Five Ways To Respond To Bad Press Before The Story Runs

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 1, 2014 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. 

Although this section has dealt exclusively with crisis communications, it’s important to note that not all bad press results from a crisis. Sometimes, a reporter gets a key fact wrong, a columnist takes an unfavorable view of your political stance, or an arts critic disapproves of your museum’s new exhibit.

Lessons 91 and 92 will help you respond to negative media coverage that doesn’t result from a full-fledged crisis but that has the potential to negatively affect your brand. This lesson focuses on how to respond to bad press before the story runs.

You can’t always respond to stories before publication, since some run without reporters contacting you in advance. But reporters will often ask for your perspective before the story runs, and their questions may make it clear to you that they’ve drawn incorrect impressions. If you think you’re about to be the recipient of bad press, consider these five actions.

1. Detail the errors

Make a list of the reporter’s errors and explain why the story is wrong. Provide the reporter with the accurate information and cite your sources.

2. Ask to meet with the reporter

Little is more disarming than a spokesperson who asks to meet in person. It sends a message that you have nothing to hide and may make reporters reconsider their perspectives.

3. Take it up a notch

If you’re getting nowhere with the reporter, speak with his or her boss. That person bears greater responsibility for running accurate stories.

4. Get your lawyers involved

You may be able to get a story delayed, revised, or killed if you can demonstrate to the news organization that it is factually incorrect and could lead to a costly lawsuit.

5. Beat the press

In extreme cases, you might consider releasing your story before the reporter can. That may mean offering the story to a competing (and fairer) journalist or releasing it through your own social media channels. By beating the journalist to the story, you’ll be able to get your version of events out first and help control the narrative. But beware: If you pursue this strategy, the reporter may punish you in future coverage.

Tread carefully when considering lawsuits against news organizations, since legal cases often attract more headlines and keep damaging information in the headlines that much longer.

Gavel

Can You Sue a News Organization for an Incorrect Story?

If you’re the target of an inaccurate news story, you may be able to sue the offending news organization. The information below comes from Erik M. Pelton & Associates, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and social media issues.

Libel and slander are legal terms for injuring another party by making harmful misstatements. Libel relates to statements made in print or online; slander applies to oral statements. Both are difficult to establish in the U.S., where the person suing has the burden of proof. Claims are easier to prove in many other countries, since the person accused of libel or slander has to prove that the disputed statement is true.

In order win a lawsuit in the U.S., the statement must have been negligently made and resulted in harm to the person defamed. Public figures have an even higher threshold to meet, and must show the person making the statement knew it to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth.

To avoid being sued yourself, be sure that any negative statements you make about a specific individual or business are accurate—or are clearly identified as your opinion.

Click here for more information about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.


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How To Be Kind To Yourself When Reviewing Your Tapes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 19, 2014 – 6:02 am

Little relaxes me more than cooking (usually on the weekends). I’m an enthusiastic cook, and I’ve become pretty decent over the past few years.

Sometimes after making dinner for me and my wife, I critique my own cooking. “It needed more acid, perhaps a touch of lemon,” I might say, or “I should have boiled the potatoes a bit longer before pan frying them,” or “It wasn’t flavorful enough. I wish I had added more curry.”

My wife always responded to my self-critiques by telling me how great the dinner was. In her typically kind way, she didn’t want me to feel badly about a meal that was generally good.

It took her a long time—several years—to realize that I wasn’t being hard on myself. I knew the food I had served was good. I wasn’t beating myself up. I was just commenting analytically, without any self-judgment, about something I knew I could do better.

Man Cooking Cheg

My hope is that you’ll approach your self-evaluations of your performances during media interviews and speeches in the same manner.

Now, I know: If you’re like many of our clients, you may find it far too painful to ever listen to your radio interviews or watch tapes of your speeches or television interviews. I get it. But that’s a mistake. As uncomfortable as the experience may be, do it anyway.

Analyze what worked and what didn’t. Be completely honest with yourself, but try to prevent yourself from making sharply critical observations about your very being.

I looked so stupid there!” should become “I need to work on my transitions from unexpected questions.”

“I sounded so boring!” should become “I’m going to do some vocal exercises to learn how to expand my range.”

“I have a double chin!” should become “I should read some blog posts about how to dress in a more flattering manner for my body shape.”

It took me a long time to listen to and watch my own performances without cringing. But I’m glad I forced myself to do so, as I’ve learned a lot from my imperfections along the way.

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Is This Man’s Tie An Unnecessary Distraction?

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on March 14, 2014 – 11:40 pm

Editor’s Note: This post, related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, is meant only to address what we can learn from one of the commentators involved in the coverage. For more about the crisis management aspect of this story, this article and this article are good places to start.

I’m hardly a fashionista. In fact, with a 16-month-old daughter and a second child on the way, I consider a non-work day in which I manage to wear clean jeans a victory.

That said, I am a media trainer, and part of teaching people about presenting themselves in interviews, panel discussions, and speeches is how to, well, present themselves.

In general, when trainees ask me what they should wear to an interview, I tell them they should always look clean-cut, of course, but to also think about the person they’re trying to reach and the situation. For example, it can be off-putting and out-of-touch to see an emergency official at a disaster scene in a suit and tie. Conversely, it would be strange to see a Wall Street executive appear on TV in a wrinkled t-shirt.

Take Greg Feith, for example, the former NTSB investigator who has been the go-to guest for NBC and MSNBC’s coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Greg Feith Tie

His insight into this tragic and disturbing story is incredibly valuable. His experience is relevant, and I’ve found what he’s been saying to be well thought-out and responsible given the all the unanswered questions in this story.

The problem is, I have to close my eyes when he speaks to hear a word he’s saying.

He wears a suit on-air, but his loud, outdated, and busily-patterned ties are a huge distraction from the important information he’s trying to communicate.

Greg Feith Tie 2

This isn’t to say you have to wear brand-new, high-fashion clothes for your television interviews. In fact, for some, a funky tie or a signature piece of jewelry is part of their charm. I once interviewed a gentleman who ran the school bus service in a California town. His tie had – you guessed it – a school bus print on it. That tie reflected his character and was appropriate for the story.

However, in this situation, with 239 passengers and crew members likely dead, muted garb is the rule. His bright tie doesn’t reflect the gravity of this story and introduces an unnecessary distraction to his otherwise solid appearances.

What do you think? Do Mr. Feith’s colorful ties distract from his content? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Christina Mozaffari tweets at @PMRChristina.

 


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How Long Should Your Media Answers Be?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 25, 2014 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. 

If you’ve ever been deposed in a legal case, your attorney probably instructed you to answer questions using the fewest number of words possible. In a legal setting, saying too much can come back to haunt you. So when you’re asked if you know what time it is during a deposition, the correct answer isn’t “half past one,” but “yes.”

No wonder attorneys often make the worst media guests. They end their answers abruptly, leaving the audience to wonder why their answers sound so artificially clipped and carefully parsed.

The attorneys who bring their best legal advice to media interviews—“Say only what you have to say, then stop”—are missing one critical ingredient. Unlike legal depositions, media interviews represent an opportunity to advocate more fully for your product or idea.

The proper advice is this: “Say what you have to say, briefly advocate for your product or idea, and then stop.” You can advocate using a combination of your messages, message supports, and/or a call to action.

As you read earlier, the average quote from media spokespersons on evening newscasts is just 7.3 seconds, an average of 18 words. But that doesn’t mean you need to answer every question in 7.3 seconds. Sure, it’s helpful if your answers are short and tight. But it’s even more important to ensure that each of your sentences expresses a complete thought and can stand on its own. That way, it doesn’t matter which sentence a reporter chooses—if everything you say reflects one of your main messages, a message support, or a call to action, then anything the reporter prints will be “on message.”

For example, you may remember this answer from a few lessons ago:

I would remind people that more than 18,000 women of childbearing age in Pennsylvania live at least 100 miles from the closest obstetrician, which places them at great risk. Having your doctor an hour away is like keeping your Band- Aids at a friend’s house—they’re useless when you need them most. It’s a life-threatening situation, and something has to change.”

That answer contains three sentences, but it doesn’t matter which of them the reporter chooses to quote. Any of the three would serve as an on-message response.

That doesn’t mean you have license to drone on. Aim to keep your answers to no more than about 30 seconds in length. But you’re allowed to give a more complete answer than you would be advised to deliver at trial.

Case Study: Bill Clinton Goes on Johnny Carson

Before he ran for president in 1992, Bill Clinton was best known for his 1988 nominating speech at the Democratic National Convention, which droned on for an hour.

Viewers who saw the speech all those years ago probably don’t remember a word he said, but they likely remember the television cutaways showing delegates of his own party nodding off. And they probably remember the restless crowd cheering when he finally uttered the words, “And in conclusion.”

A few nights later, Mr. Clinton appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Carson’s first question? “So, Governor, how are you?” Without pausing, Carson reached under his desk, pulled out an hourglass, and turned it upside down.

The audience roared.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, please check out my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

 


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Why You Need A Media Message (Video)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 11, 2014 – 6:02 am

Jibberwocky. Molaquin. Pretirific.

Those are made-up words. And believe it or not, nonsense words have something to do with the need to create media messages. I’ll explain how in the video below.

In this video media training tip, you’ll not only learn why you should have a message—but how to deliver an entire “on message” interview without ever repeating the same sentence twice.

Come join us for one of fun, fast-moving, and content-rich media and presentation training workshops! Click here to see our upcoming sessions.


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Interviews Aren’t A Dance: Don’t Let The Reporter Lead

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 9, 2014 – 6:02 am

Wikipedia tells us that “in partner dancing, the two dancers are sometimes not equal. One takes the Lead and the other is the Follow.” As you might have expected, gender often plays a role:

“The Lead (conventionally the male in a mixed-sex couple) is responsible for choosing appropriate steps to suit the music (if it is an improvised dance), and leading the Follow by using subtle signals to complete the chosen steps smoothly and safely.”

The majority of interview subjects approach media interviews as a dance. In their view—conscious or not—the reporter leads the dance through his or her questioning while the interviewee gamely goes in whichever conversational direction the journalist decides.

But good media interviews are not a dance. You are equal to reporters—not a companion who follows their lead.

dance

We see this dynamic in our training sessions often. We might begin with a short lecture about the importance of remaining on message—and for the first few practice interview questions we ask the trainees, they remember to transition back to their main points.

But within a few questions, they forget about their messages entirely and just start answering our questions. We, the reporters, are leading the dance again, and the trainee has abandoned their interview strategy entirely.

It’s easy to understand why that happens. In everyday conversation, we have a more natural give and take, with each party switching turns taking the lead and follow roles. If someone asks us a question, we answer the question.

But media interviews aren’t conversations. They are strategic forms of communication intended to reach and appeal to a specific target audience. Spokespersons who forget that—and who lapse back into conversation mode—are turning the lead role back over to the reporter, voluntarily surrendering their right to be an equal.

Come join us for one of our fast-moving and content-rich media and presentation training workshops! Click here to see our upcoming sessions.


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How To Avoid Being Misquoted By The Media

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 5, 2014 – 12:07 am

In this video media training tip, I’ll offer a very simple technique to help you avoid being the victim of a media misquote.

Remember these three words: Click, clack, repeat.

You can see some of our other video media training tips here.

 


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Do A Few “Ummms” Actually Make You More Memorable?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 29, 2014 – 5:27 am

The conventional wisdom among media and presentation trainers is that saying “uh” or “um” during an interview or speech can prevent an audience from hearing your point.

In a recent post, I challenged that notion. I argued that verbal filler is a natural part of ordinary spoken communication. Michael Erard, the author of Um…:Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, estimates that about 5 to 8 percent of the words that normal speakers say every day involve an “uh,” “um,” or some other speech imperfection.

In excess, those verbal imperfections can interfere with effective communication. But an occasional “uh” or “um” is unlikely to distract an audience.  

In fact, some fascinating research suggests that audiences actually remember more from speakers who do utter an occasional “uh” or “um.”

 

uh oh sign

Here’s a summary of the study from The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois:

Could generations of speech coaches been wrong all these years? New research is showing that speakers shouldn’t discard those “ums” and “ahs” and other speech fillers if they want to be understood by listeners.

Duane Watson of the Cognitive Science group and Scott Fraundorf from his laboratory used a story recall task as part of an experiment that tested the mechanisms by which speech fillers affected memory for discourse. They used natural speech instead of “laboratory speech” and controlled for the extra processing time that fillers provide listeners. They discovered that the fillers actually facilitated recall for listeners.

“One finding that we had is that if you’re listening to a story or a speech, people remember the content better if the person says ‘uh’ and ‘um’ in it than if the story is completely fluent,” Watson said. “This is counter-intuitive, because if you go to a speech coach, they say don’t say uh and um.”

Woman gesturing with her hand while a business team is watching her

Why Does “Uh” and “Um” Improve Listener Recall?

“The task was for them to listen to it and then tell the story back,” Watson said. “We found that they’re better at it if uh and um is actually there. So we think that maybe those disfluencies are increasing the person’s attention.

“This is speculation, but if the speaker doesn’t know what they’re saying very well, you pay attention more because you think you need to work harder to get it.”

My Advice

Watson’s last line, about the speaker not knowing what they’re saying very well, concerns me. No speaker should ever be in that position. But as he says, that’s speculation, and we can still take a larger point away from his study without getting distracted by his final point.  

Here’s my advice: Don’t over-focus on a few uhs and ums along the way. If you do, you’ll probably under-focus on the flaws in your delivery that have an even greater impact on how the audience perceives you. 

Of course, there are times that speakers use too many verbal fillers and distract their audiences from hearing their most important messages. If you think that might be happening to you, here’s an exercise that will help.

Thank you to reader Art Aiello, who pointed this story out to me.

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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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