Why You Should Engage With Your Critics

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 26, 2014 – 6:02 am

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).

Robinson Cano Jimmy Fallon

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.

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

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Am I Wrong To Shame People Who Plagiarize My Work?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 23, 2014 – 6:02 am

I recently called out a PR professional who appeared to steal my work.

It’s not the first time I’ve done that. Unfortunately, a surprising number of people think little about lifting someone else’s work, and I regularly come across instances in which someone has claimed my work as their own.

But after the last incident, a person on Twitter expressed her disappointment with me, comparing the act of publicly shaming a plagiarizer to the primitive punishment some countries dispense by cutting off the hands of a shoplifter.  

Shaming One

That’s a fair philosophical argument, one I’ve been thinking about for a while. But her next tweet surprised me: 

Shaming Two

If I’m reading her tweet correctly (and given the context of the conversation, I believe I am), this tweeter believes that the person being shamed is the victim. In her view, the “victim” is not the person who worked hard to develop an original idea, share it with the world, and have it stolen—but rather the person who steals the idea and then pays a price for having done so. I strongly disagree with that view.

Why I Shame Plagiarizers

First, let me be clear: Accusing someone of committing plagiarism is a serious option that can badly damage someone’s reputation. I don’t use it lightly. For cases that are on the fence, I send a private email. I would only accuse someone of plagiarism publicly if the facts supporting my claim point overwhelmingly in that direction. In the case above, the PR pro was quoted using an entire paragraph I had published on my blog, in my newsletter, and in my book.

A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article called “Spite Is Good. Spite Works.” The article had a few passages that are relevant to this discussion:

“Human decency and cooperation require a certain degree of so-called altruistic punishment: the willingness of some individuals to punish rule breakers.”

“’It’s probably not spiteful when you’re looking at the long term,’ Dr. Marlowe said. ‘If you get the reputation as someone not to mess with and nobody messes with you going forward, then it was well worth the cost.’”

For me, publicly calling someone out for plagiarism isn’t an act of spite. The quotes above capture my thinking well: More globally, I do it because it’s about maintaining social norms; more personally, I do it to serve as a future deterrent to both the offender and those who might become offenders.

That’s my view. I’d love to hear yours. You can vote below or leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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Should I Delete Or Keep This Comment?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 29, 2013 – 6:00 am

I received an email yesterday from an Australian reader. It seems that he had left a comment on one of my stories last year — but he doesn’t want it to appear on my blog anymore.

You’ll find his email below. To protect his anonymity, I’m not including his name or the name of the original post he commented on.  He writes:

Dear Mr Phillips,

Due to a change in my employment status, I am taking steps to reduce my online presence. Regarding the following post: [Post name deleted]. Could you please be so kind to remove my comment or at least change my name to “anonymous”.  I would be very grateful. If you require photo ID from myself confirming my identity, this can be arranged

Thank you and kind regards.

It’s a bit more complicated than that. This reader didn’t merely leave a comment in the comments section—he replied to one of my “Questions of the Week,” and that post had this specific disclaimer:

“Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I’ll compile your answers in a post later this week.”

I did exactly that. His comment—a thoughtful one that’s not at all incendiary—was included in a post that compiled several responses. To delete his comment would require me to edit the post slightly and renumber the comments. (That said, the changes would take me just a few minutes to make.) 

My feeling is that since he voluntarily submitted a comment and knew how I planned to use it, he should have no reasonable expectation that I should edit, redact, or delete the post. It also sets a bad precedent—once a post is published, I’m not inclined to change it, other than to correct bad information or bad grammar or to help make a point more clearly.

What do you think? Please vote below, and please leave any additional thoughts in the comments section below. (Just don’t expect me to delete them next year!)

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Nine Of My Favorite Public Relations Blogs

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 6, 2012 – 2:00 pm

In the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to share some blog love today with nine of my favorite bloggers.

I regularly visit and learn from these nine sites. These bloggers write and share smart content, and many are also entertaining. I hope you’ll check them out and enjoy their work as much as I do.

Inevitably, I’m going to leave out some really talented bloggers whose work I very much enjoy. So let me say that this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list (and I hope you’ll help me make it more comprehensive by adding your favorites to the comments section).

Without further ado, here are some of my favorites!

The PR Coach (Public Relations) – Jeff Domansky teaches me something new in almost every post. Whether it’s a new social media platform or an emerging PR trend, Jeff always seems a step ahead of everyone else. Plus, he has a terrific sense of humor that manifests itself in the form of some very amusing posts.

Melissa Agnes (Social Media and Crisis Management) – It’s hard to believe that Melissa just entered the blogging scene this year. Her advice regarding the role of social media in crises is always spot on, and she writes in an engaging and direct manner. Plus, she’s relentlessly polite, even when the people she writes about don’t deserve it.

Six Minutes (Public Speaking) – Andrew Dlugan is smart, and he approaches public speaking in a serious manner that goes well beyond the usual platitudes. I learn something from him every time I visit his site, and you will too.

imPRessions PR News + Blog (Public Relations) – Dorothy Crenshaw and I write about some of the same topics, such as how to manage negative press or own a media interview. But she’s one of those bloggers that often makes me think, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” Plus, her other work—such as asking whether Oprah is still relevant—is always smartly argued. 

PR Daily (Public Relations) – Editor Michael Sebastian culls the best of the PR world every weekday—and his team of contributors (which includes Jackson Wightman, Susan Young, Gil Rudawsky, and Kevin Allen) are top notch. The site contains a nice mix of evergreen “how to” stories, fun trend posts, and current events. I’m fortunate that they run a few of my articles each month.

The Publicity Hound (Media Relations) – Joan Stewart doesn’t dabble in theory—she offers readers high-impact, tactical information they can immediately use to improve their communications. I’ve received Joan’s newsletter since 2004, and she always manages to keep her information fresh. If you haven’t subscribed to her newsletter, now would be a good time to do so.

prTini (PR and Marketing) – On any given day, Heather Whaling may be writing about better ways to market your book, monitor your coverage, or bring your work-life balance into better…well, balance. Plus, her weekly “best of PR” links are nicely curated.

Political Wire (Politics) – Okay, so Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire isn’t a PR blog. But it’s one of my first stops every morning (and a couple of times each afternoon) for a quick summary of the day’s biggest political stories. He occasionally writes original content, but more often links to others; he has a keen eye for finding the stories that others miss. If you’re even remotely interested in politics, don’t miss his site. 

Dylan Byers on Media (Politics and Media) Again, this isn’t technically a PR blog. But Dylan’s coverage of the intersection between media and politics regularly features media gaffes, PR blunders, and political communications strategy. It’s a fast, fun, and informative read.

What are your favorite blogs? Please leave your favorites in the comments section below!

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Why I Answered My Obscene Commenter

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 30, 2012 – 6:04 am

Whenever I post an article citing the “worst gaffes” of a certain time period, I get feedback from a few readers who disagree with my choices.

So I wasn’t surprised that some people took me to task for an article I posted on Sunday, “The 10 Worst Media Gaffes of Election 2012.” After all, I acknowledge that my choices are completely subjective, and readers often make a reasonable case for why they disagree.

But I received one comment on Sunday that went past the usual criticism. And the dialogue that ensued was rather instructive.

A reader posted this comment:

“I thought your list sucked.


Todd Akin and his “legitimate rape victims don’t get pregnant” gaffe that is going to lose a Senate race and possibly republican control of the senate doesn’t make your list.

Yet President Obama’s non gaffe reminding us that successful businesses relied on taxpayer funded infrastructure to succeed is?

Fuck off buddy. I won’t be back.”


I usually don’t post those types of comments. But the reader was wrong on the facts, so I decided to post his comment and engage him. Here’s what I wrote:

“I usually don’t post comments such as yours, as it violates this blog’s “No Jerks Allowed” policy.

But I made an exception because I wanted to correct your error. If you had read the single sentence in bold toward the top of the post, you would have seen the line that read, “This post will highlight the ten worst media disasters of the 2012 presidential campaign.” Todd Akin is not, as you surely know, a presidential contender. If this list had looked at Senate and House races, he surely would have been on it. And he’ll almost certainly make my year-end “Top Ten Media Disasters of 2012″ list.

As for President Obama’s non-gaffe, had you read my post more closely, you would have seen that I generally agreed with you.

I’m sorry you chose to interact with a stranger in such a vulgar way. I’m glad you’ve chosen to set your sights elsewhere.”


Minutes later, the reader responded, but this time with a different tone:

“I obviously missed that.

My most humble apologies. I am sorry.

And thank you for bringing to my attention.

Peace buddy. And I will check back in.

Good luck with your blog.”


Although it may seem surprising that his tone changed so quickly, at least one study suggests that his reaction isn’t terribly unusual. A study conducted by Harris Interactive in 2011 found that 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.

Sure, that study was looking at businesses, not blog comments. But the underlying truth is likely the same.

There’s likely another dynamic at play here, as well. I suspect that it’s easier for a person to rail against some random blogger, but more difficult to rail against a random blogger who takes the time to respond to them.

My lesson learned? Sometimes it’s worth taking on your harshest critics instead of relegating their emails to the “trash” folder. At the very least, it might quiet their criticism. And in the best case, they might become an ally.

For more, you can read my recent article, “How Do You Handle Negative Comments.”

Posted in Blogging | 9 Comments »

Reader Email 2: How Do You Handle Negative Comments?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 19, 2012 – 12:02 am

You’re a jerk. An idiot. A poser. A moron. A dumbass.

If you’ve blogged long enough, you’ve probably been assaulted by a few readers who disagree with your conclusions. And that can lead to a few challenges for bloggers who want to allow a free exchange of ideas but also insist upon a civil discourse.

Reader Mary Denihan noticed that challenge, and asked the following question regarding managing a website’s comments section. Mary wrote:

“It almost seems like [negative comments] have overtaken some sites. Which in turn, seems to inhibit other folks with positive opinions to not comment. Do you have any advice on how to avoid your site to be overtaken by negative comments?”


Reader Leigh Ann Otte was also curious, writing:

“I would guess (hope?) most people recognize what’s going on and don’t listen to them. But it is a good question: What do you do if the negativity is directed to you? Ignore it? Respond once to everyone? Try to cut it off early by responding to the first few right away?”


Great questions, Mary and Leigh Ann! Here are three ways you might consider approaching this issue:

1. Ban Belligerent Jerks

There’s no rule that says bloggers have to approve every comment someone leaves. For this blog, I created a comments policy titled “No Jerks Allowed.” It reads, in part:

“I’m done posting ad hominem attacks, off-topic comments, comments that refer to elected officials (or others) in pejorative terms, comments that are unnecessarily antagonistic, comments that don’t relate to the topic of the article, and other comments that come across with more hostility than substance.

There is no shortage of websites and news channels that profit from hostile and angry debate. No matter how many times I’m accused of censorship, I’m not going to allow this blog to join their ranks.”


2. Respond, But Speak Past The Commenter

If I decide to post a negative comment from a reader (because it makes a valid point, even if it’s a bit nasty), I try to be mindful that the entire audience may hold a rude response against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree with my view.

Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers.

3. Or, Speak To The Commenter

If the commenter posts something negative but appears to be reasonable, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I often find that the tone of a reader’s first comment may be negative, but that if I respond to them respectfully, their follow-up comment is milder—or even appreciative.

That approach is backed up by a 2011 Harris Interactive study, which found that 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.

What do you think? How have you handled negative comments on your personal blog or company website?

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Ten Things I’ve Learned After Two Years Of Blogging

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 3, 2012 – 6:04 am

As you’ve likely read by now, the Mr. Media Training Blog is celebrating its second anniversary this week!

To commemorate the first anniversary last year, I ran a piece called “12 Things I Learned In My First Year as a Blogger.” So this year, I decided to refresh that piece by deleting a few points and adding a few new ones.  Here is the updated list of the ten biggest things I’ve learned after two years as a blogger:

1. Daily Blogging Requires a MAJOR Commitment: Over the past two years, I’ve written more than 560 stories, each of which takes about 90 minutes to write and tag (some take significantly longer). That’s 420 hours a year – or 17.5 days per year – just for writing. Marketing the blog requires hundreds of additional hours.

2. Daily Blogging Makes Work/Life Balance Difficult: Before starting this blog, I was already stretched thin: Running a busy practice, traveling too much, and trying to spend a few relaxed hours with my wife each weekend. Writing a daily blog means that my already busy schedule now borders on sheer insanity. If you’re looking for a relaxed work/life balance, daily blogging on top of a full-time gig isn’t the way to do it. 

3. Once You’ve Written The Obvious Posts, The Hard Work Begins: In some ways, the early days of a blog’s life are easier, since you can write all of the posts about the subjects you know best. But at some point, you exhaust those topics and have to find material that is less obvious.

4. Blogging Rewires Your Brain: If you write about a niche, you start filtering any news you hear through the prism of how you could write about it for your blog. That means you screen out some of the big picture to isolate the relevant, and often smaller picture. The crises that hit Penn State and the Komen Foundation weren’t primarily about child abuse or canceled grants for my blog – they were both about inept crises responses.

5. Quality of Visits Is More Important Than Quantity of Visitors: It’s easy to be disappointed that your blog had fewer hits today than yesterday. But on those “disappointing” traffic days, I’ve gotten phone calls from prospective clients who learned about me through my blog. Or from journalists who wanted to interview me because they read something on my blog. If the right people are visiting, it doesn’t matter how many of them are visiting. 

6. There Is No Correlation Between Quality and Number of Hits: Some of the stories that took me hours to craft attracted just a few hundred readers – and some of the ones I cranked out in 45 minutes attracted thousands. Timing is everything. If I can post a decent article about a story everyone is talking about within minutes of it breaking, people are going to click on it.

7. Your Work Is Going to Spread: Since starting this blog, I’ve been surprised to see hundreds of visits from Estonia, Bangladesh, and Qatar, and thousands from Indonesia, Sweden, and Malaysia. I can’t say I saw that coming when I started the blog.

8. Some People Think They Can Discern Your Political Leanings From a Single Post: I’ve been called a liberal, a commie, a conservative, and a neocon. The truth is that I’ve made a strong effort to both criticize and praise Republicans and Democrats. But some months, more Republicans commit gaffes than Democrats (and vice versa), and it doesn’t mean I’m ideologically “biased” to say so. My favorite moment came last year when, during the Anthony Weiner scandal, a fellow tweeter told me I “was obviously prejudiced against NYC Jews.” That I live in NYC and was raised by Jewish parents did little to dissuade her view.

9. Some People Steal Your Content Without Attribution: I always appreciate when bloggers and website editors link to my work, sometime by excerpting a key paragraph or two. But occasionally, they just lift my work and run it without attribution. One person ran my work verbatim with his own byline. One changed a few words and ran it with his own byline. One prominent website editor went on the Fox News Channel and claimed my work as his own. Intellectual property theft still bothers me a fair bit.

10. I (Still) Love Blogging: Despite all of the downsides, I still love blogging. I love having a voice, love having my ideas appreciated (and occasionally debated or criticized), and love the discipline of coming up with daily story ideas. On most days, writing the next day’s blog post is my favorite professional task — so I often put it off until the end of the day as a reward for finishing the rest of my tasks.

Thank you for reading and making all of this work worth it! Here’s to year three!

Please like us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining and follow us on Twitter at @MrMediaTraining.

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Have You Had Any “Aha!” Moments After Visiting This Blog?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 2, 2012 – 6:05 am

As you already know, the Mr. Media Training Blog is celebrating its second anniversary this week!

From the very beginning of this blog, I have been committed to a simple idea: To give away everything I’ve learned through the years for free. I believe that “free” is a great way to build a brand – and helping readers improve their media interviews and public speeches is deeply motivating.

So today, I’m asking a question I’ve long wanted to ask but never have: Have you ever had an “aha!” moment as a result of reading this blog?

Did any of the specific tips, techniques, or strategies I’ve offered helped lead you to a “light bulb” moment? If so, which one(s)?

Did you begin a new practice as a result of something I’ve written or end one you were using that no longer had a place?

What idea or concept has stuck the most?

Please leave your feedback in the comments section below. I’m very curious to hear what’s been working for you most, and will incorporate some of your ideas into future blog posts.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

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  • About Mr. Media Training

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

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

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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