How Do You Tell a Good Media Trainer from a Bad Media Trainer?

I’ve hired media trainers, I’ve been to other media trainers’ workshops and conferences, and I’ve been a media trainer for 30 years. So I’ve developed a few thoughts on what makes a good media trainer and what makes a bad one.

The most common characteristic of bad media trainers is that they deliver lots and lots of great advice to their trainees. That last sentence seems confusing, almost like it must be a type, but it isn’t. Bad trainers spend the majority of a training day giving their clients good advice, but this crowds out the training day calendar. The result? The trainee only gets on camera 3-4 times in a day and doesn’t get to the point where he/she shows and feels true mastery. In this situation, the trainee walks away thinking that they’ve learned a lot and that the trainer is great, but that the trainee still isn’t that good.

There is no accreditation for media trainers, so anybody (and I mean anybody!) can call themselves a media trainer. Trainers often come from a couple of basic backgrounds.

The former TV journalist.

Former TV journalists are often the worst media trainers because they spend all of their time telling clients what to NOT do to annoy TV journalists. Some of that info is helpful, but the job of a trainer is to help a client get his or her message/quotes into the story and along the way, not to annoy the reporter. The goal is final message placement, not avoiding things that annoy reporters. Another big drawback of TV reporters as trainers is that they tend to think they are the only ones who can ask tough questions during a mock interview or that every mock interview needs to be a Mike Wallace-style grilling. Finally, TV journalists turned trainers seem to think that the only and most important qualification necessary for being a good media trainer is having been a TV journalist. Certainly, if someone wants to be trained on how to be a TV journalist, then they should hire a TV journalist to train them. But 99.9999% of people who hire media trainers don’t want to be TV journalists, they want to be business/government people who get their message across in interviews.

Of course there are exceptions. Carmine Gallo and Bob Berkowitz are two media trainers with extensive TV backgrounds and they are great trainers. But most other former TV journalists I have come across aren’t that good.

The next broad category of background for trainers are people who come from acting backgrounds. Without a doubt, these people are the absolute worst at training the average business person how to deal with the media. Actors love sitting around and talking about their feelings for hours at a time. Most business people would rather drive a rusty nail through their eyeballs than sit around and talk about their feelings. Great media trainers realize that business people who are interviewed on TV don’t need to learn how to act; they need to learn how not to act…scared.

Acting is hard. And trying to teach people who aren’t actors who don’t want to “act” in front of the cameras is always a prescription for disaster. The worst possible media trainer in the world comes from a category of trainer with an acting background who believes that training should be done without video recording mock interviews. This is a complete waste of time. If you are ever thinking of hiring a media trainer who doesn’t record you numerous times in a day on video, just take your money and flush it down the toilet, you will at least not waste your time that way.

Again, there are exceptions. Washington-based media trainer Michael Sheehan has an acting/theater background and yet he is a superstar of the media training business and has done an excellent job working with everyone from Bill Clinton to Obama. So I can’t make a blanket statement against all trainers with acting backgrounds.

Here’s the part of the blog post where a blogger would typically transition into a few paragraphs on why he/she is the only person in the world who is qualified and why the only criteria anyone should use when hiring a media trainer happen to coincide with the author’s credentials.

I will spare you this part. Instead, I will just leave with the admonition of “Buyer beware!”

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