January 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 1, 2015 – 2:02 am

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a reputation for his erratic media interviews—and he has been fined thousands of dollars by the NFL for his occasional refusal to speak to the press.

In the week leading up to tonight’s Super Bowl, Lynch agreed to comply with the NFL’s requirement that he speak to the press, if only to avoid receiving a reported $500,000 penalty. But he only followed the letter of the rule—not the spirit of it—and defiantly said, “I’m here so I won’t get fined” dozens of times.


By refusing to interact with reporters, Lynch turned himself into a headline-grabbing spectacle who magnified the amount of attention his interview would receive instead of diminishing it. And he doubled down the next day.

“I don’t know what story y’all trying to get out of me. I don’t know what image y’all trying to portray of me. But it don’t matter what y’all think, what y’all say about me. When I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face — my family that I love. That’s all that really matter to me. So y’all can go make up whatever y’all want to make up because I don’t say enough for y’all to go and put anything out on me.”

I’ve followed the conversation about Lynch’s interviews for the past week, and there’s a stark split in opinion. Many people support him, pointing out that the NFL demands more availability of its players than its executives, while others, including many sports reporters, find his defiance infuriating.

Count me in the latter camp. Mr. Lynch is a professional athlete. And nothing about his public persona conveys a sense of professionalism.

I’ve seen people arguing that his job is to perform on the field, not in front of microphones. I find that argument to be insulting toward professional athletes, several of whom I’ve counted as clients. After all, we would never say, “That Fortune 500 executive is great in the board room, so his defiance in front of the cameras is hilarious,” or, “That politician who told the press to shove off for four minutes is great at policy, so it’s fine for him to repeat the same phrase 30 times.” So why do we accept that behavior from professional athletes representing a professional sports franchise and sport?

Marshawn Lynch Interview

Earlier this month, a friend of mine—the communications director for a major professional sports franchise—told me why this poor media relations strategy matters. In a post on my blog, he wrote:

“We grow any of the games we work in through young kids, and for them to see this does not help the game…I want players in my room respecting the media and the media respecting the players and the job they do. It is my job to keep that scale as even as possible throughout the season.  Dealing with players, their goal is to make their team and themselves look the best they can, both on and off the field.”

And he also wrote that athletes such as Lynch should remember that their media performance could have larger impacts on their careers:

“I’ve seen it happen when the attitudes of players prevents teams from ‘investing’ in them. As important as it is to compete on the playing field/ice/gym, when it comes time to sign a free agent or make a trade, all of these things go into an organization’s evaluation process. Is ‘said player’ worth disrupting the current team?” 

I hope the NFL fines Lynch for breaking the intention of the rule. Media availabilities are opportunities to positively sell the sport—something the NFL is in dire need of, particularly in a season that has been dominated by headlines about domestic abuse and brain injuries. This doesn’t help. And in the end, team sports should be about the team, not serve as an opportunity to advance your own performance art.

Agree? Disagree? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.



A Tale From First Class: My Complaints And Gripes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 29, 2015 – 4:34 am

I recently flew first class from New York to London. I was immediately impressed when I boarded and saw my seat, one of those private pods that folds down into a horizontal bed. The flight attendant greeted me warmly, gave me a hot towel, and handed me a menu full of delicious-sounding food choices. This, I thought, is going to be a flight to remember. Unfortunately, a series of service glitches quickly tainted my experience.

First, for breakfast, the flight attendant brought me a croissant. It was soft and cold, not warm and flaky.

Then the attendant served me coffee a full 15 minutes before breakfast was served. By the time the meal hit my tray, the coffee was cold. Did anyone come by to refresh it or offer to warm it for me? Nope.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, I pressed my call button to attract the flight attendant’s attention. It took two minutes—two whole minutes!—for the flight attendant to respond. Why am I paying for first class if they’re not going to be efficient enough to respond to a first class passenger’s needs more efficiently?

To help distract myself from the poor service, I rented a movie. Guess what? The pilot and flight crew continually interrupted the movie with announcements. Don’t they know it’s hard to get into a movie if people keep talking over it?

First Class Airline Seat

Okay, I have a confession. With the exception of the fact that I was fortunate enough to ride first class to London (that’s really my seat above), nothing in the introduction above is true.

But I wanted to lead off this piece with that litany of complaints to ask you a few questions:

  1. 1. How did the introduction to this piece make you feel? Like I’m a whiner with a disturbing sense of entitlement?
  2. 2. Did your impression of me dim as you read it?
  3. 3. Are you ever guilty of lodging those types of complaints using social media?

Perhaps you don’t take to your social media pages to gripe that way, but I often observe people posting tweets like these:

Hey, @United, we landed 25 minutes ago and we’ve been sitting at the gate without being allowed to deplane. Guess your staff is on break? #Incompetent

Hey, @Delta, what’s up with flight 842? It’s already been delayed by 45 minutes—you can’t even keep flights on time during good weather? #morons

Blah Blah Blah2

Those tweeters should think about whether those petty complaints come at some small cost to their reputations. Whenever I see one of those tweets, I think to myself, “With all of the problems in the world, that 25-minute delay is worth an angry tweet to a network of thousands of professional contacts? It’s airline travel. Stuff goes wrong. You should know that by now. Get over it.”

I know that sounds strident, so it’s only fair to turn the pen against myself. I’ve been guilty of sending similar tweets. As an example, I sent an unnecessarily snide tweet to AT&T last year for assessing a late charge because I inadvertently shorted the payment by a few cents.

The issue with my AT&T tweet wasn’t the “rightness” of my complaint—I thought then and still think now that assessing a late fee for an underpayment of a few cents is a lousy way to treat a long-term customer with a perfect payment history. Rather, it was the snaky tone I used. There was no reason for me to begin with such antagonism, particularly because they responded quickly to me and remedied the situation. I imagine the tone I used was off-putting not only to the AT&T rep who amiably fixed my problem, but to a few people who follow my tweets—and rightly so.

Social media offers a wonderful platform for customers and companies to speak with one another. All I’m suggesting here is that you remember the company you’re tweeting is only one audience you’re reaching. You’re also reaching everyone else who sees and judges the tone of your posts and the manner in which you deal with life’s minor annoyances.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

PR Fail: Look Behind You!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 27, 2015 – 9:45 am

Late last week, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady (below) tried to take the air out of accusations that they had intentionally deflated game balls during their AFC Championship Game win.

Unfortunately, it looked as if the Patriots’ PR staff didn’t consider the background those two spokespersons would be standing in front of while denying the charge. As both men spoke, an advertisement for Gillette’s “Flexball” razor served as their backdrop, an unfortunate coincidence noted by thousands of people on social media.

(There are two other possible explanations—one, the Patriots were under a legal obligation to use that background, and two, Gillette willingly took the risk to be associated with this controversy in return for the additional exposure.)

Tom Brady Gillette


The Patriots are far from alone in using an ill-considered background. In 2010, for example, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced his network’s new branding strategy in a self-produced video—while CNN played in the background.

Phil Griffin


Last year, the former U.S. ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, gave an interview to the BBC with what looked to be a sloppy dorm room behind him. I dubbed this “the worst webcam background I’ve ever seen.” 

Lee Feinstein Background


And in one of my all-time favorite clips that readers of this blog have seen before, then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey—while turkeys were being slaughtered behind her.


I gave some advice about choosing the right background in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview:

“Company representatives might stand on a bustling factory floor to show their business’s vitality. Marine biologists might remove their shoes and deliver an interview from the water’s edge. A health expert discussing the seriousness of diabetes might choose to do an interview from a local hospital’s emergency room.

Your background is even more important during a crisis. As a general rule of thumb, don’t display your logo during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that your brand is associated with bad news? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your company’s symbol. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your company’s name.”

It’s easy to understand how these things happen: We become so fixated on the messages we want to deliver that we too often forget about the optics. So before your next interview, take a quick glance around you to make sure nothing in the background could conflict with your message.

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.



When [Expletive Removed] Bad Takes Happen

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 25, 2015 – 4:25 pm

Immediately following last week’s State of the Union Address, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) responded by recording a video criticizing the President. Unfortunately, his staff uploaded the wrong version, a version in which Cruz stops and asks to start over again.

Bad takes happen all the time when recording straight-to-camera video, and Mr. Cruz reacted the exact right way by stopping, asking to begin again, and recording a clean version. (A cynic might say that this “wrong” video was a wily strategy intended to attract more people to his message; I doubt that’s true, but it had the same effect.)

Unfortunately, not everyone handles bad takes this well. In our video training sessions, people routinely mess up their takes—it’s normal and part of the process—but a few of them become quite frustrated and swear or make silly faces into the camera.

That’s a bad idea for a few reasons. First, the wrong video could accidentally be uploaded instead of your “correct” take. Second, someone could use the tape maliciously against you. Third—and I get this request all the time—your co-workers might want that video for a holiday party “gag reel.” (I don’t comply with those requests, because training should be a safe place to stretch your comfort zone and make mistakes.)

Bill O'Reilly Doing It Live

When the camera is on you—even if you aren’t “live” and can redo the take—act as if that’s the tape the world will see.

Perhaps the most infamous example of a behind-the-scenes bad take belongs to current Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who is still dogged by this piece of tape from his Inside Edition days (this is definitely not suitable for work — but it is terrifyingly hilarious):

And that’s the same lesson a young reporter named A.J. Clemente learned a couple of years ago, when he preceded his first (and last) newscast by swearing before he realized he was on the air.

The next time you have a bad take, realize that the pros have them all the time. Stop, take a breath, and do it again. But whatever you do, don’t pull an O’Reilly and let tape of your worst on-camera moment follow you around for years.

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Athlete Fails To “Execute” During Train Wreck Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 22, 2015 – 4:02 am

Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, recently gave an interview that didn’t go so well.

As you’ll see in the clip below, he gave the same defiant answer repeatedly: “Good execution.” He gave that answer even when it didn’t answer the question. And, in a moment of candor that spokespersons occasionally fantasize about, he flat out told one reporter, “I don’t like you.”

Westbrook’s interview seems even stranger in light of the fact that his team won the game—and he had a terrific night.

To see how fans were reacting to Westbrook’s passive-aggressive interviewing approach, I delved into the comments section of several sports websites. It turns out that many fans defended Westbrook. Their argument went as follows: We hate the media, Westbrook gave them a taste of their own medicine, and good for Westbrook for doing so.

I think they’re wrong. Representing your brand well matters whether you’re a corporate vice president, a political candidate, or a professional athlete. And Westbrook made the fundamental error of forgetting that his audience wasn’t the reporter, but the people watching the interview—you know, the fans who pay his salary.

To get another perspective, I contacted a friend of mine, the communications director for a major sports team who deals with top-level athletes every day. He wrote:

“We grow any of the games we work in through young kids, and for them to see this does not help the game…I want players in my room respecting the media and the media respecting the players and the job they do. It is my job to keep that scale as even as possible throughout the season.  Dealing with players, their goal is to make their team and themselves look the best they can, both on and off the field.”

If he had a player interact with a reporter the same way Westbrook did, he would do the following:

“First thing I’m doing is having the conversation with my player as to what set them off to do so. After that talk, I would speak to the writer if I feel it is necessary to make sure they know there is a problem brewing. After that, I judge whether it would be best to bring a writer in to speak to the player one-on-one to talk it out, with everything off the record.”

Russell Westbrook Interview

He also says he wouldn’t have allowed the interview to continue for as long as Westbrook’s:

“I’m cutting it off…immediately, when I see what is going on and not allowing reporters to continue to ask questions. The player wants it to be a spectacle to embarrass the reporter and have people talking about it. The reporter(s) want to keep going because it allows him/her to continue to provoke the same answer which makes the player look ridiculous. So, I’m cutting it off immediately and allowing the reporter to write about me cutting it off if he wants. Then, I’m setting up this meeting between the player and this reporter he supposedly hates to clear this thing before it becomes more and more of a spectacle.” 

And in case you’re still not convinced that athletes should take their media interactions more seriously, these final lines should make them think again:

“From the management side, I’ve seen it happen when the attitudes of players prevents teams from ‘investing’ in them. As important as it is to compete on the playing field/ice/gym, when it comes time to sign a free agent or make a trade, all of these things go into an organization’s evaluation process. Is ‘said player’ worth disrupting the current team?”

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, Kindle, and iPad.

I’m Bored With The State Of The Union Address. Are You?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 20, 2015 – 12:02 am

Each year, the President of the United States stands before a joint session of Congress and delivers a lengthy State of the Union (SOTU) Address.

The speech gets a lot of attention in certain years; major world events, both foreign and domestic, tend to increase ratings. But this isn’t one of those years. The economy looks to be improving, the homeland appears relatively safe, and our military interventions overseas have been scaled back.

Given those facts, President Obama—a lame duck President beginning his seventh year in office—has a real challenge to get people’s attention this year.

Even I, a political junkie who often analyzes these types of speeches, am rather bored with the SOTU’s pomp and circumstance. And it seems I’m not alone. More than 52 million people watched Mr. Obama’s first SOTU in 2009; that number declined to just 33 million people last year. 

One reason for the audience decline is that the SOTU is almost always predictable. The President lays out a laundry list of inspirational but often unpassable proposals, points to numerous “real people” in the audience, and elicits cheers from one side of the aisle while receiving stony silence from the other.

Here’s the problem: We humans are wired to notice change but acclimate quickly to sameness. Therefore, these speeches fail to “break the pattern.” But here’s the good news: that may change this year. 

Obama SOTU 2011 Pete Souza

Mr. Obama’s inner circle reportedly recognizes this problem, and for the first time in recent memory, appears to be taking steps to break the pattern.

First, they’ve announced that the speech will be shorter (last year’s ran 65 minutes). According to The Wall Street Journal:

“One of the White House’s goals as President Barack Obama puts the final touches on his upcoming State of the Union address is shortening the speech, people familiar with the process say.

The president is well known for his delivery of lengthy speeches and detailed explanations, and his aides have tried – unsuccessfully – to rein him in at times.

Last year, Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address ran for an hour and five minutes. It was one of his longest. The only one that went longer was in 2010: an hour and nine minutes.

Mr. Obama’s addresses are only rivaled by President Bill Clinton, a politician also known for his longwindedness, according to the American Presidency Project.”

Second, instead of unveiling their big legislative initiative during the speech, as is the norm, the Administration has already announced that it will focus the speech on middle class tax cuts (or upper class tax hikes, depending on your perspective). Whether that helps the Administration extend the news cycle and receive more coverage is yet to be seen; the risk is that it could also give people even less of a reason to tune into the speech.

Still. I’d argue that both changes are smart moves, designed to break the pattern and stand a better chance of reaching a restless media and bored electorate.

I suspect the SOTU’s brevity will become a new model to reach today’s attention-challenged audiences. And since the television networks will appreciate turning less of their airtime over to presidential speeches—particularly if administrations make them less newsworthy by releasing the major headlines in advance—I suspect future presidents will find it difficult to get that airtime back.

Are you bored with the State of the Union Speech?

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Brad Phillips On The Crisis Intelligence Podcast

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 18, 2015 – 10:28 am

Melissa Agnes is one of my favorite crisis communications professionals in the business, so I was thrilled to be invited as her guest on her excellent podcast.

Our conversation lasted for an hour—but she kept it fast moving, full of useful information and fun. Among other topics, we discussed the following (as summarized on Melissa’s site):

    • What makes a good spokesperson for crisis communication
    • The real-time news cycle and how it impacts in a crisis
    • Tips for making communications “social media friendly”
    • Biggest mistakes spokespeople make in crisis – and how you can avoid them
    • How to save a client or brand who has already stuck their foot in their mouth

The Crisis Intelligence Podcast Logo

If you’re unable to sit and listen for the full hour, you might consider downloading the podcast and listening to it during your commute. You’ll find a particularly energetic “lightning round” at the end. And while you’re at it, subscribe to Melissa’s podcast—she’s really good, and you’ll learn a lot.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here (look for episode 33, released on January 18, 2015), or listen to the podcast from Melissa’s website here.


How To Deliver Someone Else’s Presentation

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 15, 2015 – 1:40 am

Many speakers are asked to deliver a template presentation provided to them by their corporate office. They might be asked give an employee training workshop, a sales pitch, or a generic “about our company” seminar.

Oftentimes, the presentation is delivered to the speaker in the form of PowerPoint slides. If the company has its act together, the slides will have speaker’s notes filled in to help the speaker know exactly what points they’re expected to make on each slide.

That may sound like an efficient way to deliver a presentation and ensure consistency across an organization. But speakers who deliver those presentations are usually lifeless and uninspired—and that’s not their fault. Since the speakers had no ownership over the creation of the presentation, their personalities and delivery styles are nowhere to be found within it.

What can you do if you’re asked to deliver a presentation that’s already been created?

Jeans Tailor Pants Alterations

Think of a template presentation as an off-the-rack pair of pants.

When you buy a new pair of pants, you might need to tailor it by taking in the waist or shortening the cuffs. The same is true with a template presentation—you don’t have to wear it “as is.” Instead, most presentations will benefit if you make a few alterations by injecting your own personality into it while retaining its basic shape.


Example One

Let’s say you’re handed this slide:

Sample Slide 1

You can bring it to life by adding a personal anecdote:

“Last year, I went to Jakarta, Indonesia for the first time. It’s a city of 10 million people, and off in the northwest corner of the city, our company opened an office in a nondescript office park. When you enter the building, however, you’re immediately struck by how high tech it is. You walk down a long corridor lined with television monitors and enter an open workspace with more than 200 techs busily working at state-of-the-art work stations. The Jakarta office is just one of 12 new satellite offices we’ve opened in the past two years in cities such as Montreal, Nairobi, Buenos Aires and Glasgow, and that growth has helped our company’s revenue increase by 400 percent since early 2013.”


Example Two

Here’s another example. Let’s say this slide is in your deck:

Sample Slide 2

In this case, you might highlight one of the trends and infuse it with meaningful context: 

For the past year, we’ve heard a lot of talk about Facebook changing its algorithm. It used to be that a brand published a post, and the brand’s “fans”—people who had liked the page—were able to see the brand’s posts in their feed. Not anymore. Today, Facebook insists that brands buy advertising to reach their own fans. We don’t buy advertising on Facebook, so we expected our traffic to plummet. But something interesting happened. Google is still our number one referral source, but [CLICK TO ABOVE SLIDE] Facebook has remained number two. So much for losing our website visits from them—surprisingly, they’ve actually gone up. And Twitter is closing in fast, just slightly behind at number three.” 

The key to bringing a presentation someone else created to life is to look for spots to add more of yourself to it. For more ideas, read this article which offers eight great ways to begin a presentation. You can use these elements anywhere in your talk—not just in your open—and doing so will help you make someone else’s presentation sound exactly like your own.

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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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