In the minds of many CEOs and executives, the media are often viewed in one way: with dread. That s because senior-level decision makers aren t always adequately mentored by PR professionals on how to handle the press. But the past decade has led to a surge in media training and former journalists are teaching corporate heads the tricks of the trade. While some PR departments will direct their senior managers to a media trainer, some PR execs themselves are hankering for such training. Sometimes, entire organizations are brushing up on press relations. Case in point: last month, John Meek, president of Washington, D.C.-based HMI Communications Inc. headed to the Ritz-Carlton in D.C. to train 100 members of the National Apartment Association on ways of dealing with the press. The request for Meeks services was triggered by an unfavorable Feb. 3, 1995, story on "20/20" about security at apartment complexes in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. Journalists were able to get their hands on master keys that let them into apartments at complexes where tight security was reportedly a given. The gist of the piece was that "anybody with a key could get into an apartment and rape a woman or rob someone," Meek recalled of the broadcast. Less than a year after the piece ran, Meek was contacted to put on a media seminar during the association s annual legislative conference. For Meek the 90-minute session was just one of about 20 he ll wrap up during 1997. "What you re mostly taught is how to be comfortable with a reporter and how to put your best foot forward," said Chuck Snyder, president and CEO of National Cooperative Bank and one of Meek s three-time clients. "For instance, if you re dealing with a print journalist, you re coached on how to make sure you answer their questions while also communicating your message and not letting them steer, and have total control of, the interview. In broadcast, you re taught how to boil your message down into soundbytes." At the NAA seminar, the training was based on three stages: providing guidance on dealing with the media; simulating interviews; and critiquing the role players responses. But Meek isn t the only one offering media training in a U.S. metropolis. In Mill Valley, Calif., Nancy Herr, owner of Herr Production Group, charges clients anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 to coach them on who the "players" are in the media; what it is they are looking for; what jargon is used in the industry; and how media operations run. "Teaching them the language is so important, because if the rest of us don t understand what journalists want and are looking for, how are we supposed to understand how to respond to them?" Herr said. Most of the work Herr does, however, is linked to the Video News Releases she produces for clients. And in the 11 years she has run the business, she s noticedan increased demand for media training. "Executives today can t stay in the shadows," Herr reminded. "This is the era of the out-front executive." Armed with that same belief, DWJ Television, Ridgewood, N.J., handles nearly 40 one-on-one media training sessions during the year in a way that contrasts with what Herr does. DWJ primes execs who have definite interviews set up what company execs refer to as "specific" media training. "We think that specific training works better than non-specific training because with some executives, they may focus less and view it as more of a game" if they don t have an actual interview date and media outlet in mind, said DWJ President Dan Johnson. "You walk them through the process," Johnson added, "and you pose questions and there could be a range of reasons why they re there. They could have had a crisis and not fared well; they could have a PR department that wants them to gain experience on how to deal with the press; or they could be preparing for a press conference or an NBC desktop interview."

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