A Thought Exercise: How Would You Answer This Question?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 5, 2015 – 5:56 am

While preparing for a recent media training, I came across a video clip from 2009 that I had never seen before.

The clip features Bob Diamond, who was the CEO of the British multinational bank Barclays at the time. During the interview, the reporter asked Diamond to defend his high compensation package—he was reportedly earning north of £20 million/year (roughly $30 million/year), with some reports putting his total compensation package at more than three times that amount.

As a reminder, this interview occurred shortly after the financial crash of 2008, when bankers, who were perceived to have contributed mightily to the crash, were under increased scrutiny. 

Diamond started off strongly enough by making his case for free-market and performance-based compensation. But when the interviewer asked him whether he was worth as much as 1,000 Barclays tellers, he crumbled and took on the look of a boy who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were preparing Mr. Diamond for this interview. How would you have advised him to answer that question?

Bob Diamond Barclays

There’s only one “rule” for this thought exercise: You can’t advise Diamond to cut his salary or give a portion of it to the tellers, because there’s no indication from his response that he’d be willing to do either. Your advice should be based on the assumption that he’s going to continue receiving the same high compensation package.

What should he say? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll compile a few of your responses for a follow-up post later this month.

 


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How To Guarantee More Media Coverage For Your Topic

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 23, 2015 – 5:03 am

There’s no better way to guarantee more media coverage for an issue you don’t want the media to cover than to blow up at a reporter about that issue. Especially if your blowup is recorded.

Bryan Price, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, serves as the latest case study. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Upset by the accurate reports that All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco was not with the team for Sunday’s game in St. Louis, Price went on a five-minute, 34-second expletive-filled tirade in his daily session with reporters.” 

An “expletive-filled tirade” is, if anything, an understatement. In just 634 seconds, Price said “fuck” 77 times. That’s a “fuck-per-second” ratio of one f-bomb every eight seconds. And, not surprisingly, his vulgar rant went viral, drawing more attention to the very story he wished had been buried.

Even worse, Price seems to have a completely inaccurate belief about the proper role of the press: 

“I don’t understand what the importance is for everybody to know if we have a player that’s not here. We don’t benefit at all from the other teams knowing that we don’t have a player. You don’t have to be a Reds fan, but it doesn’t help us if our opponents know who’s here and who isn’t…I don’t need you guys to be fans of the Reds, I just need to know that if there’s something we want to keep here that it stays here…Your job is not to sniff out every fucking thing about the Reds and fucking put it out there for every other fucking guy to hear. It’s not your job…How the fuck does that benefit the Reds? It doesn’t benefit us one fucking bit. ”

Instead of viewing the media as a collection of independent journalists, Price appears to believe they should function as an appendage of the Reds, writing only the items that would benefit his team. That belief is, in many ways, more troubling than the tirade itself.

On Tuesday, Price offered a partial apology via Twitter:

“In my pre-game conversation with reporters yesterday, I used wholly inappropriate language to describe the media coverage of our team. While I stand by the content of my message, I am sorry for the choice of words.”

Bryan_Price_2011 via Keith Allison Wikimedia Commons

That’s too bad. He got two things wrong in his rant—the language and the idea behind the language—but he only apologized for the former. And although Price’s frustration is somewhat understandable—it’s too bad that a major leaguer finds out that he’s being sent to the minors through a media report before the team officially tells him—it’s just a part of today’s media culture that he’ll have to accept. The Reds’ media strategy, like that of any competitive business, must reflect the fact that the press sometimes gets news quicker than they might wish.

We’ll now see if Price’s rant has a chilling effect on reporters who want to maintain access and therefore temper their coverage, or if it only encourages local reporters to continue doing their jobs as they should.

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Photo credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons


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March 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 31, 2015 – 11:34 am

Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law is exactly that to its supporters—but it’s an anti-gay discrimination law to its detractors.

Governor Mike Pence, who signed the bill into law last week, has been on the defensive since then, facing both an in-state and out-of-state backlash. Indianapolis-based Angie’s List put a major construction project on hold, and Salesforce.com, the State of Connecticut, and the City of Seattle are all forbidding official travel to the state, among others

That backlash prompted Gov. Pence to appear on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

World News Videos | US News Videos

First, in fairness, Mr. Pence did a lot right. He was clearly prepared for this interview, knew his talking points, and—even though I disagree with his position—defended it well, at least at moments.

He used an advanced media training technique I’ve written about before called “It’s Not This, It’s That” by arguing that the law he signed isn’t about discrimination, but religious liberty. That was a reasonable technique to use, and it would have been the same one I would have suggested had I trained him.

So why am I naming him the worst video media disaster of the month? Because you can’t refuse to answer a yes-no question six times—about a core question surrounding the law—and also maintain your credibility. His refusal to answer the same question that many times made his unstated answer plainly obvious.

Here are the six “yes-no” questions that Mr. Pence refused to answer:

“This is a yes or no question. Is Advance Indiana right when they say florists in Indiana can refuse to serve a gay couple in Indiana without fear of punishment?

“Yes or no. If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?”

“One of your supporters who was talking about the bill…said it would protect a Christian florist against any kind of punishment. Is that true or not?”

“Does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service—or people of any other faith—want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that it’s now legal in the State of Indiana? That’s a simple yes or no question.”

“Final yes or no question, Governor. Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays and lesbians?”

“Yes or no. Should it be legal to discriminate against gays or lesbians?”

George Stephanopoulos Mike Pence

Pence was particularly squirmy during those last two questions. And his refusal to offer a flat “NO!” made it clear that he does believe it should be legal to deny service to gays and lesbians. (If that’s not the case, he could have easily offered a straightforward answer.) And he did offer many declarative answers elsewhere in the interview. On the question of whether it was a mistake to sign the law, for example, Pence offered a direct “Absolutely not.”

After the first one or two “yes or no” questions, Pence needed to offer a direct response. That doesn’t mean he had to use the words “yes” or “no,” but rather that he had address the topic in a more head-on manner. For example, he could have said:

“Let’s talk about that for a moment, George. If a person of faith believes that homosexuality is wrong, should the state force him or her to design a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage? Or a flower arrangement? Or provide a banquet hall? That’s not an easy black-or-white question for many people to answer, and it’s one that people in my state and many other states have struggled with.”

On Tuesday morning, Pence quickly called a press conference to announce that he was working with the state legislature to clarify that no one could be denied service due to their sexual orientation—and, in so doing, finally offered a direct answer to the question he refused to answer six times on Sunday. During that defensive press conference, he admitted that he could have “handled Sunday’s interview better.”

The bottom line? If you have to call a press conference to clean up a bad media interview during the biggest political crisis of your career, you have a self-imposed media disaster on your hands.

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February 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 2, 2015 – 5:34 am

It’s difficult to think of a high-profile American journalist whose career toppled faster and harder than NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. (Dan Rather’s resignation under fire comes to mind, but he was in third place at the time, not first, and had already weathered several strange incidents.)

Williams, who admitted to “misremembering” being shot down while covering the Iraq war, was quickly challenged about other inaccuracies, including claims of seeing dead bodies and contracting dysentery after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and observing a missile fly directly beneath his helicopter while covering the Israel-Hezbollah war.

The moment I’m calling the worst media disaster of the month is Williams’ insufficient and glib on-air apology, which only added fuel to his reputational crisis (Williams reportedly later admitted to colleagues that he knew his apology was lame.)

Days later, Williams followed that on-air apology with a memo that said he was pulling himself off the air for a few days. That, too, looked self-serving and glib; it was NBC News’ role to remove him from “his” broadcast for the time frame they deemed appropriate, not his.

When the news division did act, their punishment was severe: a six-month suspension without pay. The question of whether Williams will ever return is still officially open—but it’s hard to see how NBC, which has stripped Williams’ name from the broadcast, can welcome him back. Only if the constellations align—the ratings drop precipitously under temporary replacement Lester Holt, Williams embarks on a redemption tour that exceeds expectations, and Nightly News staffers warm to the idea of his return—is he likely to return to his chair. 

More likely, Williams will look to resurrect his career elsewhere. Ethical questions aside, he remains an exceptionally gifted anchor with a fast wit and terrific sense of humor. It’s conceivable that CNN, for example—the network that gave disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer a comeback show—could put him on the air in prime time to host a Larry King-style, personality-driven news show. If his reputation can recover sufficiently, he’d be great at it.

Brian Williams NYPost

Williams’ exaggerations also prompted other public figures to come under scrutiny this month. Fox News ratings juggernaut Bill O’Reilly appears to have exaggerated or made up several stories. He and Fox aggressively blamed the attack on ideologically motivated news organizations—which may be an effective PR strategy—but facts are facts, and the evidence against him, supported by a cavalcade of former O’Reilly news colleagues who refute his claims, is growing by the day.

President Obama’s new Veteran Affairs Secretary, Robert McDonald, faced similar questions of misrepresenting his experience when he told a homeless vet who had served in the Special Forces that he, too, had served in the Special Forces (he didn’t). Like Fox, the White House stood by its man. 

I’ll end this post with an actionable tip. Look at your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and/or other online bios. Make sure everything is accurate (and preferably verifiable). It’s better to have a slightly less impressive but accurate bio than one that sets you up for a fall. 

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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.

 

 


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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?”

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Elected Official: I’ll Sue You If You Publish My Name

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 6, 2015 – 8:38 am

If you’re a reporter and want to write about an elected official, do you need to obtain permission from the politician in advance to include their name in your news story? 

Of course not. You could imagine the chilling effect on journalism if people elected to positions of power could shut down media inquiries they didn’t like by denying the reporter permission to write about them.

Kirby Delauter, a county council member in Frederick County, Maryland, doesn’t appear to agree. He took to his Facebook page yesterday to denounce a local reporter, Bethany Rodgers of The Frederick News-Post, because he “did not authorize any use of my name.” He also included this rather menacing line: “You need to know who you’re dealing with.”

To cap off his post, Mr. Delauter threatened to sue her: “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an attorney.”

Kirby Delauter

I’d like to give Mr. Delauter the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible that he doesn’t have a lot of media experience and truly believes that he has the right to prevent a journalist from using his name without his authorization. Therefore, I want to use this post to write something productive.

Sir, you have no legal standing on which to sue a journalist for using your name without authorization. In order for a public figure to prove libel, you would need to show that Ms. Rodgers knew her statements to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth. That’s a legal standard that’s extremely difficult to meet.

As you’ve seen from the reaction to your Facebook post (which appears to have been deleted), you only helped to attract more attention to Ms. Rodgers’ original article; among others, The Washington Post has now helped to make this a national story. 

Kirby Delauter Photo

But you’re not without rights.

First, if Ms. Rodgers (or any other journalist) is going to write a story about you with or without your participation in it, you might consider granting her an interview—or at least providing her with a short written statement. Although it might seem paradoxical to exert control by speaking to a reporter you view as unfair, it may not be. The reason for that is something I call “The Rule of Thirds.” I made a video about that here.

If Ms. Rodgers is being unfair, as you assert, this post offers you seven things you can do to respond to a negative news story. To protect yourself, you can insist on only communicating in writing (so you can maintain a paper trail) or recording your interviews (some states require two-party notification before recording, so just tell her you’re recording). You can even call into question her fairness as a reporter by offering evidence that proves she has “lied,” as you stated she did. What you can’t do—at least not credibly—is threaten to sue her for mentioning your name.

There’s one other thing I’d ask you to consider. Whether you like it or not, The Frederick News-Post is going to continue to cover you. Therefore, think about what’s going to serve your interests over the months and years to come. It might be that reducing the antagonism between you and the newspaper serves you best; if so, you might consider requesting a meeting with Ms. Rodgers and her editor to discuss your complaints with the paper’s coverage, point out any inaccuracies, and establish a more productive future working relationship.

The point is that you do have some control here—but it needs to be exercised the right way to be effective. Good luck.

Facebook screenshot via Kai Hagen; photo from Kirby Delauter’s public campaign page.

UPDATE: JANUARY 7, 2015, 10PM

Mr. Delauter issued the following apology today to The Frederick News-Post. It strikes the right tone, appears authentic, and reflects an appropriate amount of self-awareness. It should help put this issue behind him.

“The first amendment is alive and well in Frederick County. As a public figure working to maintain and improve the county, it can be very frustrating to feel misrepresented or misinterpreted by a local media outlet.

Over my career I have fired off my fair share of angry e-mails, which in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.  I can’t think of one that had a positive effect.  Usually, they only served to escalate the conflict.  I thought I had long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently I didn’t learn that lesson as well as I should have. 

Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county — that comes with the job.  So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. 

I got elected to serve all the citizens of northern Frederick County, Democrats as well as Republicans.  I look forward to the local papers covering my effort in that regard.”

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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.

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    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.

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