Archive for February, 2011
Note: This post was updated in February 2014.
I’ve written hundreds of posts since beginning this blog. Many of the posts containing the most critical tips for media spokespersons have gotten buried, so I wanted to post them all in one easy-to-find place.
So, with no further introduction, here are the 21 links I consider to be the most important to budding media spokespersons. I hope you find them useful!
MEDIA GROUND RULES
- 1. Why Going Off-The-Record Is a Dumb Idea
- 2. Never Call Reporters Back By Their Deadlines
- 3. Eight Questions To Ask Before Every Interview
- 4. The Right Way To Tell Reporters About Yourself
- 5. Why You Shouldn’t Educate Reporters
- 6. Always Remember: The Reporter Isn’t Your Audience
- 7. How To Avoid Being Misquoted By Reporters
- 8. Eight Ways to Deliver a Better Phone Interview
- 9. The Three Things To Kill In Your Media Interviews
- 10. Seven Ways to Rock Your Next Radio Interview
- 11. Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going on Television
- 12. Ten Ways to Create Memorable Media Soundbites
- 13. Body Language: Energy
- 14. Body Language: Eye Contact
- 15. Body Language: Gestures
- 16. Body Language: Posture
- 19. Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes
- 20. Seven Ways to Respond to a Negative News Story
- 21. How To Select The Right Spokesperson In a Crisis
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Tags: media training basics, media training tips, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 14 Comments »
Journalist Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU’s Center For Law and Security, stepped down under pressure today after sending a series of offensive Tweets.
Shortly after CBS announced yesterday that correspondent Lara Logan had suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault,” Mr. Rosen wrote the following on Twitter:
“Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson [Cooper]. Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too…jesus christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger…look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women”
Charming. Predictably, Mr. Rosen backtracked and apologized, offering the following:
“As someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice, I’m very ashamed for my insensitive and offensive comments.”
Mr. Rosen, like others who have Tweeted offensive remarks, hid behind his previous good deeds. He’s not alone. Kenneth Cole did the same thing after Tweeting a crass sales pitch during the Cairo uprising:
“I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”
In their statements, both men tried the old, “Hey, come on, guys, I’m one of the good people, can’t you see?” defenses. Their statements suggest that they both think they deserve a pass – after all, it’s not like some asshole said those things, they imply, it’s just me, and I made a rare and forgivable slip.
I’m not sure why this approach – linking two unrelated things (an offensive comment and previously good deeds) – seems to have taken hold in crisis PR. What’s wrong with simply admitting responsibility, acknowledging critics, and pledging it will never happen again?
My sense is that by linking those two things, both men managed to simultaneously look defensive and cheapen the value of their earlier good deeds.
Note: In an interview with Fishbowl DC today, Rosen made at least two more mistakes. He said: “Like many men, I made a tasteless joke, more than tasteless of course, deeply offensive and hurtful when perceived to be sincere or when read by victims.” Instead of taking full responsibility, he lumped himself in with other men, hoping to inoculate himself from criticism. He also blamed misinterpretations on people who “perceived” his words “to be sincere.”
Tags: crisis communications, Lara Logan, media training disasters, Nir Rosen
Posted in Crisis Communications | Please Comment »
Julian Vogel, a managing director for the London-based fashion PR firm Modus Publicity, was recently interviewed by the BBC program, “Who Gets The Best Jobs.” It didn’t go well.
When the interviewer challenged Mr. Vogel about his company’s practice of using unpaid interns, he stalled, backtracked, and stammered – but he failed to offer an answer that satisfactorily dismissed the defensible charge. As a result, he looked guilty, tacitly accepting the inference that his firm is running a high-end sweat shop.
(Fast forward to ~6:00)
The reporter asked Mr. Vogel, “If 20 of your 70 staff are working here for free, presumably that’s quite key to the way you’re profitable as well, is it?”
First Mr. Vogel asked the reporter to clarify the question (the reporter did).
Then, he tried to backtrack, saying the interns weren’t doing proper jobs (as he had said they were moments earlier), but rather “support” jobs.
Finally, he stammered:
“I think, I think that ummm, I think that it’s ummmm, how would I, how would I answer that, I never really thought of it, I never really thought about it like that.”
Here are at least three places he went wrong:
1. He Looked Defensive: Any time you look defensive, you look guilty. The key to answering damning questions well is to maintain the tone of, “Thank you so much for asking me that tough question! I can’t wait to answer it.”
2. Didn’t Rebut the Charge: If you allow the accusation to stand unanswered, you’re guilty in the court of public opinion.
3. Didn’t Widen His Answer: Mr. Vogel should have widened his answer from the link between profitability and free labor to internships themselves, saying something such as:
“Well, of course internships are intended to benefit both the employer and the intern – and that’s exactly what’s happening at Modus. It’s absolutely critical that internships benefit the intern in important ways – and that’s why we expose them to various parts of the business. We want them to have as much experience as possible, so that they have the best chance at being hired full-time, either here or at another firm.”
What’s striking in this piece is that the interns actually offered a much better defense of unpaid internships than Mr. Vogel, one saying, “Actually, this is very good for me,” and another saying, “If you’re prepared to put in the hard work, it pays off eventually.”
Clients regularly tell me that they’re fine during interviews as long as they “prepare” for every possible question. That’s a dangerous approach, as they can’t possibly anticipate every potential question. Instead, they should learn the proper technique for answering killer questions. This one should have been easy.
Hat tip to Insignia Talks (for the original story) and The PR Coach (for Tweeting it)
Tags: bad media performance, crisis communications, media training disasters
Posted in Crisis Communications | 2 Comments »
Earlier today, CBS News released a statement about news correspondent Lara Logan that contained horrifying news. Four days ago, Ms. Logan got separated from her crew in Cairo and sustained a “brutal and sustained sexual assault.”
This story sickens me, and I hesitate to even write about it. But Ms. Logan, her family, and CBS deserve credit for handling such a difficult moment with such grace, and I’d like to explain why they handled this moment so well.
Too often, journalists – the same people who invade other people’s privacy at sensitive moments as a professional necessity – are the first people to plead for privacy when something happens to them.
But Ms. Logan’s plea for privacy comes only after releasing painful and difficult details – including those that few people want to release. For that, she deserves enormous credit. And precisely because her plea for privacy accompanied the release of key details, her request is likely to be honored.
The full statement from CBS News is below. May Ms. Logan have the most complete recovery possible.
CBS News’ Lara Logan Assaulted During Egypt Protests
CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Separated From Her Crew And Brutally Assaulted on Day Mubarak Stepped Down
(CBSNews) On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.
In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.
There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.
Tags: CBS, crisis communications, Lara Logan
Posted in Crisis Communications | Please Comment »
It’s safe to say that Morley Safer, the respected 60 Minutes correspondent, won’t be getting an invitation to a women’s rights rally any time soon.
First, some background. Mr. Safer is a member of something called The Century Club, which obnoxiously describes itself as:
“…an association of over two thousand authors, artists, and amateurs of letters and the fine arts…men and women ‘of any occupation provided their breadth of interest and qualities of mind and imagination make them sympathetic, stimulating, and congenial companions in a society of authors and artists.’”
That description is ironic, it turns out, as Mr. Safer acted in an uncongenial manner quite unsympathetic toward women. It seems that members of The Century Club also have rights to London’s Garrick Club – which, according to The New York Times, hasn’t caught up to our enlightened age:
“While male members of the 164-year-old Century have unfettered access to the British club, women can enter only in the company of a man.”
So why is Mr. Safer the bad guy in this story? Because his words, according to the Times, “stood out for their harsh tone.” In a series of vituperative e-mails sent to dozens of Century Club members, he lambasted the possibility of discontinuing ties with the Garrick, calling one female member who supporting cutting the relationship, “whining,” “self-pitying,” “humorless.,” and “vindictive.”
All of this serves as a set-up for the point of this article. Again, from the Times:
“The newsman strongly opposed ending the relationship with the Garrick. And he expressed that opinion repeatedly in e-mails to dozens of Centurions….Reached by telephone, Mr. Safer confirmed that he had written the messages, but would say only this: “I am sorry this has become public. This is a private matter among club members.”
Wow. Mr. Safer truly is an anachronism. Did he actually expect that antagonistic e-mails sent from a high-profile journalist to dozens of people on a combustible topic would really remain private? Hasn’t this 60 Minutes correspondent exposed enough private messages to know that they wouldn’t?
Here’s the bottom line, something countless executives, government officials, and celebrities have already learned the hard way: E-mails often become public. The wider and less intimate the circle, the greater the chances of a leak. It may seem like a pedantic reminder, but it’s one that seems worthy of repetition: If you don’t want it on the front page tomorrow, don’t put it in print.
Related: Why You Should Be Paranoid In Public
Tags: 60 Minutes, crisis communications, media training disasters, Morley Safer
Posted in Media Training Disasters | Please Comment »
It’s the moment every communications pro dreads. Despite your best efforts to keep something inside your company or organization private, a reporter finds out about it anyway.
Perhaps the journalist has heard about an upcoming merger or major staff change. Maybe somebody tipped the reporter off to an impending legal settlement or a confidential deal struck between two rival parties. Or possibly somebody inside your organization leaked an internal document to the reporter.
But for many reasons, you’re unable to confirm the information – doing so might scuttle the deal, breach a confidentiality agreement, or undercut the media announcement you’ve been planning for months.
So, what do you do when a reporter knows true information about your company or organization –but you’re unable to confirm it?
This question is a bit of a brain twister, and I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Please leave your answer in the comment section below. And please share this link with your social networks – I’d love to hear the opinions and experiences of as many people as possible.
I’ll highlight a few of your comments on the homepage later this week.
In the meantime, here are your answers to the last question of the week: Should You Ask Reporters For the Questions Before an Interview?
Tags: Question of the Week, working with reporters
Posted in Question of the Week | Please Comment »
Just because you shouldn’t ever use the words “no comment” doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything you know to every reporter who asks. There are many times when you legitimately cannot or should not comment on something.
Here are a few examples of times you might withhold comment:
- Confidential Employee or Patient Records: A reporter asks you for an employee file or the health records of a patient
- Competitive Information: You work for a private company, and a reporter wants to know something about your strategy that would give a competitor an edge
- Lawsuits: You receive guidance from your attorney not to comment on an ongoing court case (especially when the legal risks outweigh the risk of poor communications)
- Labor Action: Your employees are about to go on strike, but you made an agreement with the union that neither side would negotiate in public
- Injury or Death: An employee has been seriously injured or killed, and you want to notify the family before confirming the news to the media
In all of the cases above, your strategy should be to “comment without commenting,” or offer a response that explains why you cannot answer the question.
For example, you might respond to a reporter asking you about a lawsuit, “Although we can’t comment on a case in litigation, I would like to remind your viewers that there are two sides to every story. I am confident that the truth will come out, and I’d ask people to withhold judgment until it does.”
Case Study: President Obama on CNN
Back in June 2010, President Obama appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live to discuss immigration reform. He deflected one question by commenting without commenting:
Larry King: “You met with the Arizona governor today. Will the Administration bring a legal challenge to this law?”
President Obama: “I’m not going to comment on that, Larry, because that’s really the job of the Justice Department and I made a commitment early on that I wouldn’t be putting my thumb on the scales [of justice] when these kinds of decisions are made.”
Related: If You Go Off-The-Record, Don’t Die
Tags: advanced media training technique, media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | Please Comment »
Two-term Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY) resigned yesterday, within hours of learning that a website published a shirtless photo he sent to a woman he had met on Craig’s List, along with the accompanying (and rather tame) e-mails.
In the e-mails, the married 46-year-old Congressman claimed he was 39-years-old, divorced, and “classy.”
Since many members of Congress have survived much bigger “sex” scandals (Barney Frank, John Ensign and Larry Craig come to mind), many people are speculating that more sordid details will inevitably emerge about Mr. Lee.
The speculation about additional bombshells may prove correct, but there’s another possibility – one I haven’t heard anyone else suggest yet.
When I speak to a person in crisis, one of the first questions I ask is what their primary goal is. There are many different answers to that question, all requiring a different crisis communications strategy. In a case like this, some of the goals might include:
- 1. “I want to keep my Congressional seat and fight through this.”
- 2. “I want to reduce the harm to my reputation.”
- 3. ”I want to keep my family together.”
- 4. “Regardless of whether I remain married, I don’t want to drag my wife and family through hell.”
Mr. Lee’s primary goal was obviously not number one. It could have been any of the other options – and assuming it was, his candid press statement (below) and immediate resignation might represent his best path toward accomplishing those goals:
“I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.”
By stepping down quickly and offering no excuses in his press statement, Rep. Lee did everything he could to reduce the intensity of future headlines. Yes, the political press and 24-hour cable networks will cover future revelations. But they will write and air fewer stories than they would have had he remained a sitting member of Congress.
Mr. Lee is likely not getting many compliments today, and I will not make any excuses for his personal behavior. But despite whatever bad decisions he’s made, his crisis communications response has been near-perfect.
Tags: Christopher Lee, crisis communications
Posted in Media Training Analysis | Please Comment »