How The Media’s Fast Reporting Hurts Athletes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 2, 2013 – 6:02 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kimber Auerbach, the Director of Communications for the New York Islanders. He wrote this to supplement a post I wrote last month about the challenge of notifying families about a death before they learn about it from the media. 

I do not want my comment to come across as demeaning the bigger picture of, “Should you wait until the family is notified of a death.” That’s obviously an issue of greater severity than the one I’ll write about today, but I wanted to share an issue we deal with in sports regarding “Information being released before a player is notified.”

The trade deadline is one of the busiest days of the season in hockey (or any sport) for management as they try and better their team for either a playoff run or the future. Players are on edge because they don’t know if they’ll be on the ice skating one moment and get pulled off the next to be informed that they’ve been dealt.

Reporters are so connected to their smartphones that it has literally become a race to see who can tweet the information first. Who can write the better story about how BLANK player will fit in with the team or how this deal helps the future seems to have become secondary. The media are too fixated on tweeting the news first, as reporters want to be the one sourced in all the articles as “BLANK reporter (@BlankReporter) tweeted the news first.”

There have been players that said they found out about being traded from watching TSN TradeTracker:

It really is a shame that players wind up finding out about a trade this way. For them, it’s life altering news that means they’re going to have to pick up their world and move it to another city. Yes, the media are doing their jobs in reporting the news as quickly as they possibly can, which in one way you can’t fault them for doing. However, there should be something that prevents them from doing so until all players are notified and the information is properly filed to the league, much like there seems to be in news reporting when someone tragically passes away.

It goes the other way as well. Sometimes, the media speculate about where a player may be dealt, and family and friends of a player see the rumors before a deal is even done. We’ve had players call to ask if it’s true that they’ve been traded, only to find out the reports are false. But because the media are so into breaking the news—and are often times correct—a player’s world gets turned upside down for no reason.

Until the day when there is a system to allow a period of time between the finalization of a deal and alerting the media, we as PR reps for teams are left to confirming the news that the media has already reported.

Now available: The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. Click here to read more.


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The Right Speech Formula For Winning Political Campaigns

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 22, 2012 – 11:13 am

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post was written by Ben Donahower, an experienced campaign operative and award-winning Toastmaster.

Politicians – and their campaigns – too often overlook their audiences. But campaigns that strategically think about to whom the candidate is speaking, and when, get the most value out of political speeches. So how should candidates plan their speeches throughout a campaign?

The best game plan for political speeches follows the campaign plan. Winning campaign plans start with voter outreach among likely supporters, transition to neutral voters, and finally return to the candidate’s base.

Political speeches should follow the same pattern because they reinforce campaign phone banks and canvasses and because it’s a formula for giving the right speech, at the right time, when the candidate has the right skills.

THE RIGHT SPEECH

A persuasive speech takes time. Candidates can use friendly audiences as a proving ground for introductions, key points, conclusions, and more subtle elements of a stump speech. A candidate’s base is a forgiving audience, so it’s a perfect group to experiment on without fear of the political consequences.

AT THE RIGHT TIME

Timing is critical on a political campaign. Campaigns should use early speeches to define the candidate and the opponent, and to detail the policies that the candidate will focus on or implement when elected. Unlike the persuasive speeches given to undecided voters over the course of most of the campaign, these early speeches are best suited for voters sympathetic to the cause. As Election Day approaches, the message on the stump changes to getting out the vote. Who is the candidate speaking to when the message is to show up at the polls on Election Day? Supporters, of course!

THE RIGHT SPEAKING SKILLS

Public speaking skills come with practice, and practice comes in two forms: preparation and delivery. This audience strategy helps reinforce public speaking skills like these: Brevity: All other things being equal, a short speech is better than a long speech. Candidates are often speaking at events where they are one of many speakers. In these cases, it’s especially important to be respectful of the time allotted and voters will thank you for it! Speech speed: Early political speeches from candidates usually have a dangerous combination of nervousness and enthusiasm, which manifests itself in very fast speeches. These tips on handling a fear of public speaking will help slow candidates down and so will practicing pauses. The most important the point, the longer the pause. Storytelling: The single most important technique to engage the audience in a stump speech is to tell a story, especially about an individual. Stories are incredibly persuasive without having to speak in terms that alienate people, they are memorable, and they imply more than the sum of the words.

THE AUDIENCE STRATEGY THAT WORKS

Finally, if there is one thing that can throw a wrench in a speech, it’s nerves. Speech-destroying nervousness is relative to the size and type of the audience. Sequentially speaking to supporters, then undecideds, and back to supporters prepares candidates for gradually more nerve racking audiences while complementing the field plan and other moving parts of the campaign.

Ben Donahower is an experienced campaign operative and award-winning Toastmaster. Connect with Ben on his website, Campaign Trail Yard Signs.


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The Internet Is Forever: Life After My Viral Video

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 19, 2012 – 6:04 am

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Marc Slavin, an attorney and communications consultant based in California. He can be reached at marcslavin@gmail.com.

The Internet is forever.

I learned that lesson in an unforgettable way when my on-camera confrontation with a reporter went viral several years ago. No matter what I do in my life, the chances are that most people will always know me by the one public moment I would most like to forget.

The constant need of television news for spectacle, the magnifying effect of the Internet, and my own unfortunate reaction to a charged situation combined to produce enduring images of how not to handle yourself on camera.

What happened? The short answer is I let my frustration get the best of me. In the heat of the moment, I lost sight of the critical fact that my actions were no longer solely personal to me, but needed to reflect the values of numerous others whom I was representing.

Do I regret it? You bet I do.

In those few seconds I managed to lose sight of everything I have learned in 25 years of public relations. Because I reacted as I did, I made a bad situation worse. My boss at the time made the point with understated aplomb. “You could have behaved with greater reserve,” he said.

The fundamental rule I violated is this: It’s never about you. In public relations, as so many P.R. professionals reading this blog will know, you can’t take criticism personally. When you lose your objectivity, your effectiveness goes with it.

But to maintain professional equilibrium in tense circumstances you have to know something about who you are, otherwise you might surprise yourself, as I did, with behavior you hardly knew you were capable of.

Communications professional Marc Slavin

Friends have said how unlike me it was to react as I did. But it was me who reacted that way, not anyone else.

My surprise and dismay at my own behavior has led me to do some serious, and helpful, soul searching. For those who may have had a similar experience, or hope to avoid one, I recommend Naomi Quenk’s book about personality types, “Was That Really Me?”

Besides the confrontation on film my experience entailed a confrontation with myself and one with the tenets of my profession. It caused me to look closely at the reasons I care about public communication and to recall that what drew me into the profession to begin with was the vitality of its contribution to social change.

As public relations practitioners, our stock in trade consists of the narratives we fashion from the events of the day. We are workers in story.

Because so much of our ability to shape the world around us depends upon narrative perspective, “framing” as we have come to call it, it helps to be aware of how we frame our own histories and purposes, the assumptions we take for granted about ourselves as we frame the narratives of our own lives simply by living those lives in the way we do from day to day.

The organizational development theorist Margaret Wheatley wrote that communication matters because information exchange is necessary to life. Bodies continually exchange information with their environment to gauge the changes they must make in order to maintain their integrity.

As I have learned, to be effective, we must be exquisitely attuned to our faults as well as our strengths. Paradoxically, changing is the only hope any of us has of being who we are.

And as for the eternity of the Internet? Take it from me: immortality is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Please leave your thoughts about Mr. Slavin’s article in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.


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What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: John Barnett

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 17, 2012 – 6:09 am

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in an ongoing series of readers sharing what they’ve learned as media spokespersons. Click here to learn how to submit your own piece. Today’s post comes from John Barnett, a senior communications analyst for Vox Optima.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve only been a spokesperson a few times. The majority of my career has been prepping the spokespeople and media reps to do their jobs well. I’m the wizard behind the curtain.

But in my [mumble-cough-mumble] years of working with media and spokespeople, I can say 90 percent of my media encounters were positive, effective and balanced. But the real secret to helping your spokesperson work effectively with reporters isn’t magic, just simplicity.

Deliver what you promise.

PR pro John Barnett

Here’s what I mean: A few years back (names and places are changed to protect the … well, me) my media team was involved with a large project of intense local, national and international media interest. Smartly so, headquarters created media ground rules supporting transparency, organizational messaging, interviewing opportunities and reasonably unhindered media access. So all’s right with the Universe, right?

Uh, no. Not even close.

Enter our local bosses packing deep-seated distrust of the media and directing entirely different media ground rules. We’ll call them anti-media ground rules.

Watching our spokesperson in the first reporter meeting being forced to tell the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, et al, we were reneging on the ground rules was painful. And a first-year rookie could expect what came next. We got our butts handed to us during the first wave of reporting. And our local leadership got animated phone calls and personal visits from their bosses as reminders of what rules to follow.

Safe to say a new direction was implemented rather quickly, followed by an improved reporting tone and style as we returned to the original ground rules. We just had to deliver. And deliver we did.

Based on that experience (and others), here are six things you should remember when working with the media:

    1. Provide Access as Promised. Few instances justify going back on your word.

    2. Offer Relevant Subject Matter Experts/Spokespeople: They should be lined up and ready to go, on time as promised. That means prepping with media training, providing messaging and background notes, practicing with mock interviews, all without excuses for a late, ill-prepared spokesperson.

    3. Anticipate Media Needs. Prepare digital/hard copy press kits, hold thorough press briefings, and set up reliable communications, connectivity and other support facilities if it’s a long-term event.

    4. Be Flexible. Always build in scheduling cushion for the unknown, running long, etc. That gives the media enough time to “get it right.”

    5. Be Respectful. Remember smaller outlets and new media reporters deserve a fair shake like “the big guys.” Two-way respect is always appreciated, and it doesn’t make you a doormat.

    6. Be Transparent.No comment” is not in a spokesperson’s vocabulary. Even “I don’t know, but will get the answer” is better; just make sure you follow-up.

With an effective team anticipating needs and backing up the public face, your expectation of media reporting should be relatively accurate and fair. But as I experienced, going into a media situation from the adversarial position will never work. As Brad quoted in a previous post, “never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

It just makes for a bigger story you don’t want.

John Barnett, a senior communications analyst for the national telework public relations company, Vox Optima, has more than 27 years of expertise in public relations consulting, media relations and training, and social media management. John can be reached on Twitter, LinkedIn and by email at john.barnett@voxoptima.com.

Read the five previous entries in this series by John Fitzpatrick, Philip Connolly, Starr Million Baker, Justin Cole, and Julia Stewart. Or better yet, contribute your own piece! Submission rules here.


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Six Ways To Be Funny During A Speech (Without Getting Fired)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 8, 2012 – 6:09 am

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Dr. Steve Bedwell, a medical doctor and leadership speaker who uses humor to teach professional development skills to corporate, association, and health care groups.

Here’s the insider secret that comedians don’t want you to know—delivering a line isn’t that difficult. Al Gore, who no one would mistake for a stand-up comic, opens his ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ presentation with a fabulous joke: “My name is Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States of America.” To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy: “I don’t care what your politics are; that’s funny!” I promise you, if Al Gore can do it, you can do it.

Al Gore’s joke is extremely (and, I suspect, painfully) self-deprecating which is my first tip: Do be self-deprecating. Then, not only will you be seen as somebody with their ego in check, it’s also extremely unlikely that someone will take offense. I open my speech with jokes about being bald: “I don’t need conditioner. I dream of split ends…the very thought of one hair becoming two!”

Dr. Steve Bedwell

Tip Two: Don’t ever target members of the audience. This holds true even if the audience member is “afflicted” in the same way as you. For me hair loss is comedy gold. However, it really bugs some of the bald guys in my audiences, so I focus the hair loss jokes on myself. (If you ever see me speak you’ll notice that I’m having fun with members of the audience within a “sitcom” type situation that I’ve created and never at their expense.)

Tip Three: In a similar way, don’t target demographic groups unless they are your audience’s common enemy. For example, when I speak to doctors, malpractice lawyers are a great target. Be careful here though, one caustic line can ruin a wonderful presentation and be the thing people remember about you. You need your mental filter set at “if in doubt, don’t say it.” So, where might your funnies come from? Great question, which brings me to my next tip…

Tip Four: Let the audience write jokes for you. During one speech, I was about to swallow a four-foot long modeling balloon (don’t ask) and explained that I needed some encouragement. In reply, a woman at the back of the room shouted out: “Steve, you’re very handsome!” I’ve used Lisa’s hilarious response in every speech since that day…not only is it funny, it’s self-deprecating.

Tip Five: Let the audience tell you what’s funny. No one, not even a hugely experienced comic, can tell you if something is going to be funny before you present it to an audience. So, if an audience laughs at something you say, that’s a comedy gift—don’t let it go to waste. For example, back when I honed material at comedy clubs, I happened to mention that I lived in Kentucky. This juxtaposition of my British accent and the state I called home was apparently hilarious and got a huge (and completely unexpected) response.

Finally, tip six, don’t set yourself up for failure. Never say: “Here’s a funny story…” Or “I heard this joke about…” A while back I was introduced as “The medical doctor who’ll make you laugh out loud every fifteen seconds.” I could feel the audience setting their watches!

You can learn more about Steve’s professional and leadership development programs at http://www.mindcapital.com/.

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What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: Julia Stewart

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 27, 2012 – 6:10 am

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an ongoing series of readers sharing what they’ve learned as media spokespersons. Click here to learn more about how to submit your own piece for the “What I’ve Learned as a Media Spokesperson” series. Today’s post comes from Julia Stewart, the owner of Clarity Communications LLC.

As a crisis communications consultant turned fresh produce industry spokesperson turned PR counselor and trainer, I now have the chance to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career to my clients. Here are just four of the nuggets I can offer from my own experience, to join the advice already offered here by John Fitzpatrick, Philip Connolly, Starr Million Baker and Justin Cole:

1. Anyone can find herself in the bull’s eye. When I left that crisis management firm for the world of fresh fruit industry associations, I remember thinking, “Great! Everyone loves fruit; this will be all good news.” I quickly learned that bad news could put even “white hat” businesses in the media bull’s eye. I spent a good portion of the next 15 years working one issue after another, including foodborne illness, traceability, pesticide residues and product dumping. We were in the press time and again, mainstream and/or trade. (Fortunately, there were lots of good news stories, too!)

PR pro Julia Stewart

2. Preparation starts early and never ends. Effective spokespersons really know our businesses, and we practice our interview skills religiously. The required investment of time and attention can’t be short changed. I recently completed a third round of media training with a client, and we’re still finding messaging and delivery items to work on. Fortunately, we took time up front to define our key messages so that we can hit them early and often.

3. Sincerity is a necessity. Being a spokesperson can’t just be a day job, or we forfeit our credibility as spokespersons. During my tours as produce spokesperson, I considered it my mission to defend growers against misperceptions being propagated through the media. I couldn’t learn enough about our work, looking for those original nuggets to share with reporters. That sincerity earned me a spot as a regular contact in many reporters’ address books. And that wasn’t lost on my bosses or our volunteer leaders.

4. Everything is connected. Forget six degrees of separation; many business issues are directly connected if not one or two steps off from each other. What spokespersons say on one topic or issue has to ring true on others too, or here again we lose our credibility. As strategic counselors, it’s our responsibility to point out inconsistencies in policies and positions and to advocate for greater equilibrium.

Seasoned spokespersons understand that working with the media offers both opportunity and challenge. Being purposeful, preparing, positioning offensively, watching our prose and taking basic precautions – the five Ps I now teach my clients – are the keys to making the most of any media situation.

Julia Stewart now brings her heat-tested PR skills to the fruit and vegetable industry as owner of Clarity Communications LLC, based outside of Washington, D.C. Email her at jstewart@prclarity.com, and follow her on Twitter at @JuliaStewartPR.

Submit your own article for the “What I’ve Learned as a Spokesperson” series! Details here.


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What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: Justin Cole

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 13, 2012 – 6:08 am

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an ongoing series of readers sharing what they’ve learned as media spokespersons. Click here to learn more about how to submit your own piece for the “What I’ve Learned as a Media Spokesperson” series. Today’s post comes from Justin Cole, a senior communications analyst for Vox Optima, a national telework public relations company.

For most people, being a spokesperson is not a natural skill. It takes practice, preparation and careful consideration. But it has always been my experience that when a culture of communication is part of an organization’s mindset, its members will be ready to seize any media opportunities when they arise.

Mindless talking heads spouting out communication rhetoric doesn’t cut it. When speaking with the media, the best results come from prepared communicators. People who think about being on the record every day, in every encounter, with employees, constituents, customers, and, of course, the media, are the ones who succeed.

PR pro Justin Cole

When a crisis happens to an organization other than your own, practice what you would say if you found yourself in their situation. Communication is like a sport – if you don’t practice it every day, you won’t hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning when you need it the most.

Let me explain.

Throughout my career as a media spokesman, and later as media relations trainer, I lived and died by the Golden Rules of Media Relations:

  1. 1. “No comment” never, ever works. Don’t use it. You might as well admit to the Kennedy assassination while you’re at it, because you look guilty. And scared. And neither one is a good thing to be in our line of work.
  2. 2. A yes or no question never gets a yes or no answer. Each question you receive is an opportunity to tell your story; never pass up an opportunity to tell your story!

As I took off my spokesperson training wheels, I developed a couple of rules of my own that I now use when mentoring senior executives and company spokespeople:

  1. Prepare three key messages you’d want to communicate with 30 seconds of free, prime-time network TV airtime. Practice your elevator speech!
  2. Reporters are not your friends. Don’t let today’s friendly conversation become tomorrow’s headline. Remember, you’re always on the record!

No comment has the same effect on reporters as confessing to the Kennedy assassination, argues Cole

Every leader or professional communicator should have three key messages in their hip pocket every day. Armed with those, communication opportunities will appear all over the place. Add in some practice and you’re prepared for a successful scheduled or spur-of-the-moment media interview.

Practice is the only way to stay off of Brad’s wonderful “best media disasters of …” posts.

Don’t be afraid of bad news. Open, honest, and forthright information at the earliest opportunity is the quickest way to establish yourself as a credible and knowledgeable source. With today’s instantaneous news media, preparation for media events should now be a regular part of your day. With the proper prep work, your messages will be clear, promote support for the issue you are representing, and deliver a ‘win’ for everyone in the organization.

Justin Cole, a senior communications analyst for the public relations company Vox Optima, has more than 10 years of expertise in defense industry, international and national public relations consulting, crisis and strategic communication planning, media relations, media training, and reputation and branding management. Justin can be reached by email at justin.cole@voxoptima.com.

Submit your own article for the “What I’ve Learned as a Spokesperson” series! Details here.


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What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: Starr Million Baker

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 2, 2012 – 6:12 am

Editor’s Note: This is the third in an ongoing series of readers sharing what they’ve learned as media spokespersons. Would you like to submit your own article? Click here to learn more about how to submit a piece for the “What I’ve Learned as a Media Spokesperson” series. Today’s post is by Starr Million Baker, owner and president of INK Public Relations.

As an agency owner I’ve had the opportunity to serve on both sides of the spokesperson fence – speaking on behalf of my own business and those of my clients, and training my clients to speak to the media themselves. Working with the media can be a “you win some, you lose some” situation. But if you want to win more than you lose, do these three things:

1. Be Real: I cannot stress enough – use real language. Don’t speak in the jargon of your industry. Even if you’re speaking to a reporter that covers your industry it’s just, well, boring. Have you ever seen a quote that describes the process for making dog food? No, and you never will – stuff like that goes into the “background” file in the reporter’s head, if it even makes it that far.

PR pro Starr Million Baker

To get quoted you have to be interesting: include analogies, bold words, emotion, examples. Think about it this way – a reporter is supposed to be objective, so he can’t say “this is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” but you can (well, I wouldn’t actually recommend being that over-the-top as it will come across insincere – seriously, what is better than sliced bread? – but you get my drift).

2. Be Prepared: I had a client once who, simply put, was better in the afternoon. After he warmed up, he had more energy, better analogies and examples – he was a better storyteller and presenter of his information.

Frankly, he sucked when he wasn’t prepared.

Knowing this, we scheduled media interviews for the afternoon and we prepped with him verbally (I played reporter, he played himself) prior to the meeting. When he was prepared, his interview-to-coverage ratio was easily 80 percent. When not prepared, he was literally never quoted. Know your audience, know what you want to say, and spend time thinking about (or talking about) how (see point above) you’ll say it.

When not prepared, you’ll slip into the jargon that you know like an old sweater on a cold day. You’re also more likely to not have the information you need for the angle the reporter is taking, or to share false information as you try to "wing it."

3. Be In Control: The best advice a media trainer once gave me, and that I pass on to all of my clients, is this: media interviews are presentations, NOT conversations. This isn’t intrapersonal communication, folks – nodding along as a reporter asks a question denotes agreement, not the usual “I hear ya” you might convey in a conversation among friends.

You are in control of what comes out of your mouth, so know what you want to say (see a trend here?), and stick to it. Sure, answer the question that was asked (briefly), but don’t let a question lead you off on a tangent – get back to your point.

More times than not, speaking with the media is one of the best things you’ll ever do – for your company, your product or service, your client. And don’t let a bad experience taint your view of the process – after all, you have as much of a role in creating that experience as the reporter. Be real, be prepared, be in control, and you’ll win.

Starr Million Baker, APR, is the owner and president of INK Public Relations, an Austin-based boutique public relations firm. She has been in PR since childhood, and has been getting paid for it for 17 years.

Submit your own article for the “What I’ve Learned as a Spokesperson” series! Details here.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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