No-one doubts the value of hiring an ex-journalist to teach people how to get the best out of media interviews. I’ve done it myself on numerous occasions. After all, who better to help you understand the best techniques, tricks and traps than someone who’s been on the other side of the fence? But not all journalists make great trainers or providers of wise counsel for that matter, and even assuming you’ve found one who can tick both boxes, they still need to be outside your direct employment if you’re going to get maximum value from them.
That’s because someone who is on the payroll is predisposed to look after their own skin and resist speaking truth to power. There’s been a veritable stampede of ex-journalists taking well-paid corporate communications roles but to my mind they’d be better off joining PR consultancies where they can be a bit less constrained about telling you how it really is. The worse that can happen in a PR firm is that they’re shunted off the account.
How many senior level in-house communications professionals would have the courage to tell their chief executive her strategic plan makes no sense at all to the outside world, and risks being negatively reported? How many will commit potential career suicide by telling the CFO his habit of talking in the most verbose language is off-putting and deathly dull? How many will tell a main board director they look shifty and unbelievable on camera?
Get someone in from outside if you really want to make the most from your media encounters. But first make sure you can handle the truth.
P.S. This post was prompted by someone seeking advice on ‘train the trainer’ courses for media trainers. I’ll preserve her anonymity but can reveal she’s an ex-journalist turned head of PR for a company subjected to huge, overwhelmingly negative media interest recently.