The Right Speech Formula For Winning Political Campaigns

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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The Internet Is Forever: Life After My Viral Video

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

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

The Internet is forever.

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

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

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

Do I regret it? You bet I do.

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

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

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

Communications professional Marc Slavin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Every PR Pro Needs To Know The Hippocratic Oath

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 21, 2012 – 6:08 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Bobby Zafarnia, who is the founder of Praecere Interactive, a boutique PR and social media consultancy based in Washington, DC.

When handling tough PR problems for clients, I instinctively try to recall similar experiences and run through what worked and what didn’t. For me, this routine exercise reinforces the PR version of primum non nocere, commonly known as the Latin maxim for doctors: “do no harm.”

The nice thing about this principle is its importance for any spokesperson: when responding to media inquiries, every answer must avoid attracting further inquiries. That’s our industry’s version of the Hippocratic Oath, or doing no harm for the client.

So what do I mean by this? Here’s how it works. When the klieg light heat is on, the scrum of mikes are shoved in your face, and the questions are relentless, make sure your answers are as specific as possible to the particular question. That way, if your client (or the organization you represent) is under scrutiny, you are working toward stopping the inquiries and buying time for the next move.

Writer Bobby Zafarnia

Put another way, each answer you provide shouldn’t invite more questions. The temptation often is strong to go beyond a question’s parameters to drive home a point forcefully; after all, it’s in every solid flack’s DNA to protect their client. But when you volunteer more information than necessary to manage a PR crisis, you may inadvertently open new lines of inquiry that will only cause more media headaches for your client.

Here’s an example. Say the question is this:

REPORTER: “Your COO has left to start her own rival business, do you have a
loyalty problem in the ranks?”

WRONG ANSWER: “We don’t think her departure means that people don’t like to
work at our company

RIGHT ANSWER: “This is a highly competitive industry, and our talent is united
and focused on going forward and leveraging all new business opportunities.”


See the difference? The wrong answer, while addressing the executive’s departure, invites more questions about employee satisfaction, which likely isn’t an ideal topic to discuss in this context. The right answer shows confidence despite the executive’s quitting, and slips in a positive outlook to reassure stakeholders. This answer not only does no harm, it helps stop an otherwise out-of-
control train of inquiry.

When you’re the messenger, particularly in crisis PR, you have to accept that the headlines will inevitably sting when they’re printed, emailed, and tweeted. Follow the do no harm principle, and you’ll likely kill the story in less than 24 hours.

Bobby Zafarnia is the founder of Praecere Interactive, a boutique PR and social media consultancy in Washington, DC. Bobby is a 13-year PR veteran, having lead media communications for Fortune 100 companies, foreign governments, Members of Congress, and national political campaigns.
Contact him at and @praecere.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steve Bedwell

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about Steve’s professional and leadership development programs at

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What I’ve Learned As A Spokesperson: Julia Stewart

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

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

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

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

PR pro Julia Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Want To Learn Public Speaking? Try Stand-Up Comedy.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 25, 2012 – 6:12 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Deborah Brown and Clayton Fletcher of Peppercom, a strategic communications firm based in NYC. I asked them to write this article to describe their fascinating approach to presentation training, which uses comedy to help people break through their inhibitions.

According to surveys, people are more afraid of public speaking than dying. And, we’re not just talking about a conference with 500 people. We find employees are just as afraid to present to five people as they are to 500!

We’ve learned that through stand-up comedy training, offered as part of our proprietary Comedy Experience program, employees become better, more fearless speakers. We teach organizations great and small to employ storytelling techniques mastered by professional comedians. And, we walk the walk. Everyone at Peppercom – from management to interns – has performed stand-up comedy at least once, and many of us entertain comedy club audiences all over New York on a regular basis.

So, what does comedy have to do with business? Everything!

Below are four tips on how you can incorporate comedy skills into successful business presentations:

Comedian Clayton Fletcher, co-author of this piece, uses comedy to help public speakers

Tip #1: Use Storytelling to Engage Your Audience

Comedy skills are remarkably similar to presentation skills, since a comedy routine is itself a presentation. When you’re on stage, you need to engage your audience, right? The last thing you want is to see them texting, Googling, doodling, or falling asleep. An audience that is laughing is 100 percent engaged; a funny presenter commands attention and respect more than a bland one—that’s just common sense, right?

The key to engaging your audience as well as creating outstanding presentations is storytelling. This is the same required ingredient in outstanding comedy performances. Comedy, today, is not about joke telling, as in “three guys walk into a bar…” It’s about narrative based in truth. Comedy club audiences want to learn something about the speaker, and guess what? So do business audiences. Sharing a true story increases confidence; after all, you know the material – it’s your story. You know the journey you want the audience to take before you even go onstage. The goal of leading the crowd along that path gives a speaker confidence and a sense of direction. Presentations should be thought of in the exact same way, a story, a revelation, a journey!

Tip #2: Read The Audience

Another skill we can learn from great comedians is how to read an audience. Comics know how to pay attention and react to the body language and other non-verbal indicators, whether the crowd is laughing, yawning, slouching, squinting, giggling, frowning, ignoring, smiling, resisting, or engaging. If a stand-up is losing the crowd, she can improvise, ask questions, comment on the situation, and use her sense of humor to elicit a better response! You can do the same thing as a presenter. If an audience seems uninterested, ask a question. They’ll immediately respond. You can also say something off the cuff or be honest in the moment.

Co-author Deborah Brown

Tip #3: Make Nervous Energy Work in Your Favor

Does the idea of presenting make you nervous? Good! You’re supposed to be nervous. Being nervous is a good thing; it lets people know you are passionate about your topic and that their reaction matters to you. The same is true of all comedians. They, too, are nervous before going on stage but they understand how to make that nervous energy work for them. Nervous energy is kinetic energy that must be harnessed and embraced onstage. Don’t fight the nerves. Channel the nervous energy into your storytelling abilities and you’ll transform nervousness into passion.

Tip #4: Show Vulnerability

It’s good to be vulnerable. When you’re on stage, you feel naked with all eyes on you. Instead of pretending it’s easy, show vulnerability, communicate to the audience that you’re human. The audience then finds you more relatable, assuming they are human as well, of course. Vulnerability, nervousness, and authenticity make people want to hear what you have to say.

We have conducted our Comedy Experience program for many companies, and the big takeaway has been the immediate and tangible results. For example, at one major corporation, we were asked to teach comedy to a group of scientists, engineers and researchers. These brilliant and serious professionals were reticent to try this idea, to say the least. But by the end of the session, they were laughing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone who performed got big laughs and the team-building power of laughter broke down the walls of skepticism one lab coat at a time. It was quite spectacular to watch as, one by one, these seemingly humorless people broke out of their respective comfort zones and connected with one another on a new and deeper level.

Comedy training is a corporate game changer that works best as an ongoing, culture redefining program. However, the tips outlined above will at least give you the immediate confidence you need to think of your presentation in a different way.

Comedy skills share a lot with business skills…and that’s no joke!

Deborah Brown is a partner/managing director of Peppercom, a strategic communications firm based in New York City. She tweets at @DeborahBrown21.

Clayton Fletcher is a professional comedian and Peppercom’s Chief Comedy Officer. He tweets at @claytoncomic.

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

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

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

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

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

PR pro Starr Million Baker

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

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

Frankly, he sucked when he wasn’t prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Public Speaking: Five Great Ways To End A Speech

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 19, 2011 – 6:12 am

This is a guest post by Matt Eventoff of Princeton Public Speaking, who graciously allowed me to reprint a version of his article about closing a speech. An earlier version appeared on his blog.

The moment of truth has arrived.

You had them at the open. The audience was clearly focused, nodding as you delivered your message. Eyes locked as you wove through a carefully crafted medley of stories, anecdotes and analogies, all supporting your message. The majority of your audience agrees with what you are saying.

The time has come to conclude, at which point you exclaim: “In conclusion, I appreciate your time. Thank you!”

…and then nothing happens. Everyone quietly claps, or just nods, and leaves the auditorium or conference room.

What can you do to prevent this from occurring? Here are five effective techniques for closing a speech or presentation:

1. Direct Call to Action: A speech or presentation without a clear call to action is a speech or presentation that probably is not worth giving. While not appropriate for every address, there is no clearer call to action than a direct call to action, such as:

”In order to guarantee that we save ______ tomorrow, we need to _____ today. If every person in this room leaves and immediately _____, I can guarantee that will result in ______ next year!”


2. (Very) Short Story/Anecdote: Show, don’t tell. Use a brief story or anecdote to drive a message. I once had a Major League Baseball player as a client, and he very effectively told the following (abridged) story to end a presentation about teamwork:

So Coach entered the locker room after a pretty tough game in which a number of us had standout performances, and the result was….a big loss. One of our players went four for four. Coach called him by his last name, Smith, asked him to come up front, and then asked him to stand with the back of his uniform facing the rest of the players. Then he asked a kid who had just been called up from the minors, Jones, to do the same thing. He then said “Smith, Jones I want you to turn around.” When they did, he pointed to the front of the uniform and reminded us all – “You play for the name on the front of the jersey (the team) not the name on the back (your own).”

3. Call-to-Question: It is often very effective to end with a rhetorical question that captures the message and leaves the audience thinking – especially one that directly ties in a call to action: 

“What choice will you make when you leave here today? Will you ____, or will you go about your normal routine?”


4. Contrast: One of my favorites; this one is even more effective when tied directly to the closing call to action:

“We can have____, or we can have ______. The choice is ours, and is based entirely on the decision we each individually make today. _____ or _____. ( I know I’m choosing _____.)”

5. Quote: Short, appropriate, powerful quotes are effective as openers, and short, appropriate, powerful quotes are effective for closing. With a plethora of resources available to get quotes in an instant, it is now possible to come up with a quality opening, or ending anywhere.

Matt Eventoff of Princeton Public Speaking tweets at @Matt_Eventoff.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

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

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

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    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.

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    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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