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.

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The New York Yankees’ Major League Media Training

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 17, 2012 – 6:10 am

The New York Yankees have won more World Series championships than any other baseball franchise in history.

But that’s no guarantee of media success, especially because the “Bronx Bombers” play in arguably the world’s most challenging media market. Anyone who’s glanced at the front cover of the New York Post or New York Daily News knows just how cruel the New York press corps can be.

It turns out that the Yankees have reacted to intensity of the media spotlight in exactly the right way. According to Paul White of USA Today, the Yankees might just have the best media training program in baseball.

“No team in baseball gets more attention and scrutiny. And no team goes to greater lengths to make sure its players are prepared to deal with the media and avoid the trouble that can accompany their positions with one of the most-followed sports franchises in the world.

‘We want to be the guardrail at the top of the cliff,’ says general manager Brian Cashman of his team’s media training program. ‘Rather than the ambulance at the bottom.’

He mandates the first act of spring training every year for Yankees players is watching a 25-minute video as part of their media training. They also receive a four-page handout, which includes advice from journalists and former Yankees, plenty of examples of how not to deal with the media and photos of all the journalists who regularly cover the team.”


Mr. White’s terrific article included (at least) four additional points worthy of mention:

1. Stay In Your Lane: In the handout, pitcher Andy Pettitte offers players this advice: “To save yourself a little grief and a headache, stick to baseball.” That squares with advice I’ve often given on this blog for spokespersons to “stay in their lanes.” If you speak about controversial issues, you’re going to create a distraction similar to the one Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas sparked earlier this year, or that Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen recently caused when he spoke about his affection for Fidel Castro. 

Yankee Nick Swisher offers wise advice about Twitter

2. Twitter Doesn’t Kill People, Tweeters Do: Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher says in the Yankees training video that: “Twitter is like having a gun. If you take care of it, you’re OK. But you can shoot yourself.” That’s good advice, as everyone from Anthony Weiner and Gilbert Gottfried to Chris Brown and Roland Martin have learned the hard way.

3. Remember Your Audience: Former pitcher Mike Mussina says in the handout that he “didn’t adjust very well at the beginning. It doesn’t say in your contract that you have to be hospitable to the media, but they’re the ones that communicate with the millions of fans on a daily basis.” Mussina eventually learned how to interact well with the press, even becoming a media favorite. He learned something I discuss on this blog a lot: that reporters aren’t the audience – the audience is the audience.

4. Don’t Leave Loose Ends: Finally, the handout dispensed one final phrase of wisdom that represents a perfect ending to this post: “That which is not resolved today will find you tomorrow.”

A grateful h/t to Dave Statter. Nick Swisher photo credit: Keith Allison.

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    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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