The Proper Elevator Speech Formula: Why + What

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 9, 2015 – 4:02 am

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

In the last lesson, you learned to begin most of your answers with the lead. But there’s one time you should use a slightly less direct lead: when you’re asked a broad question about your work, such as, “Can you tell me about your company?”

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, spokespersons answer that type of open-ended question with a direct lead by saying something like:

“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.”

OR

“Smith Toys is one of the leading companies in the United States making high-quality children’s toys in an affordable and sustainable manner.”

I’m guessing neither of those statements grabbed you. They’re not bad, since both conveyed real information, but they’re rather bland and uninspiring.

Worse, neither statement is particularly original. It’s easy to imagine that dozens of American companies manufacturing environmentally friendly toys could have answered the question in exactly the same way.

Those responses failed to get your attention because they answered a “what” question with a “what” answer.

Imagine if the spokespersons had answered the questions just a little differently, beginning with some context that explained why their work mattered. Their answers might have sounded more like these:

“Here 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.”

OR

“You know how children’s toys always seem to cost too much and break within weeks of opening the box? Well, Smith Toys makes toys that are going to work for years after you open the package—we guarantee it—and we’ve even figured out a way to make high-quality toys that are both affordable and environmentally friendly.”

I’m guessing those versions grabbed your attention more than the first ones. That’s because both spokespersons formatted their responses as a “why + what” instead of just a “what.”

You can use the “why + what” format every time you’re asked an open-ended question such as:

  • What does your company do?
  • What is your organization’s focus?
  • Can you tell me about your product?

By themselves, “whats” just don’t work very well. Most people don’t care if you’re a 501(c)3 charity, how many offices you have in the state, or whether you’re a “leading” toy company. Those “whats” aren’t going to initiate a rush of support to your brand.

So when you’re asked an open-ended question, don’t just tell them what your company does. Tell them why it matters.

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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New York Times Executive Editor Calls Critic An “Asshole”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 11, 2015 – 12:09 pm

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet decided last week not to run images of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons so many people found to be offensive.

Marc Cooper, a journalist and associate professor at USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism, disagreed with Baquet’s decision and took to Facebook to register his complaint.

Dean Baquet Facebook

I’m not going to pretend that the word “asshole” is so shocking to our delicate sensibilities as to require an entire blog post. But I would like to make a few other points about this exchange.

First, Mr. Baquet was right that Mr. Cooper looked self-righteous. I suspect that was abundantly clear to many people, so Baquet didn’t need to be so heavy handed in his response to win this exchange. That’s especially true because he made a solid case for his decision not to publish.

According to Dylan Byers of Politico:

“Reached via email, Baquet told POLITICO: ‘Lots of people have disagreed with my decision. Some of them are in The Times. I get that. Mr Cooper’s comment was nasty and arrogant. So I told him what I thought.’

Baquet’s decision to forego running the cartoons that provoked terrorists to raid the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, have been heavily scrutinized. On Thursday, Baquet said he made his decision primarily because he did not want to insult the paper’s Muslim readers.

“’We have a standard that is pretty simple. We don’t run things that are designed to gratuitously offend,’ Baquet told POLITICO…[I] don’t expect all to agree. But let’s not forget the Muslim family in Brooklyn who read us and is offended by any depiction of what he sees as his prophet. I don’t give a damn about the head of ISIS but I do care about that family and it is arrogant to ignore them.’”

Why didn’t he simply say that in response to Mr. Cooper instead of lapsing into distracting name-calling? 

Whenever a word like “asshole” is used by an executive, it’s almost certain to draw attention. That can be a mixed blessing. If it’s an issue the executive wants to become a big headline but is struggling to find any other way to make newsworthy, name-calling like this can actually be part of a strategic communications plan. I don’t suspect that was the case here.

 

Dean Baquet, photo via Doug Mills, The New York Times

Dean Baquet, photo via Doug Mills, The New York Times

 

Mr. Baquet also seemed to forget another cardinal rule: He should have treated his response as an opportunity to speak directly to other readers who shared Cooper’s position instead of treating it like a personal communication with Mr. Cooper.

Finally, I wonder what message this sends to his newsroom. On one hand, it’s easy to imagine that journalists who work for him deeply appreciate a boss who stands up for their editorial decisions. But on the other hand, I wonder if this gives license to reporters to engage with their critics in a similar manner, something I can’t imagine would be productive.

Baquet should expect criticism for these types of decisions. In my view, he should react to them by making his strongest case — which in this case, he had — and leave the swearing for his critics.

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Should Working Journalists Also Be Media Trainers?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 9, 2015 – 5:02 am

According to The Toronto Star, a Toronto news anchor has been suspended due to concerns about a possible conflict of interest:

“Global Television news anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm whose clients — lawyers, small businesses and others — appear on his show.

Roberts helps clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter. In one instance, during a morning show on which supermarket shopping was being discussed, he blurted out the name of one of his firm’s clients and suggested viewers “check it out.” At no time did he disclose to viewers his connection to the companies or his public relations firm: BuzzPR.”

“‘At Global News we take matters of journalistic integrity very seriously,’ Global spokesperson Rishma Govani told the Star. ‘Mr. Roberts has been suspended from his duties indefinitely as we conduct a full investigation into this matter.’”

The Star presented its findings to Roberts early this week. Roberts said he had done nothing wrong but would resign from BuzzPR, the public relations firm he owns with a partner.”

Leslie Roberts

This post isn’t specifically about Mr. Roberts. Instead, I want to use this incident as a launching pad to a broader question: Should working journalists simultaneously serve clients as media trainers?

That’s not a theoretical question. I’m aware of firms who boast that their media trainers are working journalists. (I’m not disparaging those firms—at least one I know of that employs working journalists has a terrific reputation.)

From a client perspective, I can see the advantage of working with someone who’s still in the game. But how about from a journalism ethics perspective?

I suppose there are some exceptions for journalists who don’t train clients who fall within their coverage area. A sports reporter who trains a lifestyle expert, for example, probably wouldn’t raise too many flags—although I wonder if even that comes at too great a risk to the public perception of their journalistic neutrality.

But a general interest reporter who might be called upon to report on one of the people or businesses he or she has trained? How is that even remotely appropriate?

UPDATE: JANUARY 17, 2015

Mr. Roberts has resigned from Global Television. In a resignation letter, he wrote:

“I am resigning my position as News Anchor and Executive Editor of Global Toronto effective immediately. I regret the circumstances, specifically a failure to disclose information, which led to this outcome.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked within a news organization and among colleagues who are the best in the business. For that privilege, I will always be grateful.

Sincerely,

Leslie Roberts”

 


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Fighting Back Against False Media Stories: Two Examples

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 8, 2015 – 5:02 am

In The Media Training Bible, I included a lesson called “Three Things To Do When You’re Falsely Accused.” One of my recommendations was to consider offering your own proof to rebut a reporter’s incorrect claims:

In some cases, there is a place for harder-edged tactics…That means you might hire a private investigator to look into the background of any accusers or conduct a “parallel” investigation to uncover facts that your critics aren’t finding—or are purposely ignoring.

I’ve seen two memorable examples of this recently—one conventional, the other more inventive.

Example One: North Carolina Governor Attacks The Press

Last month, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory accused The Associated Press of “malice” for its reporting about a stock payout he received from a company on whose board he once sat. (The AP stands by its reporting.)

That type of rhetoric isn’t particularly unusual—many politicians attack the press as often as they brush their teeth. But as WRAL.com reported, what made this attack stand out was “an eight-point refutation of the story and a 34-page critique of the reporter’s prior work.”

Pat McCrory

Among other points in his eight-point critique were these:

AP CLAIM: “However, more than a dozen securities lawyers and ethics experts told The Associated Press that such stock payouts are uncommon for elected officials, and raise significant concerns. These experts gave differing opinions about whether laws were broken.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: What “securities lawyers” and what “ethics experts?” Name them. Not one “expert” was named.

AP CLAIM: “AP reported that McCrory, a Duke retiree, held stock in the company as his administration made key regulatory decisions involving his former employer. Those decisions are now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: This is an outrageous accusation and this is absolutely incorrect – it is a false statement and was printed and published with malice. The AP is saying that the governor is under federal investigation and that is 100% false. Neither the governor nor anyone he hired has been subpoenaed as part of this investigation.

I don’t know the facts of this case well enough to form an educated opinion about who’s right—and I suspect the same is true for most readers. But this gets to another of the three recommendations I made in my book about defending against (what you believe to be) false charges: “Be ‘super’ open: The media tend to perceive those who talk as innocent and those who don’t as guilty.”

Sure, being this aggressive can be perceived by some as a form of defensiveness. But when compared to other potential responses—such as a “no comment” and a refusal to engage with the press—this is a far superior approach. 

 

Example Two: Walmart Responds to The New York Times

Walmart used a cheekier response last summer to rebut a New York Times column with which it disagreed. The response itself—an annotated version of the original column—was admired by some and loathed by others. Personally, I thought its originality put a more creative and attention-grabbing spin on rebutting false narratives.

Walmart Response

These aggressive responses can be a high-wire act, so they’re to be used judiciously and by PR professionals who can determine and manage the risks associated with them. But they can also be incredibly effective at muddying the waters by neutralizing a news article and leaving readers with the impression that there’s more to the story.

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Reader Question: Can You Clarify Your Advice On Bridging?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 10, 2014 – 3:02 am

I recently received this email from a communications consultant working in Brussels, Belgium. She writes:

“I bought your book a couple of months ago and found it a terrific read. I give a great many media trainings a year and found inspiration for a couple of improvements of the way I train my clients.

I do have one question / remark. You present the proof points of the key messages as messages to bridge to. But should a spokesperson not be bridging to key messages in lieu of proof points? I always tell my trainees to repeat key messages a couple of times during an interview (not word for word of course).

Scientific research shows that a minimum amount of repetition is useful for a message to sink in with an audience (print interviewer) and besides if you repeat a key message a couple of times (A/V interview) you increase the chances of it being selected by the editor for the final cut of the report. What is your take on this?”

Q&A

She is referring to my advice to bridge—or transition—not only to your core messages, but also to “message supports” such as stories, statistics, and sound bites.

First, she is right—repetition increases the likelihood that a message will be used by the media and remembered by the public. Upon reading her email, I quickly concluded that the advice we’re both offering our clients is compatible, not contradictory.

The system I developed for answering questions—described in The Media Training Bible as the “message support stool”—was designed to get around a problem that tends to affect (and afflict) longer interviews.

As I assert in our training sessions, reporters and the public resent a spokesperson who simply regurgitates the same messages repeatedly. Therefore, the problem I wanted to solve was this: How can a spokesperson answer every question in a manner that conveys their main themes but without ever lapsing into the kind of obnoxious repetition that repels an audience?

Book Cover Stacked

The idea behind the message support stool—or “proof points,” as supporting material is sometimes called—is that you can supplement your main messages by occasionally expressing them through a story, statistic, or sound bite. Beyond simply preventing repetition, a well-curated story, statistic, or sound bite can be more memorable than the main message itself, which is often an abstraction or more conceptual idea.

But I agree with her that it’s a good idea to come back to the main messages themselves at least a couple of times throughout the interview, using different words each time, as she suggested. That’s important for the reasons she stated, but I’d add one more reason.

During longer radio interviews, for example, the audience may turn over a few times. In other words, a person listening at the beginning of an interview may not still be listening at the end, and many people may have tuned in sometime during the middle of the interview. Therefore, repeating your message a few times is the only way to ensure that each listener hears your most important points at least once.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful question!

Do you have a question about media interviews or public speaking that you’d like answered in a future blog post? Please email me at Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.

 

 


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Good Media Interview Example: A Physician On Robin Williams

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 23, 2014 – 8:24 am

In their wonderful book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath offer two ways to describe a pomelo to a person who hasn’t heard of it. 

The first way is to infuse the definition with detail:

“A pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yellow to coral pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart.”

The second way is to draw an accessible analogy instead:

“A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit with a very thick and soft rind.”

The second version works better, they write, because it succeeds in “tapping the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.” Since the audience understands what a grapefruit is, you begin with that, creating a building block that allows you to add another detail that taps into something the learner already knows, then another, then another.

Pomelo via Wikimedia Commons

Too often, I find that physicians and scientists revert to using the first type of definition. They explain whatever they’re talking about in the type of unhelpful detail that leaves an audience confused. So I was delighted when I saw a physician named Devi Nampiaparampil on CNN last week to discuss a new pathology report which found that Robin Williams had been suffering from Lewy body dementia.

Fast forward to 4:54 to see the interview below; alternatively, you can click here to see the interview without having to fast forward.

Dr. Devi did a great job of explaining the science behind Lewy body dementia by drawing upon what viewers already knew. To explain how the brain rewards certain behaviors with the chemical dopamine, she drew an analogy to potty training a child or training a pet.

Whereas many physicians would have started by describing the pomelo—or Lewy body dementia—in great detail, Dr. Devi started with the more helpful version—the “supersized grapefruit” approach. She didn’t focus on her own concerns about coming across as “smart” or “credible” (although she accomplished both), but focused squarely on helping viewers understand the disease in terms that made sense to them.

If you deliver media interviews or speeches that contain similarly complex content, remember to look for an accessible analogy that makes your material immediately understandable to your audience. Once you put that building block in place, it will be easier for you to add complexity—slowly—until you get the audience to exactly where they need to be.

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.

Editor’s note: Due to the Thanksgiving break, this will be my only post this week. Enjoy your holiday, and see you next week!


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Why Cognitive Dissonance Is A Critical Media Strategy

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 22, 2014 – 4:02 am

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. (source: Wikipedia)

I recently worked with a company that is frequently portrayed by the media as a “bad guy.” As a result of receiving some critical media coverage, the company’s executive team ordered a clampdown on external communications.

That means no more interviews. All interactions with the media occur solely through written statements. That way, the company figures, reporters will be unable to twist their quotes. By maintaining a paper trail, they feel safer and better protected.

There’s one problem with that approach: Their defensive posture results in media stories that contrast the company’s cold, lawyerly written statements with their opponents, who speak to the press, appear open, and look more sympathetic.

Man's Hand No Questions

When working with the company’s representatives, I had an “A ha!” moment. I noticed that all of the spokespersons were smart, funny, and instantly likeable. Unfortunately, the public couldn’t see that for themselves, since their statements contained none of those things. But if they could—if the public could see that this company was made up of thoughtful people who were trying to serve their customers well—it could force them to change their thinking.

Think of it this way: A customer who thinks, “Oh, I hate that company. Their customer service sucks.” would believe that their beliefs were well founded when watching a news report that showed the company communicating solely through uninspired written statements.

But a customer who thinks, “Oh, I hate that company. Their customer service sucks.”— and who then sees a company vice president expressing sincere commitment to improving their service—might experience a bit of cognitive dissonance (“I thought they were jerks. I still don’t love them, but maybe they’re not as bad as I thought.”).

If your company is in a defensive crouch but has charismatic, credible, and thoughtful spokespersons, ask yourself this question: Would our interviews create cognitive dissonance for some members of the audience? And if they would, should we really depend solely on written statements to carry our message?

Like this post? 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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15 Years Ago Today: A Wave I’ll Never Forget

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 20, 2014 – 1:23 am

On October 20, 1999, Elizabeth Dole—a former Reagan and Bush cabinet secretary—ended her bid for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

I was working at CNN in Washington, D.C. at the time. As I was leaving work late that night and crossing through the building’s quiet front lobby, I noticed Ms. Dole entering for her appearance on Larry King Live.

As I neared Ms. Dole, I watched as she looked past me, gave a huge, broad smile, and offered an unusually enthusiastic wave.

Elizabeth Dole 1999 Website

I was confused. I didn’t remember passing anyone else in the lobby, and couldn’t imagine to whom she was waving so excitedly. I turned around to see what I was missing, and there he was: a single, solitary news photographer.

Ms. Dole clearly knew how to play to the cameras. From the perspective of the photographer’s lens, the photo would have suggested that there was a throng of supporters greeting her arrival. No one seeing that photo would have had any reason to believe that she had actually arrived without even the slightest hint of fanfare.  

56111976

I knew that politicians managed their own photo ops, of course, but I didn’t realize politicians were that calculating. I found the moment deceptive (she purposely sent a false message), impressive (here’s a woman who knew what she was doing), and instructive (be skeptical of photographic “evidence”).

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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  • 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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