One Of The Biggest Misconceptions About Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 8, 2015 – 6:02 am

When I search Twitter for the term “media training,” I frequently come across a tweet that suggests that a celebrity or politician who said something controversial “needs media training.”

In some cases, that’s true. But I’ve often observed that many people reflexively want to send everyone who’s ever uttered a controversial or provocative comment to media training immediately.

Media training isn’t about preventing people from ever expressing an unpopular or controversial view.


I occasionally work with someone who has a deep-seated belief about a controversial topic. We discuss the likely consequences of expressing that belief in the manner the person would like to do so. Sometimes, they’ll modify their approach to make the same point in a way that’s less likely to alienate their audiences. But ultimately, once they understand of the potential consequences, the choice of whether to proceed is theirs.

What’s important, therefore, is that spokespersons understand the potential consequences of saying something unpopular.

From a purely strategic perspective, expressing an unpopular thought isn’t always the wrong decision; in fact, it can be the type of marketing differentiator that allows someone to stand out from their more traditional peers.

Bill Maher, for example, has made a long career out of testing the boundaries of politically correct thought. A comment he made shortly after 9/11 cost him his job on ABC, and recent comments about Muslims prompted a strong backlash. But was the cure for those comments “media training,” or was Maher keenly aware of the potential consequences associated with expressing his views?


Comedian Bill Maher

Comedian Bill Maher


That said, as a general rule, celebrities (e.g. Bill Maher, Miley Cyrus) and politicians (e.g. Sarah Palin, Chris Christie) have more license to brand themselves as provocative than spokespersons representing a company or organization (e.g. the CEO of Boeing or Johnson & Johnson). 

If you see someone making a controversial comment, think through these five questions before declaring them in need of media training:

  1. 1. Is the spokesperson or public figure fully familiar with the rules of working with the media?
  2. 2. Are they aware of the real and perceived landmines that could await their provocative statements?
  3. 3. Have they fully contemplated the risks of being perceived as a “provocateur” and are they prepared to accept them?
  4. 4. Could they be more effective in their roles if they chose their words and picked their battles more effectively?
  5. 5. Will their words not only potentially threaten their own brands, but hurt the people and brands they’re associated with?

The public figure could probably benefit from media training If any of the answers to questions 1-3 are “no” or the answers to questions 4-5 are “yes.” What do you think? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Five Questions About The Media Training Industry

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 12, 2015 – 5:02 am

Editor’s Note: A college student recently asked me to answer a few questions about the media training industry for a class assignment. As I typed my answers to her, I realized that the answers might be of interest to some of this blog’s readers. With permission from that student to reprint our exchange, here’s an excerpt of our Q&A. 



1. Could you briefly describe what your job entails?

My job as a media and presentation trainer requires me to do several different things.

The most obvious part of my job is when I’m working with clients in media or presentation training workshops, helping them improve their media and in-person communications skills. In order to do that, I need to read a substantial amount about each client in advance—every client is different, and although their media challenges may be similar, there are important distinctions that may significantly alter the manner in which they answer questions and interact with reporters.

In addition, I read a lot about the latest studies regarding messaging and body language to make sure my recommendations conform to the latest science.


2. How do you assist in preparing executives or company professionals for a media interview?

We use a combination of what I call “interactive” lecture (lectures in which trainees do brief exercises) and practical exercises, including videotaped practice interviews. The most valuable part of the training often occurs immediately following each practice interview, when we watch the interview back and discuss the answer the trainee gave versus the one they could give. My goal as a trainer is to push trainees just past their personal comfort levels—wherever that may be—but not so far past it that it becomes destructive. If I do my job right, each trainee should leave the room feeling more confident about their ability to deliver an effective interview, not perseverating about their flaws.


3. What has been one of the most challenging media encounters that you, your clients or your organization have faced?

One of the most challenging media encounters I remember was a challenge one government client was facing. It was one of those cases where there simply were no perfect answers—their choices, for rather complicated reasons, ranged between bad, really bad, and terrible. Therefore, choosing the “bad” option was the best of a lousy bunch of choices, but they weren’t going to get any credit from the public or the media for making the most rational choice of the bunch.

In those cases, spokespersons are usually best served by acknowledging that they get that it’s not a perfect choice. Before the public can hear anything else that the person will say, they have to believe that the person “gets it.” Therefore, I usually advise people to acknowledge the obvious truth early, explain their choice without defensiveness, and to use more relatable “human speak” instead of lapsing into “expert speak.” 


4. Can you recall any clients in particular that you have seen successfully improve and implement your media training tactics in the news?

Yes. I can’t share their names because we sign confidentiality agreements with our clients, but I can share something that is very common for many of our clients.

One of the biggest challenges for me as a trainer is to help clients become less defensive when talking about more controversial parts of their work. That defensiveness is a natural human instinct, and it makes sense—people immersed in a project tend to be aware of their project’s flaws—and that defensiveness tends to sneak into their answers. But what gets lost far too often are the positives about that project.

As an example, a defensive answer to a question might look like this:

“Well, we can’t solve everyone’s problem, but we certainly can help some people.”

Versus this:

“We’re quite proud that we’ve been able to improve so many people’s lives, and we’re determined to continue growing the program so we can help even more people.”


5. What advice would you give a potential media trainer on how to prepare a client for an interview?

Remember that knowing all of the right answers and teaching all of the right answers are two very different things. To the degree the client comes up with the answers themselves, they’ll have greater ownership over them. My success as a trainer is often measured by how deft I am at leading them to those answers without them even realizing that I’ve done so.


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Should Working Journalists Also Be Media Trainers?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 9, 2015 – 5:02 am

According to The Toronto Star, a Toronto news anchor has been suspended due to concerns about a possible conflict of interest:

“Global Television news anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm whose clients — lawyers, small businesses and others — appear on his show.

Roberts helps clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter. In one instance, during a morning show on which supermarket shopping was being discussed, he blurted out the name of one of his firm’s clients and suggested viewers “check it out.” At no time did he disclose to viewers his connection to the companies or his public relations firm: BuzzPR.”

“‘At Global News we take matters of journalistic integrity very seriously,’ Global spokesperson Rishma Govani told the Star. ‘Mr. Roberts has been suspended from his duties indefinitely as we conduct a full investigation into this matter.’”

The Star presented its findings to Roberts early this week. Roberts said he had done nothing wrong but would resign from BuzzPR, the public relations firm he owns with a partner.”

Leslie Roberts

This post isn’t specifically about Mr. Roberts. Instead, I want to use this incident as a launching pad to a broader question: Should working journalists simultaneously serve clients as media trainers?

That’s not a theoretical question. I’m aware of firms who boast that their media trainers are working journalists. (I’m not disparaging those firms—at least one I know of that employs working journalists has a terrific reputation.)

From a client perspective, I can see the advantage of working with someone who’s still in the game. But how about from a journalism ethics perspective?

I suppose there are some exceptions for journalists who don’t train clients who fall within their coverage area. A sports reporter who trains a lifestyle expert, for example, probably wouldn’t raise too many flags—although I wonder if even that comes at too great a risk to the public perception of their journalistic neutrality.

But a general interest reporter who might be called upon to report on one of the people or businesses he or she has trained? How is that even remotely appropriate?


Mr. Roberts has resigned from Global Television. In a resignation letter, he wrote:

“I am resigning my position as News Anchor and Executive Editor of Global Toronto effective immediately. I regret the circumstances, specifically a failure to disclose information, which led to this outcome.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked within a news organization and among colleagues who are the best in the business. For that privilege, I will always be grateful.


Leslie Roberts”


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The “Secret” Media Training School For Republicans

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 26, 2014 – 5:02 am recently ran a fascinating piece about the “GOP’s secret school,” in which candidates learn how to interact with the media. The school is a reaction to the high-profile crises the GOP has inflicted upon itself in recent years—from Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment to Christine O’Donnell’s “I am not a witch” ad—and party officials are determined not to repeat past mistakes. According to the article:

“Since the beginning of 2014, the RNC says it has graduated over 200 operatives and placed many of them as communications directors and press secretaries in Capitol Hill offices and federal campaigns nationwide…[Instructor] Rob Lockwood has also conducted media training boot camps with nearly 1,000 candidates, staff and local political figures in a dozen states.”

It appears that this GOP training class is doing everything right in its effort to improve external communications. There’s good advice here for everyone involved in politics, regardless of party or cause. In this post, I’ll highlight the excerpts that caught my attention most.


Media training instructor Rob Lockwood

Media training instructor Rob Lockwood


1. Don’t Treat Reporters As Your Enemy

Tim Miller, the executive director of America Rising, says: 

“‘If you treat reporters with hostility, there will be blood….As recently as 2008 and 2010, you would sit in these rooms and it would be somebody from the Lee Atwater era, talking about how the media is your enemy…My talk was about talking the ways to use the 24/7 news cycle and Twitter and social media to your advantage, as well as recognizing the pitfalls.’”

2. Think Twice Before Holding Press Conferences

“’Doing a press conference just to do a press conference doesn’t work anymore,’ Lockwood tells students. ‘It’s an antiquated way of thinking. If you don’t know what you want your headline to be, and think you can go out there and say what you want in five points, and answer none of the questions, that the news reports are going to be about your five points. Nope. The reports will probably be about the five things you didn’t answer.’”


3. Remember That Dull Can Be Good

Lockwood tells his audiences that being a bit dull may be preferable:

“’Don’t use jokes that you’ve never told before … Jay Carney showed everyday that it’s better to be dull than offensive,’ referring to the former White House press secretary who is now a CNN political commentator. ‘Don’t introduce new phrases, like Etch-a-sketch.’”

4. Maintain a Bit of Healthy Paranoia

“’I’d rather have candidates being careful to a fault than, you know, having a fountain of blabber coming out of their mouth that’s not disciplined,’ [RNC Chairman Reince] Priebus says.‘ We are training candidates, training state parties, training operatives to appreciate that communicating isn’t just a free-for-all, natural-born type of activity. People need to be trained and disciplined.’”

5. Don’t Chase Every Story

Although “rapid response” is key to every political communications shop, it doesn’t mean you have to respond to everything:

“As much as the classes focus on the capacity of the web to drive a message, students are urged not to chase every shiny object or micro-story that pops on Twitter.”

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Why Managers Shouldn’t Delegate This Task

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 12, 2014 – 4:02 am

I’ve received hundreds of calls from potential new clients. Most of them come from executives, directors, or managers—but about once per month, the person who calls for an estimate tells me that he or she is an intern for their company. Their boss has instructed them to call a few media training firms for bids; after receiving them, the boss will presumably screen the proposals and follow up with the companies they’re most interested in.

At first glance, that may seem like an efficient and logical approach. But it’s often counterproductive.

To be clear, I have enormous respect for almost all of the interns I’ve ever worked with. I’ve invested hundreds of hours in providing interns with responsibilities that help them grow in their burgeoning careers.

But in my experience—and through no fault of their own—the intern (or other junior employee) calling me usually doesn’t know some critical details. Sometimes, they lack basic information, such as the number of trainees or the purpose of the training. Other times, they’re unable to answer useful diagnostic questions, such as “What are the communications challenges the people you’re interested in training face?” or “Does your company already have a crisis communications plan in place?” 

Woman Manager on Phone iStockPhoto PPT

If the person has only been a part-time intern for a couple of months—or if they’re a full-time employee who’s out of the loop—there’s really no way they could possibly possess the historical background to be able to answer such questions.

But without such basic information, it’s difficult for any firm to write a smart, targeted proposal that truly meets the needs of the client. It’s tough to know how much time we should recommend for a session—or what type of follow-up work we should advise—without knowing their main topics of concern. And it’s impossible to suggest a tailored training strategy without having the context that allows us to develop one.

If we’re asked to provide a proposal while receiving only cryptic information, we’ll usually write one anyway. There’s no reason to rule ourselves out of consideration when an interested company representative—be it an intern or a top executive—contacts us for details about our offerings.

But I’d recommend that executives and managers take the time to place the initial calls themselves. Their description of their training need will determine the quality of the proposals they receive. Many times, I learn something through that initial call that significantly changes the approach I recommend, which will help the potential client make a more informed choice. Sometimes, I’ve even found that the potential client doesn’t fully know what they’re looking for until we speak; our conversation helps to solidify their thinking.

What’s your opinion? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Worst Advice Media Trainers Offer Clients

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 10, 2013 – 12:04 am

A surprising number of our clients share with me a piece of advice they learned from a media trainer somewhere along the line: “Don’t answer the question the reporter asks you. Answer the question you want to answer.”

I’ve met several of my industry peers—and have read articles, blogs, and books from some of those I haven’t—and I’ve yet to encounter a professional media trainer who offers that advice to their clients. So I really don’t know where that bad advice is coming from.

What I do know is that it’s pervasive. Many clients, who work all over the country and have never met one another, have heard that bit of hackery somewhere along the line. And if they take that advice into their interviews, they’re going to create a disaster for themselves.

Not Listening

Perhaps that advice comes from an earlier era, one in which reporters were less likely to air the full raw tape of a spokesperson dodging a question. To the degree that era ever existed, it’s over. Journalists regularly (and rightfully, in my view) shame spokespersons who refuse to answer direct questions by exposing their evasions.

As an example, check out this video of British Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, who pretends that the journalist is invisible.

Naturally, there may be times when you don’t want to answer a question. Perhaps the reporter is asking you about something off-topic instead of the thing you really want to be speaking about. Maybe a journalist wants to know an embarrassing detail you’d rather not reveal, or about a confidential detail your lawyers have banned you from elaborating upon. (Read more about “Commenting without Commenting” here.)

Even in those moments, it’s almost always better to answer the question directly—and briefly—before transitioning to something else. In some situations, you may even be able to answer the reporter’s query with incomplete sentences and responses in which you don’t cite the subject by name (“DUI” becomes “that issue”), to make your answer more difficult to quote. But answer the question.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say a reporter is asking you about a campaign staffer who was arrested for DUI. You’ve decided not to fire that employee, and you already answered questions directly about his arrest yesterday; every major newspaper, website, and news channel covered the story extensively today. You’re reluctant to continue speaking about it, as your detailed responses will only lead to additional news stories that will take you far off your campaign’s message.

Reporter: “A lot of people in the media are asking why you didn’t fire Bob Smith yesterday? You’ve been speaking about the need for personal responsibility throughout this campaign, and your refusal to fire him seems to contradict your message.”

You: “You know, I addressed that question and several others on this topic yesterday. My answers haven’t changed, and there’s nothing new to add. Many members of the press have already spent a full day covering that story in detail. Given that we only have three weeks left in this campaign, I’m going to spend today speaking about the important issues voters consistently tell us they care about most.”

That answer doesn’t share any new information. It doesn’t give reporters any juicy quotes to add to their news story. But it does address the specific question that was asked.

So ignore that pervasive but pernicious piece of advice. A direct question deserves a direct answer—even if it’s not the direct answer the reporter hopes to hear.

Learn more about the best ways to answer media questions in The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

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How Do I Become A Media Trainer?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 29, 2012 – 6:12 am

I recently received a tweet from Heather Harder, a North Carolina college student, who asked: “What should college students interested in media training be doing now to prepare?”

That’s a good question, one I hear not only from college students, but also from other professionals hoping to make a career switch. So in today’s post, I’ll give you my thoughts regarding making your way into our exciting industry.

First, check out my article about how to select a media trainer. It offers 11 tips buyers should consider when shopping around for a trainer – and it will offer you some insights into what I consider to be important qualities in a trainer.

Since media training is not an entry-level job, Heather will need to gain professional experience first.

She can get that experience in one of two places: by working as a journalist or by working with journalists as a public relations representative. Heather should be able to find an entry-level job with a community newspaper, a small radio or television station, or as a staffer in the communications shop of a company or not-for-profit organization.

If she really wants to challenge herself, she should accept a position with an organization in crisis. For example, I recently noticed that the Komen Foundation – which just endured a bruising public relations battle – was hiring a senior communications professional. Although Heather won’t qualify for the senior position, she should keep her eyes out for an entry level position with a similarly scandal-struck group. There’s no better way to learn than being thrown straight into the fire.

Media training requires not only knowledge of the media, but also the ability to teach the information in a way that’s likely to resonate with trainees. So Heather should look for every opportunity to lead workshops, develop session agendas, and coach people. Knowing the facts is one thing; knowing how to teach them is quite another.

There are a few other things Heather can do now. She can write for her college newspaper or write a blog, keeping an eye out for opportunities to analyze the communications skills of public figures. She should read books and blogs written by media trainers. And she should follow a few journalism websites as well, to help make sure she’s getting the broadest perspective possible.

Thanks for the message, Heather. I look forward to hearing great things from you in our industry!

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How To Select A Media Trainer

Written by Brad Phillips on April 6, 2011 – 6:42 am

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.

Related: The 21 Most Essential Media Training Links

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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