John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, is known for being rather provocative.
He has a lot of fans who appreciate his “un-CEO” style which, as described by Business Insider, consists of a “trademark uniform of a black jacket over a pink T-Mobile shirt, jeans, and pink Converse All Star sneakers.” It also consists of a lot of swear words.
Many analysts have praised his effectiveness during his almost two-year tenure as CEO, with Business Insider writing that T-Mobile has enjoyed a “remarkable turnaround,” and is “growing faster than its competitors in terms of revenue and subscribers.” According to Wikipedia, J.D. Power and Associates “ranked the company highest among major wireless carriers for retail-store satisfaction four years consecutively and highest for wireless customer care two years consecutively.”
To get a sense of Legere’s unconventional style, check out this video from a company event earlier this month:
In just that one presentation, Legere used the following salty language:
- “They’re out of their goddamn mind.”
- “That is a complete crock of bullshit.”
- “They’re greedy bastards.”
- “We are absolutely kicking their ass.”
- “A cacophony of the biggest bullshit in history.”
- “What the fuck do I care?”
- “The fuckers hate you.”
- “I don’t give a crap.”
- “Every goddamn note you listen to.”
- “I don’t give a shit.”
I understand what Legere is trying to do. He wants to appear “authentic” and stand in marked contrast to the CEOs of his competitors, who he feels are treating customers badly. Personally, I don’t love the CEO of a public company talking like a drunk at the local bar. Regardless, his curse words aren’t the reason he made this list. Rather, it was his highly publicized comment about his main competitors, AT&T and Verizon, that earned him widespread condemnation:
“These high and mighty duopolists that are raping you for every penny you have.”
One commenter in an earlier PR Daily piece pointed out that the word “rape” is a metaphor in this case, writing, “I have never been literally ‘killed’ but that’s a common term for how one team defeats another….that’s why they are called metaphors.” But Mr. Legere’s job isn’t to push the boundaries of accepted speech. He’s the CEO of a company whose job is to avoid unnecessarily offending large swaths of his potential customer base by using words that are particularly salient in our culture.
In an open letter published on the website MomsRising, five of Mr. Legere’s female employees blasted his use of language:
“Trivializing the brutality of sexual assault is not an edgy corporate communications strategy. For many women, this is not funny. It’s traumatizing.
Being courteous to our customers is one of our highest priorities as customer service representatives. But what would happen if we ever swore on the phone? What would happen if we used the same rape metaphor in a conversation with a customer? That would certainly be our last day on the job. It’s not even a question. T-Mobile would escort us to the door — and rightfully so.
We don’t really think he’s sorry, despite his short apology on Twitter, about what he said. And that’s even more upsetting. It’s hard enough as it is to be women working the male-dominated world of tech. Our CEO’s language is just another reminder of how we don’t belong in the “boys club.”
We understand that Mr. Legere’s comments were all part of some flashy marketing scheme to get press and to appeal to young people. But is this the kind of message we want to send?”
Legere apologized for his use of the word. Nonetheless, that one word commandeered the headlines for the entire event, overshadowing any of the underlying points he had hoped to make.
Brendan Greeley of Bloomberg Businessweek summarized Legere’s shtick quite well:
“Every time he makes a public appearance, he needs to be just offensive enough to get our attention. That means he has to be slightly more offensive than the last time he got our attention. This is a machine with a ratchet, and it has now produced the deeply unfunny word ‘rape.’ Perhaps no word is sacred, but that’s a defense for an act of art—not a corporate communications strategy. John Legere sells phone plans for a living. He’s not Sarah Silverman or Lenny Bruce.”
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Back in April, Jimmy Fallon had an amusing segment on The Tonight Show that showed just how quickly fans could turn on a brand—and how quickly they could be won back. When I watched the segment again this week, I realized that it had parallels to our online interactions.
The segment starred Robinson Cano, a baseball star who had played with the New York Yankees for nine seasons until signing a $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners late last year.
To diehard Yankees fans, Cano is a traitor who abandoned his team in order to chase a giant paycheck. So when he came back to New York as a Mariner to play against his former team, the locals weren’t exactly happy to see him.
Fallon’s team set up a life-size cardboard box featuring Cano’s image and encouraged Yankees fans to boo him—but the fans didn’t expect the real-life Cano to pop out of the box. Trust me: this is hilarious.
Why did that happen? Why did so many fans boo Cano until he popped out of that box, at which point they wanted to shake his hand and hug him? And more to the point: Doesn’t the same thing happen on social media all the time?
I’ve often found that when people use harsh language to criticize something I’ve written, their tone softens when I engage with them. It’s easy to boo a cardboard box (to post a rant onto my Twitter feed or the comments section of my blog), but it’s harder to boo an actual person (me, when I offer a polite response to their criticism).
There are certainly times when this doesn’t work and a response will simply inflame your critics. But in The Media Training Bible, I mentioned a survey that contained some rather surprising results:
“According to a 2011 Harris Interactive study, unhappy customers quickly forgave companies that responded to them. Thirty-three percent of customers who left a negative review on a shopping website ended up posting a positive review after receiving a response, while another 34 percent deleted the original review.”
If you rarely interact with your critics, try it. You don’t have to engage people who are vulgar, who have engaged in name calling, or are clearly online trolls—but if the person seems reasonable enough, you might be happily surprised by your ability to turn them around as quickly as Robinson Cano did his naysayers.
Hillary Clinton has been talking about her wealth—or relative lack thereof—a lot lately, and her responses have done more to raise eyebrows and encourage additional follow up questions than to satisfy the questions and put a close to the issue.
The topic came up during an interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this month, and Secretary Clinton fumbled the answer:
DIANE SAWYER: “It has been reported you’ve made $5 million making speeches, the president’s made more than $100 million.”
HILLARY CLINTON: “Well, if you — you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education, you know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard and it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard, first of all, we had to pay off all our debts which was, you know, we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes, and pay you have at debts, and get us houses and take care of family members.”
Mrs. Clinton may be right on the facts—but no one is likely to relate the struggle of the average American family to a former U.S. president and first lady exiting the White House with enormous future earning potential.
And did she say houses, plural? That tone-deaf answer is stupefying given that John McCain famously committed the same gaffe (he couldn’t remember how many homes he owned) and that Mitt Romney infamously said his wife drives two Cadillacs.
Mrs. Clinton doubled down in an interview with The Guardian this week:
“With her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue [income inequality] when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
“But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she protests, “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off.”
Is she saying that with their millions of dollars, the Clintons aren’t truly well off? That’s a subjective claim. If she’s comparing her family to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, she has a point. But I’d guess most Americans are comparing her to themselves, not to the Buffetts of the world.
(In fairness, that quote could also be read another way: that she’s saying she is well off, but unlike others in her economic class, her family pays income tax. If that was her intent, the ambiguity of her statement is her responsibility.)
What should Mrs. Clinton say?
She should stop the phony pose of pretending she’s just like the average American. She’s not, and I can’t imagine many potential voters expect her to be. Instead, she should simply say: “My husband and I have done very well financially since Bill left the White House. But I understand firsthand the challenges that families face, and I support policies that will make it easier for them to succeed in this economy.” That’s it.
She should also look at the tape of her husband’s 1992 town hall presidential debate, during which a woman asked: “How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn’t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what’s ailing them?”
Mr. Clinton didn’t discuss his own financial situation—even though it was presumably much less impressive at the time. Instead, he discussed his personal experience with people who were hurting and described how his policies would help them.
I wouldn’t be opposed to Mrs. Clinton describing her modest upbringing. But describing their obvious wealth as anything less is a bad strategy destined to backfire.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
The Roosevelt Union Free School District in Long Island, New York doesn’t mess around when it comes to plagiarism. According to its Code of Conduct, plagiarism is among the worst offenses, punishable by a suspension of up to five days:
That policy, however, was written for students. What happens if a principal is the person guilty of plagiarism?
According to Yahoo News, Roosevelt High School Principal Steven Strachan appeared to plagiarize a graduation message to seniors from a fellow principal in California. After the message was printed, Strachan apparently asked permission to “quote” from the California principal, but that principal refutes some of Strachan’s claims. It’s important to note that the message was far more than a simple quote, and it wasn’t attributed at all.
Even more embarrassingly, Strachan ended his message with an address to the wrong school and mentioned the wrong academic year, writing: “Congratulations to the Albany [California] High School Class of 2013.” For his part, Strachan blames a clerical error, telling Newsday:
“I sincerely apologize to the Roosevelt community and to the class of 2014 for the inadvertent clerical error causing mistakes to be printed in the 2014 yearbook. An unedited draft of my remarks was accidentally published rather than the final version, and I take full responsibility for the oversight.”
That excuse seems to be the new de facto response issued by plagiarizers; an Australian PR executive who appeared to plagiarize from my website earlier this year used the same excuse.
Two things make this story even worse.
1. Principal Strachan released the statement above through Zimmerman/Edelson, a PR firm, instead of issuing the statement personally.
As a result, he appears to be hiding behind a PR firm—and as of this writing, he appears not to have commented on this issue personally. The language in the statement is tepid and, to my eyes, unbelievable. A sincere apology doesn’t blame other people (unnamed people who caused the clerical error); use distancing passive language; and label the incident an “inadvertent…oversight.”
2. A member of the school district’s leadership team blamed the media for covering the story.
According to Newsday:
“Alfred T. Taylor, vice president of the Roosevelt school board, told the paper that the incident was an ‘unfortunate mistake that occurred’ and surprisingly said that ‘It’s unfortunate that somebody thought it was newsworthy.’”
It appears to me that Mr. Taylor should consult his own school district’s policy toward plagiarism and explain, specifically, why this principal should be dealt with less severely than a student who committed the same action.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
A grateful tip o’ the hat to reader Art Aiello; Steven Strachan photo via Yahoo News
The Mr. Media Training Blog is celebrating its 1,000th blog post today!
When I started the blog in July 2010, we were lucky to get 30 visits per day. Four years later, it has become the world’s most-visited media training website. Thank you for helping to make that happen!
Here’s some quick math: Each blog post takes about 90 minutes to write, proofread, and tag, and an additional 30 minutes or so to promote. That’s two hours per post, times 1,000, which totals 2,000 hours. And that’s almost surely a low estimate.
That means that over the past four years, I’ve worked at least an entire year on the blog (the average American work year is 50 weeks per year times 40 hours per week, or 2,000 hours). All of that time came in addition to running an increasingly busy practice, starting a family, and writing my first book, The Media Training Bible. It’s been an enormous investment of time and energy.
And that’s why I’d like to ask for your help.
Although this blog has continued to grow by double digits every year, blog traffic has leveled off a bit recently. I’d be grateful if you would help me spread the word. Here are a few ways to help:
1. Sign Up For Our Newsletter
The most helpful thing you could do is sign up for our weekly newsletter here and encourage all of your colleagues and friends who would benefit from this blog to do the same. Email is simply the best way to keep in touch with our latest posts. That’s because Facebook is forcing brands to pay to have their posts seen, and many of our tweets get lost in the shuffle.
2. Tell Your Readers About Our Blog
If you write a blog, please tell your readers about this website and its daily media training and public speaking tips. If you have a company or organizational e-newsletter, please link to one of our posts. You can find a few options here or here.
3. Use Social Media
Post a message onto your Twitter, Facebook, or other social media accounts encouraging your readers to check out the Mr. Media Training Blog (www.MrMediaTraining.com).
Thank you very much for your readership and support. With your help, I look forward to growing the blog and sharing the next 1,000 posts with you!
In the 1990s, we were rico suave and too legit to quit. We lived la vida loca and smelled like teen spirit. We wore gold-colored hammer pants and flannel. We went to Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair. We listened to grunge, Britpop, and hip hop.
Nostalgia for the 90s has never been greater. In this post, you’ll find public speaking lessons based on 13 huge hits from the 1990s—from superstars like Paula Abdul and Guns N’ Roses to one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba.
I hope you enjoy this post! If you do, please help this blog grow by sharing this post through your social networks and signing up for our free weekly newsletter. You can opt out at any time. And now, on with the 90s!
Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)
Great speakers often provide the person introducing them with a pre-written and attention-grabbing introduction. When they hit the stage after being introduced, they seize the audience’s attention from the first word by using a compelling opening. Sir Mix-a-Lot did exactly that by having two white women introduce his song by criticizing the size of a black woman’s butt—and then rebutting them with an attention-grabbing opening that has survived more than two decades: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” One other note: the attention-grabber was tied directly to his message, which was about the unrealistic expectations magazines like Cosmo put on a woman’s shape.
Note: After posting this story, Sir Mix-A-Lot responded on Twitter:
Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)
According to a fascinating piece of research, boy bands use the word “you” more than any other word. Perhaps the boys of ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Hanson were onto something. By using the pronoun “you,” they directed their message straight into the hearts of their mostly younger, female fans. The word “you” has that power, and great speakers use it often to deliver their personal-sounding messages to each individual audience member. As an example, this Backstreet Boys classic uses the word “you” or “your” no fewer than 20 times—and “you” is the first word in the song.
Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (1996)
Okay, so none of the incidents described in Morissette’s “Ironic” are actually ironic. But her rapid-fire series of mini vignettes (a man terrified of flying who conquered his fear, boarded a plane, and crashed; the old man who won the lottery and died the next day; meeting the man of your dreams only to find that he’s married) offers a terrific template for speakers. The “short vignettes” opening can be an effective starter. As an example, a physician might open by describing the ailments suffered by three patients, with each mini anecdote receiving no more than 10-15 seconds of detail.
Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1993)
Whitney Houston’s record label hated the idea of a 45-second a cappella introduction to this song, but her instincts to keep it were right. According to Rolling Stone, “after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.” Her unique intro stood out from almost all of the other pop music on the charts at the time—her moments of breathy silence in between lyrics broke the pattern—and that’s a lesson all speakers should remember. Speakers can break the pattern by pausing, blacking out presentation slides after using them for a few minutes, or distributing a handout to the audience (among many other ways).
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” (1992)
As a general rule, it’s better to speak for too short than too long. But if a great movie can hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours, shouldn’t a great speaker be able to hold your attention for longer than the typical 50-minute conference breakout session? Guns N’ Roses pushed back against the typical constraints of pop radio, which restricts most songs to about four minutes. In 1992, their nine-minute hit “November Rain” made it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the “longest song in history to enter the top ten of that chart,” according to Wikipedia—and proving that longer can be better if the song—or speech—is good enough.
TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)
TLC’s terrific mid-90s hit song (and award-winning video) delivered a straightforward, unambiguous, and easy to act-upon call to action: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Similarly, speakers (depending on the purpose of the speech) should offer a simple and direct call to action. How important is a call to action? In one study, the “jerks” who received a direct call to action acted more charitably than the “saints” who didn’t.
Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997)
Like TLC, the Spice Girls offer a formula for a successful call to action: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.” If your audience doesn’t understand the next steps they’re supposed to take after hearing you speak, they won’t take any. Some research suggests that asking for a small and easily accomplished call to action is a good way to begin, since a small action often leads to bigger future actions.
Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)
When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, Elton John repurposed his 1970s hit “Candle In The Wind.” Whereas the original was about Marilyn Monroe, Elton John changed the lyrics to become about “England’s Rose.” This is relevant for speakers who tend to deliver similar information to different audiences. With minor but important tweaks and modifications, “generic” presentations can become immediately relevant to the specific audience to which the speakers are presenting. The heart of your presentation may be the same—but the audience will feel that you’ve created it just for them.
Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995)
Let’s face it: this was a terrible song with a video to match. But the men of Los del Rio were onto something when they followed in the footsteps of other artists who wrote songs that became popular dances (e.g. “The Twist,” “The Hand Jive,” “Da Butt,” “Vogue,” “Conga,” “The Electric Slide”). These songs became staples at weddings and proms because they involved the audience in a meaningful way. The analogy to public speaking is obvious.
Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991)
In their gorgeous ballad, Extreme pointed out that there is a difference between verbal communication and body language: “More than words / is all you have to do to make it real / then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me / ‘cause I’d already know.” As Extreme pointed out, words are only one way to deliver a message—and they’re often not enough on their own. To be truly effective, words need to be fully connected to the body language associated with them. In some cases, that means that your tone is as important—or even more important—than the words you choose. And great speakers have the ability to use their faces and bodies to communicate certain key points without any words at all.
R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (1997)
Given his history, R. Kelly may seem like an odd choice to deliver such an inspirational ballad. But his song about positive self-talk is a great internal monologue for all speakers to remember before hitting the stage: “If I can see it, then I can do it / If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it / I believe I can fly.” Many speakers say they benefit from that type of “positive visualization” by visualizing the audience’s enthusiastic response to them before they walk onto the stage and begin their speech.
Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping” (1998)
Despite your positive visualization, there’s still a chance you might bomb your presentation. That’s where this song comes in: “I get knocked down / But I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down.” With its pick-yourself-up-and-try-again lyrics, it’s a good reminder that most of us are going to deliver a dud once in a while. But your next audience won’t know that you didn’t succeed with your last audience, so it’s important not to bring that imperfect history into your new talk. Every presentation offers an opportunity to succeed anew—if you don’t self-sabotage it with your negative self-talk.
Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990)
The video for Paula Abdul’s hit “Opposites Attract” featured MC Skat Kat, an animated cat that performed choreographed dance moves with her. The video was so popular that it won a Grammy Award. It’s a good reminder to speakers that in order to stand out, visuals need to be more engaging than bullets and words on a screen. Get creative—use compelling images, relevant multimedia elements, well-designed handouts, or anything else you can think of that will bring your main points to life in a more memorable manner than audiences are used to.
The season finale of HBO’s Veep, which aired earlier this month, featured a hilarious moment that made me wonder what I would do in the same situation.
If you’re not familiar with the program, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, the nation’s first female vice president. The show revolves around Ms. Meyer and her rather colorful staff.
The moment occurred just after the vice president concludes an in-person interview with an obnoxious Boston newspaper reporter. After the reporter walks away, Meyer and her staff begin discussing a couple of their small-money campaign donors and insulting their thriftiness. They even give their low-money donors a derogatory name—GUMMIs—an acronym for “Give us more money, idiots.”
Just as they finish their conversation, they realize that the Boston reporter accidentally left his phone behind, on which he had been recording his interview with the vice president (it was still recording). The reporter, who realizes his mistake, is on his way back to the office to collect his phone.
The staff quickly realizes how much trouble the campaign will be in if the recording of their conversation gets out—small-money donors will pull their contributions, and the campaign will be seen as elitist. They weigh their options: We should destroy the phone with a lamp! We should say it accidentally fell into the toilet!
The reporter enters the office and collects his phone before they can execute their plan (and, spoiler alert, the “GUMMIs” conversation does cause unflattering headlines).
That made me wonder: What would I do in that situation? The choices boil down to these three:
1. Do nothing and hope the reporter doesn’t use that material
This is the option Meyer’s staff took—and it didn’t pay off.
2. Destroy the evidence
This would kill the negative story about the GUMMIs—but it might lead to even more damaging headlines about destroying a reporter’s phone and speculation about what Ms. Meyer said on the destroyed tape. (The phone was password protected, so simply deleting the file wasn’t an option.)
3. Negotiate with the reporter
This is the strategy I would have chosen. When the reporter came back for his phone, I would have asked him to consider all of the material included on the tape after he left the room “off the record.” The reporter would have had no obligation to honor my request—such requests are typically made prior to the interview and agreed upon in advance by both parties—but in this case, the material was gathered without the consent of the taped party (which might even constitute an illegal recording in some states). His leaving the tape recorder behind might have even been an intentional trick, although the show didn’t address that question.
If the conversation with the reporter doesn’t go well, there could be an either implicit or explicit threat regarding future access—publish that material, and you’ll never speak with the vice president again. (That’s the “stick” approach; the “carrot” approach of offering increased access could also work.)
If you have any additional thoughts, please leave them in the comments section below.
Few people inspired my career in media more than Casey Kasem, who died today at 82.
Back in the 1980s, when I was a pre-teen and teenager, I listened to his weekly American Top 40 countdown every chance I got. If I was in the car with my parents when it was on, I silently dreaded the prospect of reaching our destination before Casey had finished counting them down. I even remember being at a friend’s birthday party and being so distracted by the countdown in the background that I sneaked into the room where the radio was playing to catch a few of Kasem’s introductions.
Kasem had a great voice and an iconic delivery—if you loved pop music, no one did it better. If he was before your time, these audio clips will give you a sense of his style.
Due more to Casey Kasem than anyone else, I wanted to go into radio. That desire led me to major in media arts and get my first post-college job at a small radio station in Frederick, Maryland.
In the mid-90s, the station allowed me to host its annual New Year’s Eve countdown, the Top 103 of 1995 and 1996. I took the task seriously, writing Kasem-like introductions for all 103 songs. For those two nights, I got to live my childhood dream of playing Casey Kasem.
I saved my air check tape from the countdown on December 31, 1995. Here’s me, trying to channel the great Casey Kasem by introducing the number one song of the year:
Without Kasem, I’m not sure I would have been as inspired to go into radio. Without radio, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job in journalism. Without journalism, I wouldn’t have gone into media training. It’s possible I would have landed in the same place without him, but it would have required a different path to get there.
So thanks, Mr. Kasem. You kept me entertained for years, and may have even altered my life’s course.
Do you have memories of listening to Casey Kasem? Please leave your memories in the comments section below.
Photo credit: Alan Light, Wikimedia Commons