Chad Shanks, the man tasked with running digital communications for the Houston Rockets, was fired on Wednesday after sending the following tweet just before his team defeated the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night:
As you can see from the number of times his message was retweeted, his tweet quickly became the source of Twitter conversation. Some people were outraged by the violence-based emoji; others thought the trash talking was funny. Personally, I find it a bit crass and unsportsmanlike.
The Rockets fired Shanks the next day.
We’ve all seen this narrative repeatedly: Someone tweets something questionable, Internet seeks justice, perpetrator loses his or her job. But this story is different, because Mr. Shanks proceeded to offer a master class in how to respond to such a situation with grace.
First, he tweeted the following messages:
He also offered a longer statement to the Houston Chronicle:
“I never meant to offend anybody,” Shanks said. “I attempted an admittedly edgy jab at the Mavericks’ expense and it did not go over well with everyone. The organization supported my efforts to make the account one of the best in the NBA by pushing the envelope, but they deemed this too far.
“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I got from the Rockets and know they acted in what they thought was their best interest (to) avoid any more controversy. I didn’t mean to advocate violence toward animals; just let my emotions get the best of me in a jab at the Mavs that was not very well thought out. I’m proud of my four seasons of award winning work with the Rockets and will always be a fan. I wish there would’ve been another method of punishment, but I have no ill feelings toward them. I loved my job.”
His self-awareness, honest reflection, and class toward his former employer leaves me with the inescapable conclusion that the Rockets reacted too quickly and doled out unnecessarily harsh justice. I understand why the Rockets were upset—such tweets are certainly antithetical to their brand—but Mr. Shanks comes across as the type of person who understands his infraction and would have taken steps not to repeat them.
That’s the kind of guy I’d want on my team.
As unjust as his firing might be, his handling of it will almost surely raise his value in the marketplace. Another team would be smart to grab him before someone else does.
A Florida-based PR pro recently wrote in about a situation almost every media relations professional has faced at some point in their career:
“I was introduced to a journalist of a national magazine. My colleague and I sat down with the media person and pitched him what our organization does. He loved our cause and said he would publish a story in his national and local magazine after he visits our events. He couldn’t get enough of the work we do which is a non-profit providing free music training to kids.
I have invited him via email to all of our events and have called him twice. He hasn’t shown up to our events and responds with ‘I’m working on the next issue’ via phone.
I continue to send press releases to his attention. I hear nothing but crickets. I want to give him one more call. But at this point, what can I say? What is appropriate to say to a journalist who’s kind of giving me the run-around?”
I empathize with this dilemma. In 2002, I traveled to Guyana with a reporter from the Associated Press who was interested in writing about the work being done by the organization I worked for. I planned a trip that had us crisscrossing the country and taking a ferry into Brazil, organized a series of meetings, and spent three full (and pleasant) days with her.
She never wrote the story. I followed up many times. At some point she stopped replying, and shortly thereafter, I gave up. It was a tremendous waste of resources (although I was delighted to see Guyana)— but it’s also part of the media relations game.
In your case, the first thing I’d say is that I wouldn’t take the reporter’s silence personally. It’s entirely possible that he remains as interested in your cause now as the day you met, but has been sidetracked by other stories, demands placed onto him by his editor, or just an unforgiving workload.
Many times in these situations, I’ve observed that the media relations professional and the reporter enter into a brief “push/pull” dynamic that quickly ends the relationship: the PR person keeps calling, emailing, and pressing, and the reporter is repelled by the (perceived) onslaught and backs away.
Therefore, I’d suggest avoiding that dynamic by sending him an email that empathizes with his presumably busy workload, gives him control over your future contacts, and offers to make his life easier. Here’s an example:
I know that you were interested in our work, but I also understand how busy a reporter’s life is. Therefore, I’d like to make sure that I’m available to serve you—but that I don’t become a PR pest.
How would you like me to keep in touch with you? Do you prefer that I continue sending you our press releases so you can keep up with our work? Should I remove you from the list but send a quick email if a newsworthy event is on the horizon? Should I check in with you, say, next month to see if there’s a clearing in your schedule to resume our conversation?
Please feel free to reply with a short phrase or sentence—there’s no need for a longer email if you’re swimming in work.
Thank you very much, and all the best.
This doesn’t guarantee a response, of course. But if the reporter does reply, your gentle approach might help invoke the “Reciprocity Principle,” which asserts that since you did something to help him (back off), he might be more inclined to do something for you (prioritize your future contacts).
Other people use more aggressive media relations strategies than I do, and often to great success. So please regard mine as only one point of view. I’m hoping some readers will offer their own suggestions for you in the comments section. Good luck, and thanks for writing!
Do you have a question for Mr. Media Training? Send it to Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.
I recently received an email from a reader who asked for some advice on email etiquette.
At first, I thought that topic would be too far afield for this blog. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that email etiquette is relevant for a media training blog, since the etiquette one uses when communicating with reporters (and others) can help form a positive impression—or not.
Still, this topic is a bit outside of my day-to-day expertise. Therefore, I’m going to offer several tips on the topic, but would ask you to add your own suggestions in the comments section.
1. Don’t Use A Busy Template
My biggest pet peeve is the type of background below. To make these templates even more difficult to read, some people use a patterned background, occasionally with a ribbon extending down the left or right margin for additional adornment.
I appreciate the attempt at originality, but just like with PowerPoint, just because the features allow you to do this doesn’t mean you should.
2. Run Spell Check
I’m forgiving if someone accidentally uses “your” instead of “you’re,” or something similar. Both are actual words, and a spell check program could miss their intended usage. But there’s just no excuse for not running a spell check on your emails before clicking send. Emails with numerous spelling errors send one message: “I’m unprofessional.”
3. Maintain The Right Level of Formality
I’m not going to bemoan our social media era, in which many people type texts and IMs without capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, fail to use proper punctuation, etc. Sending an IM to a buddy doesn’t require much formality, and it’s up to your peer set to decide what style works best. But bringing those same traits to a professional setting sends the wrong message, as they doesn’t match the requisite level of formality.
As an example, if someone I’m familiar with doesn’t begin an email with “Hi Brad” or “Dear Brad,” that’s fine—it’s okay to jump right in if we’ve already established a relationship. But a stranger who makes their first contact with me by just beginning to talk without a greeting? Well, that just doesn’t make a great first impression.
4. Get To The Point
The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, estimates that business end users send and receive an estimated 126 emails per day. That’s on top of the messages they receive through social media, phone calls, and snail mail. It’s a good idea to be mindful of that when sending emails to another party. When reviewing your email before you send it, ask yourself this question: “This person will read or send 125 other emails today. Am I respecting this person’s time by making my point clear, simplifying the communication, and removing unnecessary content?”
5. Include a Signature Line
When I want to call people, follow them on Twitter, or mail something to them, one of the first places I look is to the signature section at the bottom of their email. Surprisingly, many people don’t include one. I personally include my email signature in every new email and when responding to someone for the first time in every new email chain.
6. Use Your Professional Email Address
Use your professional email address when sending work-related emails [Insert your Hillary Clinton joke here]. It could send an unintentional message when you use a Gmail or Yahoo account in a professional setting. In my case, I sometimes wonder, “If this person is the vice president of operations for their company and wants media training, why are they using an AOL account? Is he pursuing the training independent of his company? Does he not want his company to know? Is he really who he says he is?”
7. Decide Whether Email Is The Best Format
I recently received an email from a professional partner that contained some upsetting news. I kept typing back a response, deleting it, starting over again, and deleting it again. Everything I typed sounded more aggressive than I intended it to, and I was struggling with finding the right words. Then I realized why: This conversation would be better for both parties if it was conducted as a phone call rather than through email. Before clicking “send,” ask yourself whether the medium itself is ideal for your message. Sometimes, the best email etiquette means knowing when not to send one at all.
What tips would you add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
There’s no better way to guarantee more media coverage for an issue you don’t want the media to cover than to blow up at a reporter about that issue. Especially if your blowup is recorded.
Bryan Price, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, serves as the latest case study. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“Upset by the accurate reports that All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco was not with the team for Sunday’s game in St. Louis, Price went on a five-minute, 34-second expletive-filled tirade in his daily session with reporters.”
An “expletive-filled tirade” is, if anything, an understatement. In just 634 seconds, Price said “fuck” 77 times. That’s a “fuck-per-second” ratio of one f-bomb every eight seconds. And, not surprisingly, his vulgar rant went viral, drawing more attention to the very story he wished had been buried.
Even worse, Price seems to have a completely inaccurate belief about the proper role of the press:
“I don’t understand what the importance is for everybody to know if we have a player that’s not here. We don’t benefit at all from the other teams knowing that we don’t have a player. You don’t have to be a Reds fan, but it doesn’t help us if our opponents know who’s here and who isn’t…I don’t need you guys to be fans of the Reds, I just need to know that if there’s something we want to keep here that it stays here…Your job is not to sniff out every fucking thing about the Reds and fucking put it out there for every other fucking guy to hear. It’s not your job…How the fuck does that benefit the Reds? It doesn’t benefit us one fucking bit. ”
Instead of viewing the media as a collection of independent journalists, Price appears to believe they should function as an appendage of the Reds, writing only the items that would benefit his team. That belief is, in many ways, more troubling than the tirade itself.
On Tuesday, Price offered a partial apology via Twitter:
“In my pre-game conversation with reporters yesterday, I used wholly inappropriate language to describe the media coverage of our team. While I stand by the content of my message, I am sorry for the choice of words.”
That’s too bad. He got two things wrong in his rant—the language and the idea behind the language—but he only apologized for the former. And although Price’s frustration is somewhat understandable—it’s too bad that a major leaguer finds out that he’s being sent to the minors through a media report before the team officially tells him—it’s just a part of today’s media culture that he’ll have to accept. The Reds’ media strategy, like that of any competitive business, must reflect the fact that the press sometimes gets news quicker than they might wish.
We’ll now see if Price’s rant has a chilling effect on reporters who want to maintain access and therefore temper their coverage, or if it only encourages local reporters to continue doing their jobs as they should.
Photo credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons
A reader dealing with some changes within her organization recently wrote in with the following concern:
“Up until now, when we received a media inquiry, designated staff members would decide who would be the ‘spokesperson’ based on the type of inquiry and availability of spokespersons. If it was a general or simple inquiry, we might be the best spokesperson. If it was a complex or technical inquiry, a subject matter expert might be a better choice. Of course, we would choose a trained, capable spokesperson and provide additional coaching if needed. All this would be done on a case-by-case basis.
Now, leadership wants there to be one spokesperson for the agency. There could be a backup if that person is unavailable, but the push is to designate [that person] as the agency spokesperson. Subject matter experts will no longer be able to do interviews…
We have a crisis and non-crisis mode. It seems our leadership wants this new model to be used in both instances. I have advised them that it would be difficult to respond to multiple media inquiries when you have only one spokesperson, whether you are in a crisis or it’s business as usual. Also, that one spokesperson may not be knowledgeable enough to respond to reporters who require more background or technical expertise. Their response? They feel it is more important for the public to know, when they see that designated spokesperson, they know he/she is speaking for this agency.”
Your management is right that having a single spokesperson can lead to an increase in brand recognition, and some companies that have or have had a single spokesperson (e.g. Steve Jobs, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, chicken magnate Frank Purdue) benefitted from an immediate connection between spokesperson and brand. I understand the appeal of providing the public with a sense of continuity, a single person who gains credibility with an audience over time by becoming a more familiar (and hopefully trustworthy) face.
But the image I selected to illustrate this story (above) tells you what I think of this idea. In my experience, it’s unnecessarily risky, will frustrate reporters, and could lead to a more flat-footed response.
What happens when your organization, which placed so much of its public identification into the hands of one person, loses that employee? Much of that brand-building disappears with that person’s resignation (or firing). What happens if that spokesperson handles a situation badly and loses credibility with the public or press? Or has a personal scandal that embarrasses the agency?
Here are a couple more questions: What happens if the spokesperson goes on long-term medical or bereavement leave? Or is overwhelmed with media calls on several different topics during a particularly busy period?
This sounds like a bad idea that places too many of the agency’s eggs in a single basket.
I know many people who are the lead spokesperson for their agencies. Most of them are good at their jobs, and many are very knowledgeable. But they’re not subject matter experts, and they happily defer to those who are (assuming, as you stated, that they’ve received media training). Trying to suddenly become a subject matter expert on a variety of topics every time a reporter calls is impractical and destined to fail.
Plus, there’s another important consideration: I can’t imagine that reporters will like this. For straightforward questions, a lead spokesperson is appropriate. But a reporter who needs subject matter expertise and is forced to speak to a spokesperson who plays the role of intermediary for every detailed follow-up question will quickly become resentful.
Two solutions might help, at least in part:
- 1. Use this spokesperson as much as possible, but pair him or her with the proper subject matter expert in cases for which such expertise is necessary.
- 2. Use this spokesperson as the primary face for on-camera briefings, but provide reporters with access to subject matter experts behind the scenes.
It’s entirely possible that your management knows something I don’t and/or that I’m missing something here, so I’d like to ask readers to weigh in. Do you agree with me that this is a bad idea, or is this reader’s management seeing something that I’m not?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
I try to be objective on this blog, but this story makes my blood boil.
Britt McHenry, an ESPN reporter based in Washington, DC, was caught on tape recently berating, belittling, and dehumanizing the cashier at a tow lot. Her vicious, bullying, and entitled rant would make her the perfect cast member for the next installment of the “Mean Girls” film series.
Watch this one for yourself.
Among other gems in her disgusting rant, McHenry said:
“Yep, that’s all you care about is just taking people’s money. With no education, no skill set, just wanted to clarify that.”
“Do you feel good about your job?
“So I can be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
“Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me, huh?”
“Lose some weight, baby girl.”
Making this incident even worse, McHenry had been warned by the clerk that she was on video. If this was the version of McHenry that knew she was being taped, I can’t imagine what she would do if she didn’t. (Editor’s note: This video may have been edited, so it’s possible that warning came after she had already said those things, not before.)
After this video went viral, McHenry took to Twitter to offer a lame and woefully insufficient apology.
Sorry, but reacting in such a vulgar way to an ordinary, everyday “intense and stressful moment” doesn’t even come close to being a credible explanation for her actions.
I suspect that, like me, many people will view this video and conclude that McHenry is a person with a vicious streak who is simply sorry because she got caught. And I also suspect that most people will conclude that she’s engaged in similar behavior in the past.
ESPN suspended Ms. McHenry for a week for her actions. One week. As this columnist with USA Today says, ESPN got its weak disciplinary action very, very wrong.
What should Ms. McHenry do now?
Although I’d like to continue my rant about Ms. McHenry, I’ll call to my higher angels and offer her some actionable advice instead.
Her reputation will be damaged by this for a long time, and justifiably so, but in order to begin rehabilitating her image, Ms. McHenry has to be much more honest about her flaws. The type of glib de rigueur apology she offered only magnifies her reputation crisis.
I’d suggest something closer to the following as a way of acknowledging the incident in a more honest, forthright, and credible manner:
“There is no excuse for my dehumanizing behavior. I used my privileged position to belittle someone else. I understand that many people who watched this video were horrified by my behavior, and they should be.
I am very sorry to the woman I spoke to in this way. She didn’t deserve it. No one does. But I also understand that apologies alone are insufficient at convincing anybody that I’m not the type of person who thinks this type of behavior is okay. All I can say is that I’m more aware of my inner demons than ever before, will work to fix them, and hope that the way I comport myself in the future will eventually convince people that I’m worthy of their trust.”
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Photo credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons
A reporter’s primary obligation is not to you, the spokesperson, but to the story itself. Yes, a journalist owes you an accurate rendering of your quotes and a fair representation of your views, but whether you come out of the story looking good, bad or neutral is not their concern.
That being the case, you might wonder what the purpose is of establishing positive media relations with a reporter?
There are many ways to answer that question, but the one that matters the most when things go wrong is this: When you or your company is suddenly accused of wrongdoing, a reporter who has gotten to know you is more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. They may still write tough pieces about you, but they also may be a bit slower to assume the worst about you or at least be willing to hear what you have to say before forming hard conclusions.
Those lessons all came to mind when I read a recent story by Cathal Kelly, a sports columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. His story is about two professional athletes: retired baseball superstar Frank Thomas and professional hockey player Phil Kessel. Kelly goes into depth about the behavior of both men toward the media—and how their contrasting approaches yielded different results.
The entire story is worth reading; you can read it here.
The following lines grabbed my attention—and although Kelly wrote them with athletes in mind, the same takeaway applies to any public figure, business executive, or spokesperson who interacts with the media. They’re an honest confession of how basic humanity affects coverage, and I’ve found the same dynamic to be true for most of the reporters I’ve interacted with throughout my career.
“There are players I’ve covered for years, talked to many times about all sorts of things. I think I know them, at least a little.
Then one day, we’ll walk past each other in the street, our eyes meet and they don’t recognize me. Not at all.
As media, we are locker-room background – as animate as grease boards and laundry hampers. You can’t remember what you haven’t really seen in the first place.
Then you’ll run into the same guy in a Starbucks lineup on the road and end up talking to each other about nothing. Maybe he’ll see you embracing an old coach of his. Or he’ll wander into an actual human conversation you’re having with the GM about families or movies or a mutual acquaintance.
All of a sudden, and in that instant, you become a real person. And that player never forgets you, sometimes even years later. It’s bizarre, and it happens all the time in this business.
Once that’s happened, you’ll never rip that guy in print. You’ll criticize, but the ripping days are over. He’s not just someone you cover any more. He’s someone you know.
This has very little to do with the job. It’s human nature.”
The difference between being “ripped” and “criticized” can be huge. It can mean the difference between getting fired and keeping your job, a small dip in stock price versus a calamitous one, and a small reputational knock rather than a career-ending one.
And, as Kelly points out, the price of getting on the right side of that line can be small. Sometimes, all it takes is treating the reporter as a person rather than a necessary nuisance.
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One of the most common concerns I hear from potential clients is that the person they want media trained says too much when speaking to reporters.
That’s true of many executives, who like to hold court, and many subject matter experts, who are loathe to leave out any detail.
The spokesperson who says too much gives reporters a greater number of options for potential quotes. I like to think of it this way: A verbose spokesperson is essentially working at a buffet line, serving reporters a little bit of many different dishes. The loquacious spokesperson gives reporters a touch of the pasta, a spot of lamb, a slice of beef tenderloin, a chicken leg, a dollop of potatoes, a few yams, a mound of salad, a spoonful of green beans almondine, a wedge of spinach pie, and a scoop of carrots.
As a result, the reporter may decide to quote something about the green beans even though the beef tenderloin was the spokesperson’s main dish. And whose fault is that?
The more you say, the more you stray
The more a spokesperson says, the more likely it is that they’re straying from their top two or three messages into less pertinent secondary or tertiary messages—if, that is, they’re anywhere near their messages at all.
Some people say too much in an effort to boost their credibility—but they fail to realize that saying too much doesn’t prove how knowledgeable they are; it demonstrates that they’re a bit gluttonous.
Saying too much doesn’t make the reporter’s job any easier, either. Instead of walking away from the interview clear on the spokesperson’s most important points, the reporter is left trying to decipher the mountain of information the spokesperson laid at his or her feet.
A disciplined spokesperson sticks close to their two or three messages and supports them through a combination of stories, anecdotes, case studies, examples, and statistics. They dispense with the buffet line and serve a neatly plated meal—a piece of meat, a nice starch, and a fresh vegetable.
The next time you see one of your spokespersons saying too much, remind them that their buffet line has 12 trays of food available—and that you’re going to insist they remove nine of them from the line.
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