ex-journalists are fine, but frequently may not have a public relations perspective of the issues. Look for firms offering teams consisting of journalists and skilled communication professionals, who can work with your in-house communication staff. Teaching backgrounds are also a plus.

Credentials: Ask if the trainers have ever had any articles published on media training, or have been the subject of any stories on the topic. This authenticates their expertise. References are also essential -- call others who have gone through the program and get their impressions.

Compatibility: Make certain their style meshes with your own culture. If your management or spokespersons are combative, look for an organization with a track record in preparing others for hostility. If your people are less confrontational, look for a firm with a more supportive program.

Consistency: With teams of roving trainers at large firms, you run the risk of one day being stuck with a less than satisfactory trainer. Find out who will actually be conducting the sessions, and make sure you're comfortable with that person.

Experience in your field: Ideally, the firm should know the business you're in and be fully conversant with its language, hot buttons and unique qualities. Broader experience in other fields is also essential.

Cosmetics: If television is going to play an important role in your communication strategy, make sure the firm you select is knowledgeable in the medium's cosmetic components such as dress, posture and eye contact.

Video library: The firm should have an extensive video library which showcases "right way/wrong way" scenarios derived from news and magazine programs. Learning from example can be enormously helpful.

Leave behinds: Choose a firm that provides trainees with written materials they can refer to again and again. These booklets or pamphlets should summarize the techniques to use during an interview.

Formats: Make sure the firm conducts role-playing exercises, rather than just lectures on technique. It's important for interviewees to see themselves on tape and recognize areas that need improvement. The training firm also should be flexible and willing to work in both group and one-on-one situations. Ascertain if their formats are imaginative enough to involve students as "reporters." Many consultants allow students to play the role of reporters who ask tough questions in interactive formats such as news conferences and editorial boards.

Research: Select a research-oriented firm with the ability and willingness to immerse themselves in the issues affecting your organization. Look out for "boilerplate" trainers with canned programs.

Cost: Clearly, it must be cost-effective, but the service should not be bought on price alone. Fees can range from U.S. $500 (small market, limited experience trainers) to $5,000 (the major leagues) to train one executive. Group sessions (from four to six executives) can be more cost-effective. Prices here average U.S. $1,000 per individual. Some providers even put together programs on a strictly per diem basis, with fees ranging anywhere from $2,000-4,000.

Some final thoughts. Ask the training firm if they'll provide you with written assessments of each executive after the sessions. Also, find out if they'll critique the actual performances of those executives once they face the media.

The bottom line? Careful and meticulous selection of a media training firm is the first step in successfully meeting the press.

Michael Klepper is chairman of the New York-based marketing communication firm, Michael Klepper Association.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Klepper, Michael M.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:704
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