Classic Post: Seven Times To Turn Down A Media Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 26, 2014 – 2:04 pm

Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 1,000 posts. Some of the most popular posts have gotten buried over time, so I occasionally unbury especially useful older posts to share with readers who missed them the first time. This article was originally published on December 27, 2010.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen my regular advice to do almost every media interview you’re offered. But there are times when turning down an interview makes the most sense, and this article will discuss the times when saying “no” is your best move.

Below, you’ll find a list of seven times to turn down an interview.

The original list comes from the IABC (The International Association of Business Communicators). Although it’s a solid list, the tips are overly-generalized, so I’ve added my own commentary to each of the seven suggestions to help make them more complete.

Hand No

1. Employees Have Not Yet Been Notified About a Specific Issue

As a general piece of advice, this is fine. But if a reporter is about to run a story with or without your input – and if you lack the logistical ability to inform your employees directly before it runs – it might make sense to participate in the story to ensure you provide the necessary context. Plus, what is the “specific issue” at play here? Announcing a new product before all employees have been notified (e.g. the iPad) might be strategically sound, while announcing employee layoffs through the press would not be.

2. Employee, Client or Patient Privacy Is Never Breached For Any Reason

Client confidentiality might be waived, for example, if you’re subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit or before Congress, especially if no confidentiality agreement was signed between the parties.

3. An Emergency Has Occurred; Next-of-Kin Have Not Been Notified

I agree you should not be the first party to announce any deaths before next-of-kin has been notified, but what happens if the media has already announced the names? Do you confirm them then, or continue to wait hours – or days – before next-of-kin has been notified? These cases aren’t always cut and dried, and sometimes confirming the names is the more humane choice.

4. Sensitive Competitive Information Would Be Divulged

In a reputational crisis, there are times you might lose more by NOT divulging a proprietary piece of information. As with any crisis, you have to analyze all possibilities, including divulging competitive information.

No Thank You

5. Security Legislation Would Be Breached

Whistleblowers aside, this is probably good advice. I assume this refers to laws already passed, not pending legislation.

6. Union Negotiations are Underway; An Information Blackout is in Effect

If both sides are honoring the agreement, this is good advice. But what about when one party breaks the agreement and is killing you in the press? You should talk to the media – if not to offer specifics, at least to remind the public that you’ve agreed to an information blackout, that you’re not going to talk for that reason, but that there’s more to the story than they’re hearing from the other side.

7. Legal Counsel Has Advised Against Communications

If there’s one thing on this list that makes me bristle, it’s this one. First, even if counsel has advised against “communications,” you can still communicate. You can almost always offer a generic statement such as, “We can’t offer specifics in this case since it’s in litigation, but I would like to remind everyone that there are two sides to this story, and we’re confident that our side will come out in court.”

Second, legal counsel often advises against communications as a kneejerk reaction, even when communicating makes the most sense. Executives would be wise to consult their attorneys and their communications professionals prior to making such decisions. Sometimes the reputational damage caused by your silence is greater than the financial damage of future lawsuits.

Editor’s Note: A grateful hat tip to a good marketing blog called IMC Intuition by Beth Ryan, on which I originally saw this list.

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.

 


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Five Less Common Media Formats

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 6, 2014 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover here and for the Kindle here.

Spokespersons may encounter a few additional media formats. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these five possibilities:

1. Editorial-Board Meetings

Many newspapers have editorial boards, which are composed of a small group of editors who write the editorials, or “official viewpoints,” that appear in each morning’s paper. The editors who pen them are typically not news reporters (whose reporting is supposed to avoid expressing personal viewpoints). Editorials are different than “op-eds,” which are usually written by members of the community.

Meetings with editorial boards are opportunities to influence the editors to adopt your viewpoint. Treat these meetings the same way you would a news interview: anything you say can be quoted, and some editorial board meetings may be audio- and/or videotaped. Some editors ask aggressive questions, especially of spokespersons who represent a controversial brand or idea, so prepare thoroughly for your meeting.

Book Cover Stacked

2. Deskside Briefings

Deskside briefings are similar to meetings with editorial boards, but are usually one-on-one exchanges with an individual journalist at his or her office (hence the name “deskside”) rather than with larger groups. The casual and often friendly nature of deskside briefings can lead spokespersons to stray off their messages, so remember to treat everything you say as a quotable comment.

3. Walk and Talks

Have you ever seen a television interviewer conduct an interview while walking down a street or hallway with the interviewee? Some reporters are fond of conducting interviews as “walk and talks,” since they tend to relax the person being interviewed and are more visually interesting than a typical in-studio interview.

This can be a difficult format, since you have to focus on where you’re walking in addition to relaying your message. Walk slowly—and if you find yourself getting distracted, stop walking for a moment and turn toward the interviewer while making a key point.

4. Demos

Some talk shows, including daytime chat programs, ask guests to do a demonstration, or “demo.” Chefs show viewers how to cook lasagna, home decorators demonstrate how to inexpensively design a living room, and physicians teach people how to perform a self-examination.

Delivering a demo in just a few short minutes can be a major challenge. Do several on-camera practice rounds in advance to get your timing and delivery down, and be prepared to handle any unexpected moments that occur.

5. Comedy Shows

One thing I’ve learned through the years is that almost everyone thinks they’re funny. So when they appear on a late-night talk show such as The Tonight Show or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their inclination is to try to crack a joke or two. It’s usually a bad idea.

Unless you’re a comedian, it’s usually best to avoid competing for punch lines. Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, even tells his guests beforehand to play it straight. Let the comedian do the jokes—comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. Just bring your good humor, a warm smile, and a willingness to go along with the joke.

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 


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Seven Great Media Sound Bites

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 24, 2014 – 6:02 am

If you want to virtually guarantee that reporters will use the quote you want them to, you need to master the art of the media sound bite.

Reporters love sound bites because they make for lively copy. The public enjoys them because they’re memorable. And you’ll benefit from them because they can serve as a perfect delivery vehicle for your messages.

I always try to look out for particularly clever and well-phrased media sound bites. In this post, you’ll find seven of my recent favorites.

Related: 10 Ways To Create Memorable Media Sound Bites

Cameras at Press Conference

 

1. This sound bite has a clear political point of view—but ignore the politics and look at the structure. If you’re on the other side of the aisle, you can simply replace the name “Sarah Palin” with a different name. I was unable to find the source of this sound bite.

“Getting a history lesson from Sarah Palin is like getting your teeth cleaned by a proctologist.”

 

2. During the 2012 election season, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was briefly discussed as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Huckabee dismissed the buzz with this clever sound bite:

“I think there’s a greater likelihood that I’ll be asked by Madonna to go on tour as her bass player.”

 

3. While promoting her book about women in the workplace, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, offered this memorable quip:

“Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”

 

Sheryl Sandberg

 

4. Knocking her opponent for what she maintained was his lack of political action, Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes said this:

“If the doctors told Sen. [Mitch] McConnell he had a kidney stone, he wouldn’t pass it.”

 

5. Congressman Hal Rodgers (R-KY), speaking about the challenge his party’s Speaker of the House faces in running his caucus, quipped:  

“It’s a little bit like being the head caretaker of the cemetery. There are a lot of people under you, but nobody listens.”

 

6. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV), who was accused of a conflict of interest for supporting medical procedures that helped her physician-husband, used this analogy: 

“I won’t stop fighting to give Nevadans access to affordable health care just because my husband is a doctor, just like I won’t stop standing up for veterans just because my father served in World War II.”

 

7. Finally, here’s a sound bite that any parent will appreciate:

“Cleaning a house with a toddler is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”

 

For more tips on how to develop your own media sound bites, check out my video below. 

 

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.


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How Much Energy Is Appropriate For Media Interviews?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 3, 2014 – 12:05 am

After concluding on-camera practice interviews with our clients, I often ask them to rate how much energy they thought they had, on a scale of 1 to 10. “Oh, around an eight or nine,” the trainees usually guess. “That was probably a bit over-the-top, right?”

I then ask the other people in the room to rate their colleagues’ energy during the interview. They usually rate it a 4 or 5. The trainee is always shocked.

It turns out we’re not great judges of the amount of energy we convey during media interviews. What feels right to clients in the training room often looks flat on television—which makes sense when you consider that television tends to make people appear more muted than they do in person.

You’ve seen that dynamic play out if you’ve ever sat down in front of your television, watched an entire interview, and completely zoned out—realizing later that you can’t remember a single thing the spokesperson said. It happens all the time, and it’s usually the result of a “blah” spokesperson who doesn’t reach out of the television and grab you.

 

Apple Founder Steve Jobs was known for his energetic delivery.

Apple Founder Steve Jobs was known for his energetic delivery.

 

A media interview delivered without energy is like a steak cooked over low heat: dull, uninspiring, and lacking “sizzle.” Great spokespersons know they need to inject passion and energy into their delivery to fully reach their audience.

Some of our clients get nervous about displaying too much energy or passion during their interviews. They protest that they’re mild mannered or soft-spoken in everyday life and that speaking loudly wouldn’t feel authentic to them. That’s fine. Passionate need not be loud.

But what may feel like yelling to you usually doesn’t come across as yelling to the rest of us. In fact, when I ask trainees to “go bigger” by speaking in a comically loud voice, they’re almost always surprised to find that it goes over great on TV.

Therefore, focus on being the most energetic and passionate version of you. Think about when you’re sitting in your living room with an old friend, reliving memories of your schooldays. You’re probably a bit louder than usual, a little more demonstrative, and a lot more interesting.

In order to bring that more enthusiastic version of yourself out, try speaking 10—15 percent louder. Many people fear that will make them come across with too much volume. And sure, we need to dial back the occasional trainee who goes too far. But that’s rare. The vast majority of the time, spokespersons can hit the gas and be even more energetic.

So don’t hold back. If you care about your topic, make sure the audience can tell just by looking at you.

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 

 


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To Show Hands Or Not To Show Hands: That Is The Question

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 26, 2014 – 8:59 pm

Reader Monica Miller Rodgers asks the following question:

“I notice you express your ideas with lots of hand movements (as do I). In media training, though, I have always taught clients to keep their hand movements below the waist to avoid getting gestures in the frame. I teach them to continue using their hands and not to hold them stiffly (then you just get odd shoulder movements), but to keep them low. What is your recommendation for this?”

First, let’s address the biggest downside of allowing gestures in the frame: They can, in some circumstances, be distracting. For example, if someone makes fast gestures, waves their hands near their face, or is wearing stacked bracelets that make noise every time they near the microphone, their gestures can distract the audience and prevent viewers from hearing their words. 

you got to understand that

But in my experience, those moments are not the norm. The vast majority of the time, speakers who gesture normally look more natural, which is the goal. When I’ve asked our trainees to restrict their hand movements, I’ve observed that they usually become duller—both in terms of their energy and their content.

I’ve concluded that asking people not to gesture—or to dramatically change the way they typically gesture—makes them slower of thought. There’s research to back up my conclusion. According to Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think by Susan Goldin Meadow:

“Gesturing can lighten a speaker’s cognitive load, thus saving effort to expend on other tasks. Moreover, gesturing may even affect the course of thought, making some ideas salient and others not. We may be changing what we think just by moving our hands.”

“Gesture and speech together form a single unified system and, within this system, are coexpressive. Both modalities contribute to a speaker’s intended meaning…Listeners carry out this same synthesis—in the process of speech comprehension, listeners synthesize the information presented in speech and in gesture to form a single unified representation.”

In other words, asking spokespersons to restrain their movements could inhibit both their own thinking and their connection with the audience.

I agree there are times when gestures pose a distraction. But from my perspective, the opposite problem—unnatural stiffness—is the bigger problem of the two. Thanks for your question, Monica!

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on the blog? Please email us at Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.

 


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How Do You Rank On “The Plane Test?”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 11, 2014 – 6:05 am

You’ve just boarded a plane. You arrange your bags, remove your reading material, and say hello to the stranger who will be your seatmate for the next six hours. (For the purposes of this post, let’s assume your strategy isn’t to instantly put on your headphones and tune your neighbors out.)

The person seated next to you begins chatting with you and asks what you do for a living. “I’ve never heard of your company,” he says in response to your answer. “What is it?”

That moment—what I’ve dubbed “the plane test”—is a wonderful opportunity to test your brand messages. If your fellow passenger’s eyes glaze over at your response, you’ll know that your messages need some work. But if it leads to an interested reply and a relevant follow-up question, you’ll know you’re on the right track. 

Your seatmate is a free, one-person focus group. He or she will never know you’re testing different versions of your brand message on them. And you should take advantage of that opportunity every time.

Two Women on a Plane

When asked about their companies, most people deliver an uninspired “what” answer:

“Well, the Association for the Advancement of Arkansas Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with 25 employees working in four statewide offices to improve elementary and secondary education in Arkansas.”

By the time you said 501(c)3, your seatmate probably started wishing he had just pressed play on the in-flight movie.

There’s a better technique to describe your company called the “Why + What,” which I elaborated upon in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview. Here’s an example:

“In Arkansas, we rank 50th in the United States in high school graduation rates. That means our students are among the least prepared in the nation when entering the workforce and the most likely to live in poverty for the rest of their lives. The Association for the Advancement of Arkansas Education is dedicated to changing that and to making sure our students get the high-quality education they need to successfully compete in the global marketplace.”

That answer is more likely to provoke a “wow!” response and prompt a bevy of follow-up questions from your seatmate: Why is Arkansas last? What can you do about it? What, if anything, has been working? Can you really change that trend?

If your company, organization, group, or government agency has developed messages, test them at every opportunity possible. Your “plane test” may occur while you’re in flight, but it may also occur when you’re earthbound at a cocktail reception, your child’s school play, or your local grocery store.

Take advantage of those free, one-person focus groups—and revise your responses until you find the language that regularly produces a “wow.”

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.


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The Dangerous Media Seven-Second Stray

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 8, 2014 – 6:02 am

In the late 1990s, I was a producer for CNN’s Sunday public-affairs program, Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. Because Late Edition aired after all of the other Sunday public-affairs shows, one of my tasks each week was to watch the earlier programs to monitor what politicians were saying. If a politician said something interesting, I’d edit a video clip out of the quote so that Wolf could air it on the show.

I was always on the lookout for a politician saying something off message. Why? Because anything unscripted and off-the-cuff was inherently more interesting than the canned responses we always heard. And in a newsroom, a less scripted response will almost always be deemed more newsworthy.

Years later, I developed a name to describe that phenomenon: “the seven-second stray.” I call it that because if a spokesperson is on message for 59 minutes 53 seconds of an hour-long interview but says something off message for just seven seconds, I can virtually guarantee that the reporter will select that seven-second answer to play over and over again.

The seven-second stray can be deadly. Not only is it often damaging to your reputation, but it drowns out everything else you’ve said, becoming the only quote the audience will remember from your interview.

My choice of the word drown in the previous sentence is intentional. To help our clients avoid committing a seven-second stray, I often use the analogy of a lifeboat. If you’re facing tough questioning, I tell them, your message is your lifeboat. If you keep returning to your message and message supports—stories, statistics, and sound bites—it’s as if you’re swimming to the safety of the closest lifeboat. But if you stray off message, you’re treading water at best—if not drifting farther and farther away from the lifeboat until that inevitable (and entirely predictable) moment when you drown.

Case Study: BP CEO’s Infamous Seven-Second Stray

In April 2010, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and injuring 17 others. For 87 days, oil gushed from the seafloor, washing up on ecologically sensitive shorelines from Texas to Florida. The spill wrecked local economies, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. Fishermen were left without seafood to sell, hotels were left without guests, and restaurants were left without diners.

British Petroleum, the massive oil conglomerate responsible for the rig, took a daily beating in the press. The bad press had a devastating impact on the company: the oil giant quickly shed half of its worth, a loss of more than $100 billion.

As bad as the crisis was, the spill itself wasn’t responsible for the greatest harm to BP’s reputation. Rather, the company’s inept response, headed by CEO Tony Hayward, significantly deepened the damage. In a televised interview, Mr. Hayward famously quipped:

“There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.”

That stunningly tone-deaf seven-second stray, which slighted the deceased oil workers and newly unemployed workers, became a symbol of BP’s self-interested focus. Those five telling words, “I’d like my life back,” reinforced an irreversible narrative of a clueless company that just didn’t get it – and just didn’t care.

Mr. Hayward was forced out shortly after the spill ended, but it didn’t matter. The damage to BP had already been done.

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 


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Seven Steps To Better Executive Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 24, 2014 – 12:02 am

Our firm has provided media and presentation training workshops for hundreds of top executives. Although our regular media and presentation training workshops are taught at a high level, executive media training workshops require a few additional considerations.

In this post, I’ll discuss seven key lessons I’ve learned from training top executives for more than a decade. I hope you’ll also add your own lessons learned in the comments section below.

Executive Woman

1. Remember That Executives Often Have Short Attention Spans

That headline may sound like an insult, but it’s not. The very nature of an executive’s job requires them to juggle many tasks simultaneously—and being able to multitask (or, more accurately, “task switch”) efficiently is a critical asset. Therefore, it’s critical to keep as much of the training interactive as possible to keep executives fully engaged. It’s okay to have some lecture, but don’t make it the main focus of the day.

2. Keep The Session Moving

Executives tend to be especially time pressed. Dedicating an entire day (or even a few hours) to media training is a huge investment, and they’ll begin to feel itchy if they don’t feel like they’re using their time wisely. To help keep their attention, I’ve learned to keep the session moving forward instead of lingering too long on a single topic. (The exception to that is if the executive is clearly on the cusp of an “a ha!” moment.) In order to help do that, we use as many teaching techniques as possible. For competitive reasons, I won’t give them all away here—but I will say that lecture and practice are just two of the teaching methods we use to keep the session moving.

3. Deliver Honest, Direct Feedback 

One of the most important roles a trainer plays is the part of trusted advisor. I’ve never felt that the best path to more business with a client was telling them what they wanted to hear. I’m going to be direct—diplomatically and politely so, of course, but still direct—in an effort to help them grow their skills. That approach has regularly led to repeat business, so the evidence suggests that executives crave honest feedback from third parties.

Mature man executive being questioned by journalists.

4. However, Remember They’re Human

Delivering direct feedback requires a deft touch. As trainers, we need to remember that executives are often vulnerable creatures just like the rest of us. A surprising number have admitted to suffering from the “imposter syndrome.” In order to succeed, we must develop trust with our executive clients quickly. One way to do that is to ask relevant diagnostic questions intended to help us learn more about them before leaping into the training—about their fears, concerns, and their communications strengths and weaknesses.

5. Minimize The Number of People In The Room

In many corporate cultures, it works well to conduct a media training with the full leadership team, including the CEO (doing so is often my preference). But for one-on-one trainings, I generally prefer no more than one other person in the room. Why? Because it’s difficult to develop a climate of trust when there are too many people observing the leader in a vulnerable state (being asked challenging questions on camera). I’ve found that executives often admit to me things they wouldn’t admit if too many colleagues were present—and that information is often key to helping the executive improve.

6. Know Your Sources

Savvy executives often ask a lot of questions. One board of trustees for a large medical not-for-profit organization, for example, recently peppered me with numerous questions about my sources (thankfully, I was able to verify all of the behavioral science I cited). Try to avoid making sweeping statements or over-generalizing. That’s always good advice, but it’s particularly important when dealing with people who are likely to question the veracity of your information.

7. Provide An Action Step

At the end of your training session, the executives will almost immediately be confronted by a more pressing demand. Therefore, there’s a danger that all of your great advice will disappear into the ether the moment they step out of the room. To avoid that, give executives an action step they can begin practicing immediately. That step shouldn’t be generic, but chosen specifically based on the things you witnessed during the training session.  

What would you add to this list? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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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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