Most PR agencies will offer their clients presentation and media training as part of the package.
But often a company will prefer an independent training provider to coach their executives for media interviews, pitches, speeches and presentations.

What’s better? The service delivered by the comms agency? Or the independent trainer?

Having worked as a director/partner in comms firms and as an independent coach, I’ve seen both sides.
Of course, the simple answer is to go with the best trainer.

If the person in the agency is a skilled and trusted practitioner, then use them. If your favourite, and most effective, communications coach is independent, hire them.

But there are some other considerations:

Advantages of Independent Trainers

1.     They are (usually) cheaper. PR agencies align the costs of training with rates they charge for broader services. The client often ends up paying for time spent by ‘the team’, rather than what they want which is ‘the trainer’.  
2.     They are editorially independent of both the company and the agency. They have no skin in the game. This means they can give honest advice and feedback. They don’t feel the need to justify their agency’s communication ‘strategy’ or say how wonderful the ‘narrative’ is that their colleagues have created.
3.     They aren’t there to upsell wider comms services. Yes, independent coaches want repeat bookings for presentation/media training. But they are not the Trojan Horse for a whole host of other consultancy schemes.
4.     They are out-and-out specialists. Many ‘media trainers’ in agencies are ‘media relations’ or ‘media strategy’ PRs. They may know the media well, but some don’t have real expertise in and love for training (although I accept many do).      

Advantages of Agency Trainers

1.     They often know the account and the client extremely well. They are on the weekly calls. Their colleagues have thoroughly understood the business and its objectives. They get the nuances. They speak the jargon.
2.     Because they have developed the media strategy, they know the messages that executives are supposed to be delivering to media and stakeholder audiences. They also know the risk topics well.
3.     They (or their colleagues) are more likely to be around when the actual interview/speech takes place. Independents will deliver their set training sessions but do not usually accompany their clients to the conference or into the TV studio (although I sometimes do).
4.     The procurement/billing side may be easier because the agency is already in the system as an approved supplier, cutting ‘onboarding’ times.    

My view (surprise surprise) is that independent trainers are better. The external perspective they bring, and the honesty with which they can interact with senior executives are critical. Plus, they are almost always better value.   

But ideally, an independent trainer will:

·       Have also worked in a comms agency or in-house communication team. Trainers who have only been journalists (or actors) may not sufficiently understand the commercial side of communications – including the elements of communication strategy and reputation risk.
·       Be a subject matter expert, not just a ‘performance’ specialist. Senior executives need to feel comfortable that their trainer has deep business/economic/political knowledge. The best coaches need to dive deep into the content – shape it, make sense of it, and distil it.
·       Be given a decent run with a client, to build knowledge and expertise. I’ve been working with my biggest client for 6 years, conducting hundreds of trainings. Their speaker, moderators and spokespeople now benefit from all that accumulated knowledge.

Do let me know your thoughts. Do you use your PR agency’s trainers? Or independents?

I provide media training, presentation training, moderator training and leadership coaching to clients all over the world.
Please email me at mike(at) if you would like to see a prospectus and rate card. 

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Mike Sergeant


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