There are many media training firms out there, and several of them are quite good. But how can you tell the great ones from the mediocre ones?
Today, I present 11 things you should look for when shopping for a media trainer.
There’s always a risk that these lists are purposefully written to exclude every other firm but the firm writing the list. So I’ve challenged myself to write an intellectually honest list that allows many other high-quality firms to meet these criteria as well.
I hope it accomplishes my goal of being an objective list that helps you select the best trainer for your company.
1. Does The Firm “Look” Professional? This is a pretty basic requirement – if the company you’re considering doesn’t have a professional-looking website, you should be concerned. Are there good trainers with lousy websites? Yes, probably. But the firms I respect most have the refined look they should.
2. Do They Have High-Quality References? You’ve probably heard the expression that the best marketing is a happy client. I can think of a dozen firms that all have top-notch client references on their websites, and that’s good news for you. But don’t stop there. Call or email three of their clients. If the trainer is unwilling or unable to provide three quality references, move on.
3. Who Will Be Doing the Training? Larger companies don’t always send the firm’s principal to do your training. That’s not necessarily a problem. But do find out who’s doing the training, how often they train, and get specific references on the trainer, as well as the firm.
4. What Is The Tone of the Workshop? When checking references, ask them to describe the tone of the workshop. I believe good trainers are high on the EQ (emotional intelligence) scale – that they are able to sense the vulnerabilities of the trainees and instantly adjust their training styles to fit the trainees’ needs. Like a good surgeon, a good trainer cuts open a trainee, exposes their vulnerabilities in a safe environment, and sews them up at the end – stronger and better than they were before.
5. Is The Workshop Customized? Media training should be completely customized. For a full-day workshop, we develop numerous questions specific to the organization we’re working with and use examples from the client’s industry. If the firm uses a canned “off-the-shelf” presentation, run the other way.
6. Do They Have Journalism Experience? I worked at both ABC News and CNN. Not surprisingly, I think journalism experience is critical in a good media trainer. But I may surprise you by saying that I’ve encountered media trainers who don’t have journalism experience but are quite good. I’d be a little concerned if the trainer has worked with journalists on the client side for 25 years without ever working in a newsroom – but I wouldn’t exclude them from consideration on that measurement alone.
7. Do They Have Training Experience? I regularly get phone calls from people who just left a journalism career and want to become a media trainer. But almost always, they’ve never run a workshop. Or had experience as a teacher or facilitator. And too many have never done any form of public speaking. Journalism experience is one thing – but if they don’t have extensive experience as an instructor, forget it.
8. Do They Have Industry Experience? Actually, I don’t think this is particularly important. I’m mentioning it anyway since some clients prefer to work with a firm that has experience in their industry. In my experience, too much knowledge can occasionally prevent the trainer from seeing the 35,000-foot level, meaning both trainer and trainee spend too much time in the weeds. Media trainers should be expert in the process of helping spokespersons refine their messages and deliver them well – not necessarily in the content.
9. Do They Offer Post-Training Education? No one can learn everything in a day. What does the firm do to extend the education past the training day? Do they include follow-up phone calls, newsletters, blog articles, videos, and/or other learning opportunities?
10. Do They Have a Blog, a Book, or Regularly-Published Articles? Read everything you can by the firm. If they have a blog, read it. Google them to see their published articles. I have not published a book, but I’m impressed with those who have – especially those published by third parties. Self-published books are often quite good, but are harder to gauge without reading since they haven’t been automatically blessed with the credibility of an outside publisher.
11. What Is Their Standing In The Industry? Is the firm a lone wolf or an industry thought leader? Are they a regularly-cited expert source? Do they publish white papers or challenge outdated industry advice? A quick Google search often answers some of these questions. And don’t be afraid to ask the firm to talk about the role they play in the industry.
What have I missed here? Are there other qualities that are important to you when selecting a trainer? Please leave your comments in the section below – and if you’re “in the biz,” please identify yourself as such.