Archive for the ‘Media Training Tips’ Category
During the worst of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward thought it would be a good idea to place the awful spill into a larger context.
Sure, the spill was bad—but was it really that bad? Hayward didn’t seem to think so, saying:
“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”
Hayward may have been technically right. But the fact that he sought to downplay the horrific effects of the worst marine oil spill in history was rightly criticized and widely mocked.
Many companies, nonprofits, and government agencies occasionally encounter similar situations—no, not oil spills, but moments when they think it might be a good idea to place a specific fact into a larger context. For example:
A hospital spokesperson might be tempted to say: “This woman’s death was extremely unusual. We’ve performed more than 14,000 of these types of surgeries, and this is the first time a patient ever died from it.”
A spokesperson from a government agency might be tempted to say: “Although there was massive fraud involved in this case, we’d like to point out that every other project we’ve completed this year has come in under budget.”
A spokesperson from a trucking company might be tempted to say: “This is the first time in our 42-year history that one of our drivers has ever caused a death while intoxicated. We have had 8,200 drivers in that time, almost all of whom have done their jobs responsibly.
But those statements all sound defensive. And there’s one thing missing from all of them: An acknowledgement that even one massive oil spill, case of fraud, or death, is one too many. See how different the above statements read simply by adding that sentiment. As an example:
“We’ve performed more than 14,000 of these types of surgeries, and this is the first time a patient ever died from it. But that gives none of even the slightest bit of comfort. One death is one too many—and we are going to do everything possible to prevent this from ever happening again.”
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Tags: advanced media training technique, crisis communications, media training tips
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A reader named Sean Hughes ran into a familiar problem recently when dealing with a local reporter. He writes:
“We have a local metro reporter who loves to edit on-camera interviews to his (or his editors’) liking, typically avoiding our key messages in favor of sensationalist reactions from incited passers-by. To help fairly manage our participation in public discussion, is it okay to record the interview alongside the camera man, post the vid to our own site/blog, and link back to it in the comments section if the story gets skewed? This may not help in the media-trust department, but…I also think that the simple gesture during the interview may prompt a second-guess by the story crafter before they take a hard angle. Any experience with, or thoughts on, this potentially sensitive tactic?”
You’re handling this situation exactly right, Sean. I generally don’t advise subjects of news pieces to shoot raw video of their on-camera interviews for the reason you cite—it can lead to a reduction of trust between reporter and source. But in cases in which that trust has already been fractured, you have little to lose by putting the reporter on notice that their careless or motivated editing will be available to—and scrutinized by—the general public.
I’d offer a few additional thoughts:
First, try working the journalistic food chain before getting too aggressive. Try speaking to the reporter, then to the editor, then to the news director. Request to meet at their office. Share your concerns. As you might suspect, that doesn’t work a lot of the time—but it does occasionally, so it’s worth the effort.
Second, if you do decide to tape the interview, tell the reporters in advance. By doing so, it lets them know early in their story preparation that they should toe the line carefully. Plus, it prevents you from being accused of an “unprofessional” reverse media ambush.
Third, releasing the video on your own networks/blogs/websites is a great idea—but also contemplate a few additional possibilities. Consider sending it to your full mailing list with video embedded in the email. And if any traditional or online news organizations in your city criticize other competitive local media outlets, consider pitching them on a piece comparing the butchered story to your raw tape. (In Washington, D.C., for example, The Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly, regularly critiques The Washington Post.)
Good luck, Sean. Thanks for writing!
Do you have a media or presentation training question you’d like answered on the blog? Please email your question to Contact-at-MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, reader e-mails, working with reporters
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Reporters for the college newspaper The Daily Princetonian are no longer allowed to conduct interviews through email. Neither are reporters for The Stanford Daily or The Oracle, the University of South Florida’s paper.
What’s behind this seemingly urgent push for “no email interview” policies? To find out, writer Mark Lisheron wrote a thoughtful and well-researched piece for the April issue of the American Journalism Review. (Disclosure: I’m quoted in the article.)
Unsurprisingly, his investigation revealed deep passions on both sides of the debate. Supporters of the email ban argued their side thusly, as summarized by Lisheron:
“E-mail deprives the reporter of all of the sensory advantages of the other interview styles. Facial expressions, gestures, posture. The sound and the cadence of the voice. The emphasis on words or phrases. The pauses.
As fast and convenient as they are, e-mail interviews are never really conducted in real time. The timing of the response, the allowance for measured and edited replies create an artificiality readers recognize.”
The then-editor of The Daily Princetonian, Henry Rome, explained his decision to ban email interviews by writing:
“Interviews are meant to be genuine, spontaneous conversations that allow a reporter to gain a greater understanding of a source’s perspective. However, the use of the email interview — and its widespread presence in our News articles — has resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
On the other side of the debate are those who make the case for email interviews. One past president of the National Information Officers Association said this, as summarized by Lisheron:
“Reporters, he says, have no inherent right to a statement from him. He reserves the right to ask for questions in writing and provide answers in writing, usually through e-mail.
Departments like his are trying harder to control the message, not because they are deceptive and evil, but because relationships with the media have changed.”
And another public information officer told him that getting questions in writing is:
“…not only a way to form more complete and accurate answers, but to be better able to parry inquiries designed to elicit specific responses.”
So who’s right? Both sides have a point, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Like anything else (say, PowerPoint slides) the problem is less with the tool itself than with the way that tool gets used. That said, far too many spokespersons rely on email. They think they’re maintaining control by only offering written statements—and sometimes they are—but too often, they’re unnecessarily undermining their relationships with the press.
You can read more about my view on this issue in my article called “Three Reasons to Interview by Phone Instead of Email.”
I hope you’ll read Mark’s excellent article in full. You can find it here. And please leave your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
Tags: American Journalism Review, Mark Lisheron, media analysis, media training analysis, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 5 Comments »
On March 25, 1977, disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon sat down for his second interview with English journalist David Frost.
As captured in the excellent 2008 film Frost/Nixon, Nixon wanted to control the interview and avoid the thorniest questions. Since the interviews were time-limited, Nixon calculated that he could run out the clock by telling longwinded and barely relevant stories.
The producer of the televised interviews, John Birt, noticed Nixon’s strategy in the first interview and wanted to prevent him from using it in the second.
He told Frost:
“Far too soft, David. You have got to make him more uncomfortable tonight. You can start by sitting forward. You’ve got to attack more. If he starts tailing off, bang!, jump in with another question. Don’t trade generalizations. Be specific. And above all, don’t let him give these self-serving 23-minute homilies.”
Although Frost ultimately won the exchange by preventing Nixon from going on another 23-minute monologue, there’s a lesson here for media spokespersons: sometimes, the filibuster works.
Imagine, for example, that you’ve been booked for a six-minute radio segment. You know that the host disagrees with your point-of-view, and his style is to ask adversarial questions that make the guest look bad. If you give slightly longer answers than is normally advisable, the host would be able to ask fewer questions—and you’d be able to share more of your views directly with the audience.
That’s not to say that you should attempt a Nixon-length answer. But if your answers are, say one-minute each instead of 40-seconds each, the host would theoretically be able to ask two fewer questions.
The host may try to jump in and interrupt you. You might allow the occasional interruption (if you try to override him too much, the audience may resent it). But you can also stand your ground and assert yourself by saying something such as:
“You asked a fair question, so please give me a moment to answer it.”
“I’m answering your question, but need a few seconds to give some background your listeners will find useful.”
“I really think this is important and hope you’ll give me just a moment to share my response.”
As with any other technique, be judicious with this approach. View it not as your new media modus operandi, but as a useful tool you can deploy at strategic (and probably rare) moments.
Finally, keep your audience in mind. Too much of a good technique can undermine your entire interview—so make sure your longer answers are packed with value for the audience.
If my mother wrote today’s tease, it would say: “My son works SO hard writing this blog every day. Won’t you please support him by signing up for his email newsletter? Just enter your email address in the upper right corner of the blog. Now, was that really so hard?”
Tags: advanced media training technique, David Frost, Frost/Nixon, Richard Nixon
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Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead.
Ms. Sandberg had many terrific communications traits. She made an articulate and persuasive case, used her body language to reinforce her verbal points, and laughed heartily at Mr. Stewart’s jokes.
Something about her interview bothered me. I wanted to like her and agreed with every point she made—but I had a difficult time connecting with her. It took me a week and three viewings of her segment to figure out why.
If you can’t view this video on your mobile device, click here.
First, and perhaps most glaringly, she oversold her book. In a six-minute segment, she mentioned Lean In five times (Jon Stewart also mentioned it at the beginning and end of the segment; the name of the book also appeared in a giant on-set graphic, an on-screen book graphic, and a lower third graphic).
In total, viewers saw or heard Lean In no fewer than 10 times in six minutes.
It may surprise you that a media trainer who encourages people to remain on message was chagrined by that. But there’s a fine line between selling and over-selling, between being on message and over-messaged.
Mentioning her book title a couple of times would have been fine. But her continual mentions had the effect of pulling me out of her interview and reminding me that she was there to pitch a product, which compromised my ability to relate with her. Perhaps part of that wasn’t just the repetition—it may have just been that Ms. Sandberg didn’t pull it off without sounding a bit forced.
That leads me to my second point. Sandberg sounded a bit too rehearsed. And that’s a shame, because she did a lot of things right. Her anecdotes were tight and effective (e.g. “Pretty like Mommy” t-shirts, her friend’s five-year-old daughter), and her sound bites were great (e.g. “Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”)
If I was working with her, I’d advise her to stop trying to deliver her lines as she rehearsed them and to start delivering them like she was talking to an elderly neighbor or a high school friend instead. From her less rehearsed moments in this interview, she appeared to have that ability. She should use it more often. She should be going for “real,” not “polished.”
The bottom line? Ms. Sandberg did a great job with the precision of her words, but didn’t do as well in terms of relating with the audience. (I’ve written more about that common challenge here.) The good news for Sandberg is that she’s really, really close. And with a little more work, she can do a better job of making that all-elusive audience connection.
If Facebook doesn’t shut down my account after writing this story, please stay in touch with me at www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining.
Tags: Facebook, jon stewart, media training analysis, Sheryl Sandberg, The Daily Show
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As my husband rocks our 5-month-old daughter back and forth in his arms to give me some time to catch up on work, I can’t help but think about Frank Bruni’s column in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Mr. Bruni has a lot to say about today’s parents. He’s “confounded by the boundless fretting, as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs.” He says we’re too permissive, we bargain with kids, and we give them too many choices.
Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Bruni, his argument is hurt by one glaring fact: He’s not a parent.
Until he knows the awesome responsibility and love that goes into raising a child, the constant worrying about his or her future and the – let’s face it – fear of failure, Mr. Bruni is really in no position to criticize today’s parents. His attempt at mitigating that fact by mentioning the time he spends with his many nieces and nephews just doesn’t suffice.
Mr. Bruni’s column raises an important question for PR professionals trying to identify the right spokesperson: How credible is the person as a spokesperson? For example, are non-parents the best people to deliver messages about parenting? Are men the best messengers to deliver messages about women? Are Democrats the best envoys to deliver messages about what they see as necessary changes within the Republican Party?
Take, for example, last year’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on religious liberty and contraceptive coverage. In a hearing that was incredibly important to health care for women, the first of two groups to testify that day consisted of all men. As a result, three Democrats walked out of the hearing, Planned Parenthood circulated a photo of the all-male panel and the Democrats’ narrative that Republicans are insensitive to women’s causes was furthered.
Choosing the right messenger can make or break your reputation, as Brad wrote in this blog post and in The Media Training Bible. The same principle applies when your organization deals with sensitive issues. Don’t let the corporate hierarchy be the sole determinant of who the right organizational spokesperson is. If your CEO isn’t the best person to speak on a specific issue, find someone lower on the food chain who will appear more credible to the public.
Do you share my view or do you think I’ve gotten it wrong? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of the Washington, DC office for Phillips Media Relations.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/ The New York Times
Tags: media analysis
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After taking two blissful weeks off to get to know my newborn son, I’m slowly catching up with emails, the blog, and other office duties. Thanks once again to the wonderful guest bloggers who helped me hold down the fort here in my absence. I hope you’ll scroll down and read some of their wonderful work.
My wife and I had a wonderful experience at the hospital, where the physicians, nurses, and other personnel did a great job of helping our new family get acclimated (and cope with some unexpected health challenges, which have fortunately been resolved).
But there was one bump in the road that threatened to undermine our entire hospital experience.
On our first morning post-delivery, an audiologist came into our room to administer a state-mandated hearing test. She struggled to attach the sensors onto our barely 17-hour-old son, who squirmed throughout most of the test.
As I watched the computer monitors give real-time results during the test, I noticed that his score was reading low. He needed 350 to pass—and he was hovering in the low 100s. What, exactly, were those numbers measuring, I asked the tech? She couldn’t answer. She was clueless, only reiterating that “350 was passing.”
That’s when the tech sent us into a panic. She asked, “Has he been crying a lot?” “Not really,” I answered, “Why do you ask?” “Because I learned in the graduate school class I’m taking that when a baby doesn’t cry a lot, it’s a bad sign.”
I thought my normally mild-mannered wife was going to strangle her. This tech clearly had no idea what she was talking about (newborns are usually quiet in the first 24 hours, we later learned), and she was unable to define what she meant by “bad sign.” Did she mean our son was going to be deaf? Have severe developmental problems? Autism? Again, she had no clue. Given that she wasn’t a physician or registered nurse, she shouldn’t have offered uninformed, unhelpful, and unclear speculation about the problems our son may or may not have had.
I barely slept that night. I spent the evening Googling message boards about the implications of not passing an initial hearing test. Some websites said newborns fail them all the time since their amniotic fluid hasn’t cleared; other parents discussed life with their hearing-impaired children.
Our son’s hearing was retested the next day. He passed.
You might say that this tech was particularly insensitive, or oblivious, or poorly trained. She may have been a combination of all three. But how many times have you encountered someone similar, someone in a position to offer reassurance who instead makes you feel more agitated due to their poor word choices?
It seemed to me that this experience is the perfect example of why even non-media spokespersons need media training (or even more tailored interpersonal communications training). I’m guessing that the tech would be surprised that her carelessness affected us so much. And with some basic training about what she should say to a patient and what she shouldn’t, this situation could have been avoided.
It’s good to be back! Thank you so much for being a loyal reader.
Tags: communications analysis, communications skills
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 19 Comments »
This is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.
Press conferences aren’t as common as they used to be. Technology has allowed companies to disseminate information to reporters (and the public) without gathering the press in a single place—and that’s a good thing, since reporters have less time than ever to leave their desks to attend a press conference (and many won’t).
Still, press conferences can play an essential role in media communications, particularly for major news announcements, in political campaigns, and during crises.
Press conferences can be tricky, since reporters from competitive news organizations often play a game of one-upmanship to see who can ask the most difficult question. For that reason, press conferences—especially those about controversial or challenging topics—require a deft spokesperson. Ask yourself whether a press conference is truly the best way to release information before scheduling one.
If you decide to proceed with a press conference, here are four rules to remember:
1. Test the logistics: I’ve attended dozens of press conferences in which the spokesperson walks to the lectern, shuffles his papers, pats his finger on the microphone to test the volume, and looks around for a place to rest his water. When I see a press conference begin that way, it’s a sure sign I’m in for a snoozer.
You’d be surprised how many people fail to check the logistics before reporters arrive. Get there early, position the microphone to a comfortable height and test the volume, check the PowerPoint and its remote control, position your papers, and place a glass of room-temperature water within reach.
2. State your name: Begin the press conference by stating (and spelling) your name and giving reporters your preferred title. Identifying yourself at the beginning helps ensure that broadcast journalists get your on-screen ID (known as a chyron) right.
3. Coordinate with your co-presenters: Little is more awkward than watching co-presenters fumble while transitioning to one another. Good co-presenters are like teammates in a relay race; one hands the baton off to the other seamlessly.
Upon finishing the first portion of the press conference, a presenter should conclude with a line that wraps up the section and introduces the next speaker’s part, such as, “Now that you have a better understanding of how our company intends to roll out this product, Joanne Myers, our lead researcher, is going to explain some of the science behind it.”
For the question-and-answer period, coordinate with your co-presenters in advance to determine which types of questions each of you will answer. While you might handle the business questions, for example, Joanne will take the lead on answering the scientific ones.
4. Maintain eye contact: If multiple cameras are present, keep eye contact with the questioner while answering the question. That way, every camera—regardless of its position—will show you delivering your answer with steady eye contact in one direction rather than darting purposelessly from one person to another.
Tags: media training tips, press conference
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