The Worst Media Bridging Phrase Of All Time?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 4, 2015 – 6:02 am

Australia’s SBS2 channel recently aired a piece about “bridging” lines, those phrases media spokespersons use when they’re trying to transition away from a reporter’s question and to their own messages.

I found the segment quite interesting, as it breaks down where such phrases come from, what they really mean, and how they too often compromise a speaker’s authenticity.

Tony Abbott Freeze

Stephen Feneley, the media trainer featured in the clip, sent me the link with the caption, “The worst bridging phrase of all.” The phrase he’s referring to (which you’ll see in the video below) is one I hear in our training workshops and on television often. And although it may not be the worst, it’s one that always catches my ear and signals something to the audience.

What do you think? Is that the worst bridging phrase of all? If not, which one grates you the most? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  

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“The Price Is Right” Gives Treadmill To Woman In Wheelchair

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 7, 2015 – 5:02 am

Danielle Perez won a treadmill on The Price Is Right earlier this week. That typically wouldn’t catch my attention, but Ms. Perez lost her legs in an accident and uses a wheelchair.

According to CNN:

Perez, who is a comedian, has been in a wheelchair since 2004 after losing her legs in an accident. She said the strangest thing about her win was the reaction of the staff members on the show.

“I kept thinking that it was a really big joke,” she said with a laugh, “But there was no irony in their cheers or applause.”

Despite a collective and awkward pause from the audience that she said was edited out of the show, “Everyone at CBS seemed genuinely excited for me that I won.”

Ms. Perez demonstrated her comedy chops by having fun with the awkward prize, tweeting several stories about it and sending this tweet:

Danielle Perez Tweet

The Price Is Right obviously had no way of knowing that a disabled contestant would play a game involving a treadmill. I don’t know anything about the show’s production schedule, so I don’t know whether swapping one game out for another would have even been possible. I don’t blame CBS for the unfortunate moment—and neither, it seems, does Ms. Perez.

But what caught my eye was an official response from CBS (which airs the game show) to The Huffington Post:

CBS told the The Huffington Post in a statement, “Every member of ‘The Price Is Right’ studio audience has a chance to be selected to play. Prizes are determined in advance of the show and are not decided based on the contestants.” A rep for the network added that Perez additionally won an iPad Air Tablet and that “prizes don’t always match up perfectly,” before listing the following examples:

  • Contestant(s) have won trips to their hometown or nearby
  • Men often win the ‘Look Of The Week’ which is a prize package that includes a dress, high heels and a purse

Price Is Right Wheelchair

That response strikes me as completely and unnecessarily tone deaf. I accept that everything CBS said in its statement is true—but facts don’t always help, and the spokesperson (or lawyer) who drafted this comes across as emotionally cold.

Why not just say something like this:

“Ms. Perez exhibited grace and humor in what could have been an awkward moment. Due to the unusual circumstances in this case, we are offering her a different prize of similar value. We’ll leave it to her to decide whether she’d like to keep the original prize or substitute it for something else.”

I’m sure the brains at CBS are worried about setting such a precedent. I get that. But some moments call for exceptions to the rules, and this one strikes me as an obvious time to allow common sense—or, at the very least, emotional warmth— to prevail.

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Don’t Set Up A Buffet Line For Reporters | Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 13, 2015 – 5:02 am

One of the most common concerns I hear from potential clients is that the person they want media trained says too much when speaking to reporters.

That’s true of many executives, who like to hold court, and many subject matter experts, who are loathe to leave out any detail.

The spokesperson who says too much gives reporters a greater number of options for potential quotes. I like to think of it this way: A verbose spokesperson is essentially working at a buffet line, serving reporters a little bit of many different dishes. The loquacious spokesperson gives reporters a touch of the pasta, a spot of lamb, a slice of beef tenderloin, a chicken leg, a dollop of potatoes, a few yams, a mound of salad, a spoonful of green beans almondine, a wedge of spinach pie, and a scoop of carrots.

As a result, the reporter may decide to quote something about the green beans even though the beef tenderloin was the spokesperson’s main dish. And whose fault is that?

waiter serving chinese chow mein

 The more you say, the more you stray

The more a spokesperson says, the more likely it is that they’re straying from their top two or three messages into less pertinent secondary or tertiary messages—if, that is, they’re anywhere near their messages at all.

Some people say too much in an effort to boost their credibility—but they fail to realize that saying too much doesn’t prove how knowledgeable they are; it demonstrates that they’re a bit gluttonous.

Saying too much doesn’t make the reporter’s job any easier, either. Instead of walking away from the interview clear on the spokesperson’s most important points, the reporter is left trying to decipher the mountain of information the spokesperson laid at his or her feet. 

A disciplined spokesperson sticks close to their two or three messages and supports them through a combination of stories, anecdotes, case studies, examples, and statistics. They dispense with the buffet line and serve a neatly plated meal—a piece of meat, a nice starch, and a fresh vegetable.

The next time you see one of your spokespersons saying too much, remind them that their buffet line has 12 trays of food available—and that you’re going to insist they remove nine of them from the line.

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One Of The Biggest Misconceptions About Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 8, 2015 – 6:02 am

When I search Twitter for the term “media training,” I frequently come across a tweet that suggests that a celebrity or politician who said something controversial “needs media training.”

In some cases, that’s true. But I’ve often observed that many people reflexively want to send everyone who’s ever uttered a controversial or provocative comment to media training immediately.

Media training isn’t about preventing people from ever expressing an unpopular or controversial view.


I occasionally work with someone who has a deep-seated belief about a controversial topic. We discuss the likely consequences of expressing that belief in the manner the person would like to do so. Sometimes, they’ll modify their approach to make the same point in a way that’s less likely to alienate their audiences. But ultimately, once they understand of the potential consequences, the choice of whether to proceed is theirs.

What’s important, therefore, is that spokespersons understand the potential consequences of saying something unpopular.

From a purely strategic perspective, expressing an unpopular thought isn’t always the wrong decision; in fact, it can be the type of marketing differentiator that allows someone to stand out from their more traditional peers.

Bill Maher, for example, has made a long career out of testing the boundaries of politically correct thought. A comment he made shortly after 9/11 cost him his job on ABC, and recent comments about Muslims prompted a strong backlash. But was the cure for those comments “media training,” or was Maher keenly aware of the potential consequences associated with expressing his views?


Comedian Bill Maher

Comedian Bill Maher


That said, as a general rule, celebrities (e.g. Bill Maher, Miley Cyrus) and politicians (e.g. Sarah Palin, Chris Christie) have more license to brand themselves as provocative than spokespersons representing a company or organization (e.g. the CEO of Boeing or Johnson & Johnson). 

If you see someone making a controversial comment, think through these five questions before declaring them in need of media training:

  1. 1. Is the spokesperson or public figure fully familiar with the rules of working with the media?
  2. 2. Are they aware of the real and perceived landmines that could await their provocative statements?
  3. 3. Have they fully contemplated the risks of being perceived as a “provocateur” and are they prepared to accept them?
  4. 4. Could they be more effective in their roles if they chose their words and picked their battles more effectively?
  5. 5. Will their words not only potentially threaten their own brands, but hurt the people and brands they’re associated with?

The public figure could probably benefit from media training If any of the answers to questions 1-3 are “no” or the answers to questions 4-5 are “yes.” What do you think? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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This May Make You Paranoid. Read It Anyway.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 30, 2015 – 5:02 am

When I’m in the shower
I’m afraid to wash my hair
‘Cause I might open my eyes
And find someone standing there
People say I’m crazy
Just a little touched
But maybe showers remind me of
“Psycho” too much
That’s why
I always feel like somebody’s watching me

- “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell (1984)

conspiracy Freak with aluminum foil head

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between paranoia and appropriate caution. I’ve written about the risks of speaking too loudly in public spaces before, and each time I do, I can’t help wondering whether readers will think I’m engaging in unrealistic fear mongering. 

So when our firm’s vice president forwarded me a link to a story I missed a while back, I felt a combination of horror and vindication. It seems my paranoia, if anything, has been understated.

Amy Webb, a reporter for Slate, calls herself “The Acela Spy.” Not only does Ms. Webb pay attention to the conversations around her—but she actively looks at the names on passenger tickets and chooses her seat accordingly.

“It’s astonishingly easy to become an Acela spy—even if you don’t really want to be a part of other riders’ business—as I have learned from years of experience. Until very recently, all Amtrak tickets were paper-based, and the tickets looked a lot like airline boarding passes. In addition to the train and destination information, they included the passenger’s full name in the upper left-hand corner. Also until recently, those tickets were wedged between the top of the cushion and the hard back of each seat, with the name showing for anyone who desired to look. (E-tickets on mobile phones are starting to replace paper tickets for some riders.)

It has been my practice to board the train, and then walk up and down the aisle to glance at the names on those tickets…Shortly after we leave the station and I’ve done my rounds, the mobile phones invariably come out. When they do, I take note of who’s talking, what’s being said, and the name I saw on the ticket.”

Are You Spying On Me PPT iStockPhoto

Those conversations are often rather damning. In one case, had she chosen to, Webb could have publicly identified two male bankers whose conversation would, at the very least, have made their next day at the office awkward.

“Soon, their conversation turned to a female co-worker who’d returned from maternity leave. Sales guy complained aggressively that while she’d been out of the office for so long, the software they used had upgraded. There was no way she’d ever get caught up, he argued. She had the audacity to put in for a promotion, after being gone for three months!

HR guy concurred. Women were a major distraction, holding back productivity and advancement at their bank. It was a shame they couldn’t legally fire a woman for getting—or even wanting to get—pregnant.”

Webb’s conclusion is very similar to the one I’ve offered several times, both on this blog and in The Media Training Bible:

“The problem is that trains—even in first class, where I’ve observed the worst offenders—aren’t private. They’re very public venues, just like Twitter. And just like on Twitter, sometimes we forget that we’re actually on stage as we reveal our own worst private selves to the outside world.”

I agree with Webb’s conclusions that conversations, in public and at normal volume, are ethically reportable. But the ethics of eavesdropping on unwilling participants—someone making an obvious effort to shield their work or whisper, for example—are less clear.

Either way, Webb has helped justify my paranoia. You will probably be well served if you imagine that she’s always seated next to you—at every restaurant, at every party, and on every airplane. 

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The Line Between Rape Prevention Advice And Victim Blaming

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 24, 2015 – 6:02 am

Many university presidents have found themselves in hot water recently for dispensing what they thought of as “common sense” campus safety advice to students. Seemingly innocuous pieces of advice, such as “be careful how much you drink,” are increasingly being perceived as “victim blaming.” 

I’m not an expert in this area, so in an effort to learn more, I spoke with Katherine Hull Fliflet, the vice president of communications for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

First, you’ll find several examples below of university heads who have become embroiled in controversy due to their comments on sexual assault. 


Screen shot taken from Mother Jones website

Screen shot taken from Mother Jones website


George Washington University

Last summer, former George Washington University president Stephen Tractenberg was criticized by some students and blogs for saying this:

“Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave.”

He later defended his comments by saying:

“You need to educate the men but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to arm your women with the ability to defend themselves…It doesn’t shift the blame, ultimately, but you have to be wise and street smart.”


Lincoln University

The president of Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, Robert Jennings, resigned in November after saying the following, as summarized by The Huffington Post:

“Men treat you, treat women, the way women allow us to treat them. We will use you up if you allow us to use you up,” he said, adding that men will “marry the girl with the long dress on.”


Eckerd College

Donald Eastman, president of Florida’s Eckerd College, wrote the following in an open letter to students and faculty in November:

“You know that these incidents are almost always preceded by consumption, often heavy consumption, of alcohol, often by everyone involved in them…No one’s culture or character or understanding is improved by casual sex.”


University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department

In an October crime prevention tip sheet, the UW-Madison police department wrote the following, according to the Wisconsin State Journal:

“If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves…If you make yourself a hard target, one who is aware of their surroundings, you take away two elements of a crime: desirability and opportunity.”

The department quickly revised the tip sheet after being accused of victim blaming.

 Wisconsin State Journal Rape


What Should University Leaders Say? 

First, one thing appears rather obvious in some of the examples above: Any time safety advice is couched in the language of “moral” sexual behavior, it crosses into being broadly perceived as unacceptable victim blaming.

But what about the question of educating students about the potential perils of alcohol abuse as it relates to sexual assault? Wouldn’t it be wise for university presidents to address that issue? “It’s too narrow,” says Ms. Hull Fliflet of RAINN, who argues that putting that much emphasis on a single risk factor diminishes the broader conversation.

“It’s more effective to speak to the student body as a whole about risk reduction for reducing crime on campus in terms of friends having roles to play as opposed to directing the advice to an individual student.”

University leaders can use a RAINN fact sheet called “protecting your friends” to educate students about the need to keep an eye out for their peers in social situations, step in and create a distraction when “a situation doesn’t feel right,” and enlist others as “reinforcements.” As examples, a group of female students can keep an eye on one another, but male students can also look out to make sure their male peers aren’t engaging in potentially risky behavior. 

Another suggestion: Hull Fliflet says it’s critical to communicate this advice in a gender-neutral manner since victims aren’t always women. She also wonders why, as in so many of the examples above, authorities focus on “don’t drink” as their key piece of advice instead of “don’t rape.” More broadly, she argues that university presidents must communicate that they take these issues seriously—and bolster their policies to match their rhetoric.

With so many leaders being singed by touching this hot topic in the wrong way, I suspect that many university heads would rather stay away from this issue altogether. Hull Fliflet says that’s the wrong solution. “This is a real opportunity for a college president to make it clear that all reports of sexual assault will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,” she says. “They just need to be honest that their school isn’t immune.”


A Few Final Thoughts

University leaders who fail to pay attention to these sensitivities (or go well beyond them, as in some of the examples above) must learn about and remain aware of the potential landmines. My suggestion? Before speaking out on these topics, consult with outside experts, make sure you understand where sensitivities exist, and work collaboratively to develop a set of public safety suggestions that achieve your goals without repelling the very people they’re intended to help.

Please leave your thoughts below. I look forward to learning from you. 

h/t Huffington Post


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How To Answer Questions That Call for Speculation

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 13, 2015 – 5:43 am

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible, available in soft cover, for Kindle, and iPad.  

Reporters frequently ask media spokespersons to gaze into their crystal balls and tell them what the future looks like.

Some of those “speculation” questions are innocuous: if you’re a software designer and you’re asked what changes you think will emerge in the industry over the next five years, it’s okay to provide your analysis of where you think things are headed.

But many speculation questions are dangerous. Your answers can make a situation appear worse than it really is—and if you guess badly, your wrong answers can damage your credibility.

For example, imagine that the director of a nonprofit group lobbying for better safety regulations of toxic household cleansers is asked whether the state legislature is going to pass the bill she supports this year. If she answers “yes,” she’d better be right. That’s because the media will inevitably ask her about her incorrect prediction if the bill doesn’t pass, and her wrong answer might diminish her credibility with the public and the press for future stories.

Instead, she can use a variation of the ATMs to answer this question:

(A) I’m reluctant to speculate, (T) but I can tell you that (M) the majority of lawmakers I’ve spoken to have told me that they recognize how important this bill is to protect children from dangerous household cleansers and that they plan to vote for it. (s) We still need as much support as possible, though, so I’d ask everybody watching this to call their representative and tell them to vote ‘yes.’”

As illustrated by the example above, it’s usually best to deflect questions that call for speculation by saying something along the lines of, “I can’t speculate, but here’s what I can tell you…”

Apply the same technique for hypothetical questions. Your job is to share what you know, not to answer “what if” questions. It might be appropriate to answer a hypothetical question about a specific situation with a general answer about how you would approach your decision making in that case. But that approach often leads to even more questions intended to get you to be more specific (plus, your general answers might be applied to the specific situation), so be cautious and practice in advance.

Case Study: Treasury Secretary Speculates Incorrectly

In an April 2011 interview, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared on the Fox Business Network to discuss the possibility of the U.S. credit rating being downgraded:

Peter Barnes (Host): “Is there a risk that the United States could lose its triple-A credit rating, yes or no?”

Geithner: “No risk of that. No risk.”

Barnes: “So Standard and Poor’s is wrong, the United States will keep its triple-A credit rating?”

Geithner: “Absolutely.”

Four months later, rating agency Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in the nation’s history. Cable news channels played the video clip of Mr. Geithner’s overly confident (and incorrect) answer for days, and political opponents pointed to that moment as evidence that he should resign his post.

Mr. Geithner could have answered the question by saying something like this:

“Let me tell you what we’re doing to make sure we retain our triple-A rating…”

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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How To Repeat Yourself (Without Ever Sounding Repetitive)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 11, 2015 – 5:22 am

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible, available in soft cover, for Kindle, and iPad.  

We’ve all seen those politicians on television who keep reciting the same message points over and over again.

Such overt repetition tends to infuriate the audience. It’s easy to picture viewers rolling their eyes in disgust and shouting, “Answer the question!” at their television sets—if they didn’t already flip to a different channel.

As a result, the politicians not only fail to persuade the audience but also diminish their reputations in the process.

So it may surprise you that my advice is to articulate a message or message support in almost every answer you ever give.

I don’t mean that you should repeat the same words in every answer, but rather that all of your answers should convey the theme of at least one of your main messages.

If you filled in the message worksheets in lesson 93, you now have 21 different answers: three in the form of messages, six as stories, six as statistics, and six as sound bites. Those 21 answers allow you to answer 21 different questions in 21 different ways, all of which are “on message” but none of which are repetitive.

You may occasionally wonder whether it’s okay to abandon your message for an answer or two along the way. I’d encourage you not to. Here’s why: Let’s say a newspaper reporter asks you 10 questions during an interview. You articulate a message or message support in 7 of your 10 answers. Pretty good, right?

But what happens if the reporter chooses to quote one of your other three answers? It means your one quote in the story—that one critical opportunity to influence or educate your audience— will not contain one of your most important points.

I know that may sound obvious, but I can count dozens of exasperated clients who have asked me at some point, “Why did the reporter include that quote? It wasn’t even that important!” I always respond the same way: “If you don’t want it quoted, don’t say it at all.”

I often joke with my clients that you should even transition to a message when a reporter asks, “How are you?” I’m kidding, but barely. Most questions are opportunities to communicate a message or message support, so don’t waste any answers. Today’s wasted answer may become tomorrow’s quote.

Unless the interview is live, reporters will usually offer you a final opportunity to get your messages out. Journalists typically end their interviews by asking if they missed anything or whether there’s anything you’d like to add. Seize that opportunity. If you said everything you needed to say during the interview, restate a key point. If you forgot to state one of your messages, that’s the perfect time to do it.

Finally, remember to treat your communications with reporters before and after the interview as if they’re part of the “official” interview. Your interactions with reporters prior to an interview may help inform the questions they ask, and your follow-up emails may help the reporter remember to include a key point in the final story.

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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  • 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.

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    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.

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