I’ve worked with many people who don’t trust or like the media. But one recent group of trainees from a public entity was more emphatic in their hatred of the press than I’d ever encountered before.
This group constantly felt besieged by a rapacious press corps that couldn’t be satiated, and they believed that reporters were far too busy pursuing their own predetermined agendas to give them a fair shot.
Given the hostility of this group toward the press, I decided to try something different. The result was striking, if not outright shocking.
Instead of playing the role of reporter (as I usually do in media training sessions), I decided to divide the group in half.
The first group played their usual role of serving as corporate spokespersons. I gave them a scenario to work with, asked them to develop their messages and media strategy, and told them to assign a person who would deliver a press conference.
The second group was tasked with playing the role of reporters during a press conference. I told them that their job was to do everything they could to get the facts the spokesperson was reluctant to offer. I instructed them to get past the spin, challenge evasive responses, and do whatever they could to get to the truth.
The second group took their job seriously. When the press conference began, they were unforgiving of anything that remotely bordered spin. They asked tough follow-up questions, used evidence to contradict some of the spokesperson’s claims, and adopted an almost hostile tone. Frankly, they were tougher than most of the reporters I’ve ever seen at press conferences.
The “Aha!” Moment
When the press conference ended, I asked both groups what they were feeling. The group representing the company said they felt exhausted and beaten up. But the group of reporters was pissed. They felt that the company was being evasive, and they resented the company’s lack of candor.
I didn’t have to say anything. My takeaway message seemed to wash over everyone simultaneously: Reporters aren’t always being jerks just to be jerks; sometimes, they just resent that you’re not being straight with them.
That profound realization, which reminded me of the old adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, changed their perspective. Suddenly, they understood how they were complicit in the media’s reaction to their attempts at media management—and they recognized the need to begin doing things differently.
Dear Ms. Sacco:
Along with many thousands of other people, I followed your story late last year after you sent an incendiary tweet that spread around the globe within a few hours.
As far as I can tell, you haven’t discussed the incident publicly since that time (with the exception of issuing an apology through a South African newspaper). Reports suggest that after volunteering in Ethiopia for a month, you’ve gotten another PR position with the website “Hot or Not.”
I’d like to offer you a forum for your first interview since the incident. I’m sure you’ve already been approached by dozens of news organizations, bloggers, and websites, but my interest in speaking to you is at least somewhat different from theirs.
Many of this blog’s readers are PR practitioners, and they’re interested in applying the lessons learned from your case to other clients. We’ve all observed the media dynamic that occurs after a major sex scandal (e.g. Monica Lewinsky, Fawn Hall), a racist tirade (e.g. Mel Gibson, Michael Richards), or unusual public behavior (e.g. Anthony Weiner, Rob Ford). Those cases are all different from yours, of course, but the same questions remain: What should you do now? How can you move on from such an incident? And most importantly, what have you learned from this experience that other people can benefit from?
I’m not offering a softball interview—I’d ask the questions that should be asked in any credible encounter that conforms to news standards. But I would promise you fairness. None of my questions would be gratuitous, I wouldn’t distort any of your quotes to make the story more salacious, and I won’t create a snarky title to generate more clicks. My post would be direct, honest, and fair to the story.
If you’d prefer, I’d also be willing to record and post the entire interview—which we could conduct in person (I’m in the New York area), via Skype, or by phone—so that viewers or listeners could judge your words in their full context, not through my edited version of our interview.
If you’d like to speak off the record to discuss the possibility of an on-the-record interview, you can contact me at Brad@PhillipsMediaRelations.com.
There were many media disasters from which to choose this month.
I could have chosen NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference, which failed to satisfy anyone. I could have selected President Obama, who gave his critics easy ammunition by saying, “We don’t have a strategy” to deal with ISIS. Finally, I could have named this Toronto school board trustee for delivering an illogical interview.
Despite good arguments for all of those media moments, I kept coming back to an interview Mike Tyson conducted with a Canadian news anchor earlier this month (this monthly feature was always intended to highlight the serious, the sublimely ridiculous, and everything in between).
According to Mashable, Tyson was “in Canada to promote his one-man show,” during which time he met with and endorsed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (who subsequently dropped out of the race due to serious health issues). But when Tyson sat down with Nathan Downer on Toronto’s CP24, one of the host’s questions upset him—and he looked like he might take a chunk out of Downer’s ear.
Warning: This video contains numerous obscenities and one scary-looking tattoo.
The question that sparked Tyson’s expletive-laden tirade was this:
“Some of your critics would say, ‘This is a race for mayor, we know you’re a convicted rapist, this could hurt his campaign.’ How would you respond to that?”
Those “some say” questions—which can be journalistically dubious—are ripe for rebuttals that challenge the premise. Tyson did exactly that, beginning his answer reasonably:
“I don’t know who said that. You’re the only one I know who said that.”
But then Tyson lost it, calling the anchor a “piece of shit,” saying “fuck you” on live television twice, and threatening the host when reminded he was on live TV (“What are you going to do about it?”).
Tyson should expect to face questions about that conviction, which can be easily deflected (“I paid my debt to society, have been out of prison for almost 20 years, and am here to talk about my one-man show.”).
Instead, interviews like this one show that he still has the same volatile temper he’s always had—the same one that led to charges of domestic abuse in his marriage to Robin Givens, a rape conviction, and being disqualified from a heavyweight title fight for biting off a piece of his opponent’s ear.
Despite all of those incidents, Tyson has enjoyed an improbable comeback in recent years, including an HBO airing of his one-man show and a scene-stealing cameo in The Hangover (below).
I’ve always had reservations about the wisdom of Mike Tyson receiving a full Hollywood comeback; my uneasiness aside, “Brand Tyson” has been doing quite well in recent years. But this interview might—hopefully, in my view—slow his public return to favor just a little.
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Several years ago, I went on a date with a woman I had met on a dating website. She listed her age as 33—but after I had gone on several dates with her, she confessed to being 37.
I’m well aware of the sensitivities regarding age and understand the motivations behind someone lying about theirs. But I couldn’t get out of my mind that she had deceived me before we had even met and continued the lie for several dates—and for that reason (and not due to her actual age), I ended our brief relationship.
Voters in Laguna Beach, California must be feeling a similar sense of deception from Laguna Beach City Council candidate Jon Madison. According to the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, Mr. Madison—if that’s his real name, which is also in doubt—“falsified his age, educational and work histories on his campaign website.”
Mr. Madison had a rather interesting response to questions posed by the Coastline Pilot about his numerous biographical inconsistencies:
“I am who I am,” Madison said in an interview after the forum. “I don’t think my educational history or my age or voter registration has anything to do with what I’m trying to do in this city.”
The Orange County Register reported Sunday that Madison may have lied on his campaign website about degrees he earned from two universities, in addition to apparent discrepancies in his birth date and work history….
“This is my first rodeo, and I’m disappointed that the media are bringing me down,” Madison said, adding that he is confused about why the six other council candidates are not receiving similar media attention. “I feel like I’m being ambushed. Come to my restaurant, even when I’m not there, and ask people what they think of me. They’ll tell you who I am.”
What Could He Do Now?
To me, those unanswered allegations are disqualifying. But his case made me wonder what I would advise Mr. Madison to do if he asked me to take him on as a client (this is hypothetical; I’d respectfully turn down the work).
Assuming these media reports are true, I’d advise Madison to do three things: Admit, apologize and ask forgiveness. I’d want to learn what forces led Mr. Madison to lie about his biography. If it was due to a normal human vulnerability—insecurity about his age or educational background, for example—I suspect some voters would be willing to overlook his past. But in order to do that, they would require complete honesty from this point on.
As an example, I could imagine him saying something like this:
“Media reports about my age and educational background are true. I didn’t complete the level of education I wish I had and always felt badly about that—so I made up a backstory about myself that allowed me to get through the day with a bit more pride. I’m sorry about that. Once I started telling those stories, it always felt like it was too late to come clean.
Over the past many years, I’ve met thousands of people at my restaurant—and they know the type of man I am. I’m asking people to look past the mistakes I’ve made in the past, make judgments about me based on the person they’ve gotten to know, and promise to always be truthful with voters as their public servant.”
Would that persuade me personally? No. But I suspect many people would appreciate that candor and give Madison a second look. Remember: Anthony Weiner briefly led in polls for the New York City mayor’s race last year, a sign that voters are often willing to overlook bad personal decisions.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
h/t Political Wire
Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of “breaking the pattern” when delivering a presentation.
That post discussed what you can do as a speaker to change your delivery approach frequently in order to maintain and regain your audience’s attention. But that article focused solely on the contrast you can provide during your own presentation—and there’s another key way to break the pattern that occurs when you’re speaking at a conference or multi-speaker workshop.
Before planning your own presentation at a conference, get a feel for the “default” speaking style most speakers plan to use. Hold a conference call with other speakers. Start an email chain. Talk to the conference planner.
Then, look for ways to break the default pattern.
Here are a few examples of providing a contrast between yourself and other speakers:
- If other speakers plan on using PowerPoint, consider going without it (or at least keep the screen dark for the first several minutes).
- If other speakers put complex technical information on the screen, consider handing out a well-designed one-page handout instead. Give the audience a few minutes to take in the content (they won’t be able to hear you until they’ve digested your content anyway), and then add context to the handout they just read.
- If other speakers will deliver their presentations from behind a lectern, request a lavaliere microphone and speak in front of the stage.
- If other speakers are dressed in business attire but your professional or personal brand is more business casual, dress in a manner consistent with your own brand (assuming, of course, that doing so would be appropriate to the occasion).
- If other speakers plan on taking audience questions only after they finish their prepared remarks, consider allowing questions and interacting with the audience throughout your presentation.
Doing something that breaks convention takes some boldness and courage. But the payoff for speakers who choose smart ways to stand out from their “competition”—and the battle to earn the audience’s long-term memory is competition—can be huge.
What are your favorite “pattern breakers?” Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Humans evolved with a keen ability to detect motion and change in the environment. That was a particularly helpful trait for our ancestors, who were (hopefully) able to use their peripheral vision to detect large animals preparing to attack.
Although most of us are no longer fending off animal attacks, the evolutionary gift we inherited from our ancestors remains with us. We’re good at detecting change.
We’re not as good, however, with sameness. We acclimate quickly. Therefore, in order to maintain or regain an audience’s attention, speakers must frequently “break the pattern.” As Dr. Susan Weinschenk advises in 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, “Because people habituate to stimuli, it helps to keep things at least a little unpredictable.”
You can break the pattern in many different ways:
- After sharing a few facts, tell a story
- If you’ve been using PowerPoint, turn it off and move toward your audience
- If you’ve been standing to the right of your audience, move to its left
- If you’ve been speaking in a quiet tone, add volume to emphasize a key point
- If you’ve been lecturing, pause and ask for a volunteer
- Ask the audience a question, real or rhetorical
- If you’ve been speaking, show a video or distribute a handout
Breaking the pattern should never feel gratuitous to the audience—and it won’t, if your pattern-changers occur at logical points during your talk, such as in between key points.
An unofficial trick of the trade is to mindful of “The Ten-Minute Rule,” which maintains that you should break your pattern at least once every ten minutes, the amount of time at which many audience members begin to lose their focus. Although ten minutes isn’t a fixed number (some people’s attention will begin to drift after four seconds, others after forty minutes), the rule serves as a useful reminder to break the pattern often.
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JOY—the fashion and lifestyle chain that has 26 locations throughout the United Kingdom—is the latest brand to create unnecessary controversy by tweeting something stupid.
The trouble started yesterday when a customer complained via Twitter about a greeting card that the store has for sale.
At first glance, I didn’t find this card offensive. But that’s the thing about offense: I don’t get to decide what’s sincerely offensive to other people; they do. And if a customer makes their sincere objection to this greeting card known to JOY, the company—at the very least—should know better than to antagonize the person who complained.
Instead, JOY said this:
The customer responded by tweeting:
To which JOY responded with its biggest error of all:
Now that offends me. To dismiss a polite customer who raises a sincere concern about stigmatizing mental illness by mocking people with bipolar disorder is completely beyond reason.
But Then They Made It Worse…
As is predictable in these situations, JOY apologized earlier today, but with one of those insincere, completely inauthentic apologies:
How, exactly, their tweets were intended to “create dialogue” about mental illness is beyond my comprehension. The company’s Facebook apology was even worse:
As their Facebook comments section shows, their customers aren’t buying it:
Why JOY’s Customers Shouldn’t Be So Quick To Forgive…
There have been far too many social media fails by this point for a brand to be quickly forgiven for committing its own. By now, they should know better—and if they don’t, their ignorance is no longer an excuse. There are only three possibilities in this case:
1. This is a deliberate strategy: It’s entirely possible that JOY is intentionally using outrage to spark a “crisis,” get attention for the brand, and increase name recognition. Giving credence to this theory is that Kenneth Cole—who has admitted creating these “social media crises” on purpose—apologized with almost the same response, that he was trying to “provoke a dialogue.”
2. The social media team is poorly trained: It’s 2014. There is no shortage of great consultants and experts available to help brands get their social media right. If the brand failed to train its staff properly, this incident is very much its own fault.
3. The employee went rogue. I doubt this one. Since the apology—which should have involved executives—had the same unapologetic tone, this incident strikes me as far more reflective of the brand than an exception to the rule.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 22, 2014, 1:16 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time
JOY just issued its second apology in as many days. Unfortunately, this apology comes only after botching the first apology. As a result, its sincerity will immediately be called into question by many people—including me—who wonder why a heartfelt apology should take two takes to get right.
Even though this apology is better than the first, it’s still not great. The store is placing the blame onto a staffer, but not acknowledging that management itself bears responsibility for insufficiently training its staff or for making the wrong person responsible for its Twitter feed.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally faced reporters today in an effort to save his job and quell growing public outrage over his poor handling of a domestic abuse case involving a player.
The crisis began when this video, showing Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice dragging his fiancée’s unconscious body off an elevator, appeared on TMZ.
Despite seeing that video and confirming directly with Ray Rice that he had hit his fiancée, Goodell decided to suspend him for just two games, far less than many players get for smoking a joint. When TMZ released new video of Rice actually punching her, the public reaction was even more profound.
How Did He Do Today?
Goodell adhered to many crisis communications best practices. Among other things, he:
- 1. Apologized directly and unequivocally: “I got it wrong with the Ray Rice matter, and I apologize for that…I let myself down. I let everyone else down.”
- 2. Expressed his commitment to make it right: “We have seen too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me…but now I will get it right and do whatever it takes to accomplish that.”
- 3. Appointed a third party investigator—former FBI director Robert Mueller—to examine the League’s handling of this situation and make recommendations to strengthen its personal conduct policies.
- 4. Partnered with and made significant financial contributions to domestic abuse organizations.
- 5. Brought in experts on domestic abuse to help the League improve its policies.
- 6. Conveyed a serious tone that made clear that he was chastened by this incident and committed to doing better.
There are times when checking all of the “Crisis Communications 101” boxes isn’t enough, and when doing many of the right things simply comes too late.
What’s inescapable is that Mr. Goodell is only giving this press conference now because he missed numerous opportunities to do the right thing when he originally had the chance. He appeared to blame the League’s pathetic two-game suspension of Rice on an outdated personal conduct policy written in 2007, as if domestic abuse is a new issue that’s cropped up in the past seven years.
As a result, this entire press conference was reactive, not proactive. It was done out of necessity, not choice, which tends to at least partially undercut even the most sincere statements of apology.
The Question I’m Still Left Asking
It appears that the NFL, rightfully bruised by this crisis, has finally committed to taking this issue more seriously. But Mr. Goodell failed to answer one critical question during his press conference: Why does he need to be the person to lead the NFL through these changes? Why is this man, who just a few months ago thought that a brutal assault of a woman warranted a mere two-game suspension, the best person to demonstrate the seriousness with which the NFL suddenly treats this topic?
As the clip above shows, Goodell tries to answer that by saying that he’s still capable of leading since he has now acknowledged his mistake. That’s a thin rationale, and it’s one that appears at odds with the stance he takes with players. As Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted:
Will His Press Conference Work?
Goodell’s job today wasn’t to end the crisis but to staunch the bleeding. He might have succeeded in that.
Appearing before cameras—even if his performance was far from perfect—might serve to take some of the air out of this story. He might even get lucky if another non-NFL sports crisis breaks and distracts reporters and fans from the NFL’s problems for a while.
The League’s owners appear to be giving him time to make things right. Based on today’s performance, my hunch is that he’ll hang on as commissioner for a while and that his resignation isn’t imminent. What do you think?