Posts Tagged ‘press conference’
Last week, an audio technician for the television program Cops was killed by friendly fire while filming a robbery at a Wendy’s in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Omaha police chief, Todd Schmaderer, delivered an almost perfect press conference—one that stands in marked contrast to the shameful media interactions in Ferguson, Missouri—that should be studied by PR professionals as a terrific example of how to communicate in crisis.
PR pro Dave Statter, who writes the excellent STATter911 blog (and wrote about this story first), called this “one of the most effective and timely presentations following a police involved shooting I’ve witnessed.” He’s right.
Chief Schmaderer did many things right in this press conference. Below, you’ll find the five things that stood out to me most.
1. He Struck The Perfect Emotional Tone
Chief Schmaderer spoke in human terms throughout the press conference, saying, “It’s as if we lost one of our own…the tears and the hugs that I got when I got to the hospital, I could feel the pain of the officers.”
When asked whether he regretted his decision to allow Cops to film in Omaha, he gave a genuinely reflective answer, one that indicated that he had spent some time agonizing about that question: “Personally, I’ll have to live with this forever.”
In a particularly classy move, he expressed condolences not only to the Cops production member who was killed, but to the family of the suspect, who was also killed during this incident.
2. He Treated The Media As An Ally
Chief Schmaderer treated the media with complete respect—and in return, the press treated him with complete respect. He also set the rules up front, asking reporters to identify themselves, instructing them to speak loudly enough for the microphones to pick up their questions, and letting them know he intended to begin with local reporters.
When he inadvertently skipped a reporter, he expressed remorse: “I want to make sure the Omaha World-Herald gets a question, I can’t believe I forgot you Maggie, I’m so sorry.”
3. He Was Completely Open
Early in the press conference, the Chief said that, “We are striving for unprecedented transparency in this incident.” He lived up that pledge, giving an extended opening statement filled with specific detail and answering every question directly.
When he was unable to answer a question due to the legal process, he used a technique I call commenting without commenting: “While I can’t show the video—it’s evidence and it’s needed for the Grand Jury—we did provide still photos to show what the officers had encountered to the best of our ability.”
4. He Got In Front Of a Potential Controversy
The suspect who was killed by the officer’s bullet(s) was carrying an Airsoft Gun which, according to Wikipedia, is a replica “designed to be non-lethal.” Chief Schmaderer appeared to be aware that headlines could read something like, “Suspect With Fake Gun Killed By Police,” so he showed photos of that replica gun to make clear that responding officers had no way of knowing whether or not it was real.
5. He Conveyed a Sense of Complete Competence
Chief Schmaderer’s tone-perfect performance gave me—and likely many other people—confidence that he’s the right person to lead this investigation professionally.
That leads to an important point about crisis press conferences: Press conferences often serve as a proxy for how competent a spokesperson is not only as a communicator, but behind the scenes as a leader. Leaders who are great at the behind the scenes portion of their jobs—but who are not great public communicators—may be perceived as lousy leaders. Chief Schmaderer, on the other hand, earned the benefit of the doubt and, as Dave Statter wrote, will “ultimately have a positive impact on the reputation of the Omaha Police Department.”
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Tags: crisis communications, dave statter, good crisis communications, Omaha, press conference, STATter911, Todd Schmaderer
Posted in Crisis Communications | Please Comment »
I recently received this email from the communications director for a major league sports team:
“What is your opinion on a speaker (in our case it’s usually the head coach after games) addressing questions by naming each reporter before the answer or finding a spot within the answer to name the questioner? I hear writers talk about it, how it shows the speaker cares about the media or is making an effort to connect with them more than just spewing a quick answer. Do you think a speaker receives better coverage when naming the reporter in his answer than just to answer the question? I’m torn on it because:
1. My head coach will have to learn each reporter’s name (meaning the non-beat writers), and the reporters who cover us change quite often.
2. It distracts from the answer sometimes. Fans might think, “As a viewer, do I really care that Joe from the local newspaper asked the question? I’m a fan of the team, he should address me too.”
I’ve always been conflicted about this topic for the reasons the emailer stated. In The Media Training Bible, I wrote that:
“Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.”
Although I believe that advice is generally sound, does it always apply?
It definitely applies to taped sound bite interviews, in which the person conducting the interview may be a behind-the-scenes producer. If you say that person’s name during the interview, the news station will probably be forced to edit it out—or drop that quote altogether.
But does it apply to a live press conference?
On one hand, naming reporters might help make the reporter feel valued. Reporters may even want to edit their name into the piece to show that they’re the one who asked the question (and let’s face it—hearing their name may also satisfy their ego).
But on the other hand, if the head coach doesn’t know a few people, it will become abundantly clear to everyone watching that they don’t know the reporter. In addition, reporters from competitive outlets may not want to use otherwise great quotes that name their competitors. Plus, as the emailer suggested, it may interfere with the connection the coach should be making with the viewers and fans outside of the room.
The emailer and I would both like to learn from you on this one. Please select an option from the poll above—and leave your more complete thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, press conference, working with reporters
Posted in Media Relations | 7 Comments »
A crisis strikes your company. News helicopters are flying overhead, reporters with camera crews are showing up at your headquarters, and journalists from all over the world begin calling your communications department.
That scenario might seem dramatic—and admittedly, most corporate crises aren’t quite that sensational—but it happens. When a plane crashes, a factory has a major explosion, or a university has a school shooting, all of those things happen, and more.
It’s common for executives to deliver a press conference in those situations—and how well they come across during their early press conferences and media interviews is critical to establishing a strong public perception.
The 5C’s of crisis communications detail the five critical traits all executives and spokespersons must convey during their press conferences and interviews.
Early in a crisis—before the facts are known and when company officials are as blindsided as everyone else by the news—it’s easy for an executive to appear flustered, unsure, and tentative. As an example, watch this example of the flustered chairman of a rail company responding to a derailment that killed more than 40 people in Quebec.
The public can’t see how well you perform handling the details of the crisis itself. They can’t watch you delegate roles, see your private meetings, or hear your phone calls. So fairly or not, they will judge your competence based on how well you perform during your time in the media spotlight. Handle a tough press conference with dexterity? You’re deemed competent. Look uneasy before cameras? You’re not.
There’s one question that drives the public’s perception of an executive or spokesperson more than any other: “Does he or she get it?” Anything that undercuts an executive’s credibility threatens their public image for the rest of the crisis, and possibly forever. In some cases, the best way to gain credibility is to concede, rather than defend, an obvious point.
When BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward declared during the worst oil spill in U.S. history that “the amount of volume of oil…we are putting into [the Gulf of Mexico] is tiny in relation to the total water volume,” the public concluded that he didn’t get it. He should have conceded that it was an environmental disaster and stopped there.
To set the right tone, executives and spokespersons generally need to express (in words or actions) a deep commitment to communicating with any affected stakeholders, the media, and the general public. Doing so ensures that reporters use you as the primary source and helps communicate your commitment to solving the problem (or at least mitigating its effects).
When Carnival Cruises had a PR challenge in February 2013 after an on board fire knocked out water and power, the company’s CEO got credit for showing up when the ship docked and going on board to apologize to passengers personally. But the company’s commitment to communicating to the passengers themselves was less effective; many complained that the crew didn’t keep them fully informed about the situation.
Little makes the public turn on an executive or public figure in crisis more than someone who’s cavalier toward any victims. As an example, when Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, he took the opportunity to “jokingly” label a former teammate’s wife—who Armstrong had falsely called a liar for years—a “crazy bitch.”
Few executives label victims that way, but they might communicate their indifference through self-focus. If an executive talks about the way he or she has suffered more than the way the actual victims suffered (see Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,”) they will be held in low regard or become outright pariahs.
Finally, the public must perceive that the executive is capable of solving the problem. BP’s Tony Hayward failed that test. So did Susan G. Komen Foundation CEO Nancy Brinker. So did Paula Deen. So did Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.
But Jet Blue’s David Neeleman got it exactly right. When Jet Blue faced a media crisis after canceling hundreds of flights and leaving passengers stuck on grounded planes without food or water for many hours in 2007, CEO David Neeleman responded by releasing a “Passenger Bill of Rights.” That Bill of Rights offered passengers increasing levels of compensation based on the length of their flight delays.
This interview from The Today Show demonstrated his competence, credibility, commitment, caring, and capability.
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Tags: Carnival Cruises, crisis communications, David Neeleman, Jet Blue, Lac-Mégantic, Lance Armstrong, Nancy Brinker, Oprah Winfrey, press conference, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Tony Hayward
Posted in Crisis Communications | Please Comment »
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faced reporters today to respond to his administration’s brewing “bridge” scandal.
His press conference was far from perfect. But it was a net positive and a critical first step toward regaining some control of this story.
By delivering a “marathon press conference”—he answered questions for close to two hours—he left an indelible impression of openness and transparency.
(Click here to catch up on the scandal, in which access to the George Washington Bridge was partially closed as political punishment.)
Based on his tone—which careened between sad, betrayed, incredulous, exasperated, and bewildered—I believe him. I suspect many others will, as well. When watching a politician respond to a crisis, viewers typically have a gut-level visceral reaction. Christie’s performance will lead to a favorable one for many.
Beyond his tone, he also took specific action, firing a top aide. Christie made clear that he knew nothing about the bridge incident and has “nothing to hide.”
Still, his press conference was far from perfect. Christie spent far too much time talking about his own grief over the situation (“I’m humiliated by this.” “I am very sad today.”) instead of focusing on the people who were affected by this incident—commuters, parents, school children, and most critically, those who couldn’t receive an emergency response in a timely manner. He spent too much time talking about his own “stages of grief,” and not enough focusing on the New Jersey residents—and others—who his administration let down.
He also used a couple of politically dumb phrases:
- Dumb quote one: “I am not a bully.” Statements of denial are a media no-no, as they instantly evoke statements like “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
- Dumb quote two: “Mistakes were made.” That passive-language gem has become a cliché for its lack of personal responsibility. In fairness, he took responsibility at several other moments.
He also stood behind a large, triple-sized lectern, putting an unnecessary and unhelpful physical barrier between himself and reporters.
The bottom line is that it’s never an enviable position for a politician to have to stand before reporters and claim that he was clueless about what his top lieutenants were doing. At best, it makes Christie look like a clueless and somewhat feckless manager.
But assuming everything he said in his press conference today was truthful, it was a critical and effective first step that may help Christie keep his 2016 presidential ambitions alive.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: chris christie, crisis communications, press conference
Posted in Crisis Communications | 2 Comments »
More than 40 people were killed earlier this month when a 73-car train filled with oil derailed in Quebec and slammed into downtown Lac-Mégantic.
The accident, Canada’s deadliest in almost 150 years, was horrific—some people sitting in a café, for example, were reportedly burned alive after fleeing, while others jumped from a building’s third floor to escape the inferno.
Edward Burkhardt, the chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways (whose train was responsible for the damage), managed to make matters worse. He waited several days before showing up and giving a press conference—and when he did, he made an even bigger mess of things.
Mr. Burkhardt comes across in this press conference with the analytical nature one might expect from someone in a more technical profession. In so doing, he demonstrates that there is a mile-wide chasm between intelligence and emotional intelligence—and while he might have a lot of the former, it’s clear that he has little of the latter.
This press conference is a good example of what not to do. It’s worth watching in its entirety.
1. It was all about him.
He began the press conference by talking about his own feelings: ”I feel absolutely awful about this. I’m devastated by what’s occurred in this community. I have never been involved in anything remotely approaching this in my whole life.”
That’s not a bad start, but he failed to follow it up with a genuine statement of concern or commitment for the victims and the community. As a result, the inescapable takeaway was that his primary concern was himself, not the victims. (That may or may not be true, but it’s what his communications style reasonably led many people to believe.) The fact that he reportedly hadn’t met with the victims’ families didn’t help.
2. He showed up too late.
At the very beginning of the press conference, he perseverated over the question of why he hadn’t shown up sooner. “Frankly, it was easier [remaining in my office] than running around here with a cell phone in my hand and trying to do it from here.”
That may be true—but he seems completely oblivious to the fact that being present and exhibiting genuine compassion for victims is a necessary component of modern day crisis communications. In fact, he shockingly told one reporter, “I’m not a communications professional. I’m a manager,” as if competent management doesn’t require competent communications. (Plus, he was the Vice President of Marketing for Chicago and North Western Transportation, where he presumably needed to know something about communications.)
3. He talked business.
Burkhardt talked about insurance. He also talked about bankruptcy, future plans for the railroad, claims, and a key customer. None of that was appropriate. His responses should have maintained a laser-like focus on the victims: “There will be a time and place to discuss the financial impact of this incident on our company. Right now, nothing is more important than putting plans in place to make sure these families and this community are taken care of.”
4. He disrespected the community.
Incredibly, Mr. Burkhardt tried to assume the “victim’s” mantle, telling reporters:
“I thought people would respond to my willingness to come there…I mean, they were screaming about how I took three days to get there…People wanted to throw stones at me. I showed up and they threw stones. But that doesn’t accomplish anything.”
Those comments lead inevitably to point number five…
5. He looked like a jerk.
Mr. Burkhardt was condescending toward the press, even turning sarcastic when he asked one reporter, “Were you here a few minutes ago when I answered that?”
Given his demeanor, I question his decision to give a full press conference. He might have done better in a one-on-one format (particularly with print reporters who wouldn’t have shown video of his non-empathetic tone). He needed to say something, but I wonder whether a more able communicator within his company should have done the longer press conference. That’s not preferable in a crisis of this magnitude, but in this case, it might have been a more sound decision.
The lowest point came when he engaged in a pathetic attempt at wit. When one reporter asked, “How much are you worth?” Burkhardt responded, “A whole lot less than I was on Saturday.” In terms of summing up his self-focused tone, that quip was perhaps his most telling remark of all.
Photo Credit: Ottawa Citizen
Avoid committing your own media disaster! Read The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.
Tags: crisis communications, Edward Burkhardt, Lac-Mégantic, Maine & Atlantic Railways, media training disasters, Montreal, press conference
Posted in Media Training Disasters | 3 Comments »
It’s easy to find an example of a spokesperson getting a press conference all wrong. It’s less common—and worth noting—when someone gets it exactly right. One such example occurred after Saturday’s plane crash in San Francisco.
Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), faced cameras shortly after the accident to discuss how her agency would handle its investigation. During the first half of her short briefing, Ms. Hersman delivered the information reporters needed to file their stories; during the second half, she took three questions.
Watch this video. It offers spokespersons everywhere a wonderful example of the right way to run a press conference during a crisis.
I was struck by how slowly and deliberately Ms. Hersman spoke. Her controlled pace not only gave reporters sufficient time to jot down notes, but conveyed a strong impression of a person who possessed the confidence and competence to manage the situation.
Ms. Hersman packed a lot of critical information into just two minutes. Her efficiency as a spokesperson leads me to believe that she’d be equally as efficient when leading an investigation.
One small detail: She should tie her hair back better before future outdoor press conferences. I know that’s superficial, but it was impossible not to notice her wrestling with her hair on the windy day. Many commenters in YouTube’s comments section—rarely a beacon of civil conversation—also noted the distraction.
Ms. Hersman took three questions. For each, she repeated the question back, which ensured that every microphone picked it up. She kept her answers short, which limited the number of quotes reporters could run.
Typically, I recommend that spokespersons announce in advance the number of questions they plan to take or the number of minutes available for the question period. Doing so prevents spokespersons from looking like they’re running away when the questions get tough (since they’ve announced their intention to take a specific number of questions in advance, they’re just following through on what they said they’d do).
Ms. Hersman didn’t do that. But it didn’t matter. After taking two questions, she confidently said, “One more question.” How did she make it work when so many others don’t? Because her tone was one of utter confidence throughout the entire briefing, and no one watching the video could reasonably conclude that she was running away from tough questioning. Even the manner in which she walked away showed a woman in complete control.
That’s really the key word with this entire press conference: control. She controlled her own tone, controlled her message, and yes, even controlled the assembled press corps.
A grateful tip o’ the hat to Dave Statter of the fabulous Statter911 blog.
You’ll find more tips about the best way to manage a press conference in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: Deborah Hersman, media training tips, NTSB, press conference
Posted in Crisis Communications | 4 Comments »
This excellent post was written by Warren Weeks, the principal of Toronto-based Eleven PR.
When it comes to media scrums, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that the vast majority of people will make it through their entire careers without finding themselves at the center of one of these stressful, impromptu press conferences.
The bad news is that if you do find yourself suddenly surrounded by a circle of clamoring reporters during a crisis, you will have likely had very little time to prepare.
Handling a scrum definitely falls under the category of advanced media relations. The person tapped to address the media in this situation should have plenty of media training under their belt, as well as a lot of real-world media relations experience. A scrum isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you find yourself in a situation in which the media is descending upon your location and you’re going to need to face them, here are a few tips to help you get through it.
1. Being there is half the battle
Depending on the level of confidence you’re able to convey, just being on the scene of the crisis to address the media can score you some important points. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March of 1989, the company’s chairman, Lawrence G. Rawl, sent a series of lower-ranking executives to Alaska to deal with the situation instead of going there himself and taking the lead on the crisis management front. His was a key absence during a notorious disaster that was the result of human error.
During the Stanley Cup riot in 2011, on the other hand, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson faced the media on-site while the riot was still unfolding. Actions can speak louder than words in some instances. And when the chips are down, the presence of a confident leader can be a key ingredient.
2. Confidence is key
While being there can be half the battle, showing up sans confidence is a recipe for disaster. Letting the media run the show, being visibly nervous, sweating, stammering, etc. are all signs that the situation may be slipping out of the company’s control. When you’re engaging with the circle of reporters, you’ll want to convey confidence, decisiveness and leadership. This is where all that media training and advance preparation come in handy.
3. Frame your story in advance
Even if you only have a few minutes to prepare, jot down the three to five key points you want to convey. Be sure to address the big questions people will want answers to. Were there deaths? Injuries? Is the situation under control? What’s the plan for remediation? Have authorities secured the location? And just as importantly, decide which areas/topics you won’t entertain during the scrum interview and have the appropriate bridging phrases at the ready.
4. Provide an update
The first question will usually be general in nature (e.g. “Can you give us an update on the situation?”) This is often a good opportunity to provide a quick overview of what you know. For example, “At 4:16 pm, one of our employees smelled smoke in the main building. They called 911 and the emergency services personnel arrived four minutes later. The firefighters are in the process of getting the situation under control. We’re pleased to inform you that all company personnel are safe and accounted for. We continue to cooperate fully with officials and will provide further updates as information becomes available.”
This is vital information that the media will want to know about and this ‘mini statement’ can help you build your confidence at the outset of the interview.
5. Answer the question behind the question
Be careful about answering the reporters’ questions in a literal manner. This isn’t about being evasive. It’s about realizing there’s often a more important question behind their question that needs to be addressed. For example, if you’re asked how many firefighters are on the scene, will providing a specific number actually be useful to anyone? Are there five? 23? 119?
The literal question is about how many personnel are on the scene. The question behind the question is, “Are the right people on the scene and is the situation under control?” Imagine you’re watching the spokesperson on TV and they get asked about the number of firefighters on the scene. Which is the better answer when it comes to putting the response in context and setting minds at ease?
“Um, fourteen.” or…”We have a full public safety complement of more than a dozen professionals on hand, who are actively working to get the fire under control. And we have the capacity to call upon more emergency services personnel in the unlikely event they are needed.”
6. Use it as a public service announcement
If it makes sense and if the situation can benefit from enlisting the help of the public, use the scrum as a public service announcement. In his scrum during the Stanley Cup riot, Mayor Robertson asked hockey fans and other members of the public to save any photos they had on their smartphones and to send them to the police. Many of them did just that and hundreds of charges have been laid as a result.
7. Create your exit
This isn’t a five-year-old’s birthday party and you’re not a piñata. Once you’ve delivered the information that you have and you’ve given the reporters a chance to ask questions, let them know you have time for one or two more questions. Or let them know specifically when they can expect another update. You may need to state, “This is all the information we have at this point in time. We will have another update for you at 10:00 pm”. Then wind up the interview.
No two scrums will be exactly alike. But as with any other media interaction, preparation and practice are key. The following is an excerpt of the scrum interview that Vancouver’s Mayor Robertson did during the Stanley Cup riot. In this clip, which is just about two minutes in length, you can see him using a number of the techniques described in this post.
Tags: advanced media training technique, crisis communications, Eleven PR, Gregor Robertson, Lawrence Rawl, media training tips, press conference, Warren Weeks
Posted in Crisis Communications | 4 Comments »
This is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.
Press conferences aren’t as common as they used to be. Technology has allowed companies to disseminate information to reporters (and the public) without gathering the press in a single place—and that’s a good thing, since reporters have less time than ever to leave their desks to attend a press conference (and many won’t).
Still, press conferences can play an essential role in media communications, particularly for major news announcements, in political campaigns, and during crises.
Press conferences can be tricky, since reporters from competitive news organizations often play a game of one-upmanship to see who can ask the most difficult question. For that reason, press conferences—especially those about controversial or challenging topics—require a deft spokesperson. Ask yourself whether a press conference is truly the best way to release information before scheduling one.
If you decide to proceed with a press conference, here are four rules to remember:
1. Test the logistics: I’ve attended dozens of press conferences in which the spokesperson walks to the lectern, shuffles his papers, pats his finger on the microphone to test the volume, and looks around for a place to rest his water. When I see a press conference begin that way, it’s a sure sign I’m in for a snoozer.
You’d be surprised how many people fail to check the logistics before reporters arrive. Get there early, position the microphone to a comfortable height and test the volume, check the PowerPoint and its remote control, position your papers, and place a glass of room-temperature water within reach.
2. State your name: Begin the press conference by stating (and spelling) your name and giving reporters your preferred title. Identifying yourself at the beginning helps ensure that broadcast journalists get your on-screen ID (known as a chyron) right.
3. Coordinate with your co-presenters: Little is more awkward than watching co-presenters fumble while transitioning to one another. Good co-presenters are like teammates in a relay race; one hands the baton off to the other seamlessly.
Upon finishing the first portion of the press conference, a presenter should conclude with a line that wraps up the section and introduces the next speaker’s part, such as, “Now that you have a better understanding of how our company intends to roll out this product, Joanne Myers, our lead researcher, is going to explain some of the science behind it.”
For the question-and-answer period, coordinate with your co-presenters in advance to determine which types of questions each of you will answer. While you might handle the business questions, for example, Joanne will take the lead on answering the scientific ones.
4. Maintain eye contact: If multiple cameras are present, keep eye contact with the questioner while answering the question. That way, every camera—regardless of its position—will show you delivering your answer with steady eye contact in one direction rather than darting purposelessly from one person to another.
Tags: media training tips, press conference
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »