Bad Tweet Gets This Man Fired—But Look How He Handled It

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 1, 2015 – 4:02 am

Chad Shanks, the man tasked with running digital communications for the Houston Rockets, was fired on Wednesday after sending the following tweet just before his team defeated the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night:

Chad Shanks Houston Rockets Tweet

As you can see from the number of times his message was retweeted, his tweet quickly became the source of Twitter conversation. Some people were outraged by the violence-based emoji; others thought the trash talking was funny. Personally, I find it a bit crass and unsportsmanlike.

The Rockets fired Shanks the next day.

We’ve all seen this narrative repeatedly: Someone tweets something questionable, Internet seeks justice, perpetrator loses his or her job. But this story is different, because Mr. Shanks proceeded to offer a master class in how to respond to such a situation with grace.

First, he tweeted the following messages:

Chad Shanks Apology Tweets

He also offered a longer statement to the Houston Chronicle:

“I never meant to offend anybody,” Shanks said. “I attempted an admittedly edgy jab at the Mavericks’ expense and it did not go over well with everyone. The organization supported my efforts to make the account one of the best in the NBA by pushing the envelope, but they deemed this too far.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I got from the Rockets and know they acted in what they thought was their best interest (to) avoid any more controversy. I didn’t mean to advocate violence toward animals; just let my emotions get the best of me in a jab at the Mavs that was not very well thought out. I’m proud of my four seasons of award winning work with the Rockets and will always be a fan. I wish there would’ve been another method of punishment, but I have no ill feelings toward them. I loved my job.”

His self-awareness, honest reflection, and class toward his former employer leaves me with the inescapable conclusion that the Rockets reacted too quickly and doled out unnecessarily harsh justice. I understand why the Rockets were upset—such tweets are certainly antithetical to their brand—but Mr. Shanks comes across as the type of person who understands his infraction and would have taken steps not to repeat them.

That’s the kind of guy I’d want on my team.

As unjust as his firing might be, his handling of it will almost surely raise his value in the marketplace. Another team would be smart to grab him before someone else does.

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The Dark Side Of Social Media: An Inevitable New Service

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on April 2, 2015 – 6:02 am

This post is by Christina Mozaffari, vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

Social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there’s an expectation that we maximize the amazing tools available to us to interact personally with customers and people we want to influence. However, these personal interactions also create plenty of room to get into trouble, and your tweets, posts, and comments never disappear.

Now, there’s even more reason to be cautious of what you say online. Last week, Politico Playbook mentioned a new opposition research firm called Shield Political Research. Its selling point? They analyze political staffers’ online media presence. From the company’s website:

“Many of the men and women who will staff and lead campaigns this cycle are from a generation in which virtually their entire adult lives —for better or worse —are reflected on social media accounts.

Shield will examine these social media accounts—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, among other sites—and flag any potential sources of trouble, including questionable photos, comments, tweets, ‘likes’ or followed feeds.

Our methods go beyond simple searching, using triangulation, archived pages and social-web analysis to guarantee we capture a full picture of the staffer’s social media footprint.”

Jon Favreau Hillary Clinton Facebook

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for somebody to advertise the service specifically for political staffs, because staffers’ social media accounts have caused trouble in the past for countless politicians.

Take, for example, when a Facebook photo was discovered of then President-elect Barack Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, partying with and groping a cardboard cutout of the woman who would be the administration’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. While Favreau wasn’t fired, the photo certainly provided an unwanted distraction for the new administration and gave the impression the soon-to-be president’s inner circle might not be ready for primetime.

Politicians aren’t the only ones bitten by the offensive social media bug. Last month, a part-time Yankees ticket salesman was fired for tweeting vulgar comments about Curt Schilling’s daughter, and earlier this year, a Texas teen was fired before she even started her job for cursing and complaining about the work on Twitter.

Dislike concept with hand on blue background

What can you learn from this?

1. Your organization needs a social media policy.

If you don’t have one, create one, sooner rather than later. Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, urges companies to be thorough and detailed when it comes to developing the policy. She wrote:

“Be specific about what constitutes racism, sexism or harassment so people know what could get them fired. Get your HR, legal and communications people involved in creating the policy.”

2. Make sure your employees know that nothing in their social media world is private.

That little disclaimer line, “Tweets/posts reflect my personal opinion and not that of my employer” are meaningless.

3. Know your rights as an employer.

Can you fire somebody for inappropriate tweets? The National Labor Relations Board has weighed in on the topic and the law can be tricky. According to legal information site

“Workers can vocalize, either in person or via social media, their sentiments and concerns regarding an employer without fear of losing their job… but only if they are discussing these concerns with other workers… If it is just one person vocalizing their own personal frustrations, it is not concerted, it is just complaining, and a firing is legal.”

So while being active on social media can be beneficial, Dietrich sums up what should be your guiding principle smartly, writing, “Don’t ever put something online you wouldn’t want your boss, grandma, kids or customers to see.”

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Christina Mozaffari, a former journalist with NBC News, is the vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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Is “Think Before You Post” Dangerous Advice?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 27, 2015 – 3:02 am

In my book, The Media Training Bible, I offered what I thought was an incontrovertible recommendation regarding social media: “The best advice is also the simplest: before hitting ‘send’ on any post, pause and review it one final time.”

But I recently read something that made me wonder whether that advice is sufficient.

That’s because some sites—including Facebook—reportedly have the capacity to know what you typed and deleted, even though you didn’t post your comment.

Facebook Logo

According to an article in Slate by Jennifer Golbeck, Facebook has the ability to track the comments that you started typing but then decided not to post.

“The code in your browser that powers Facebook still knows what you typed—even if you decide not to publish it. It turns out that the things you explicitly choose not to share aren’t entirely private.”

Facebook says it’s not reading the text of your abandoned messages. For one study the company authorized, researchers tracked “whether you self-censored, not what you typed.” But according to Golbeck, Facebook has the ability to do both:

“The same code Facebook uses to check for self-censorship can tell the company what you typed, so the technology exists to collect that data it wants right now.”

As Golbeck explains, abandoned posts cost Facebook money (“Facebook shows you ads based on what you post”), so they want to understand what types of posts people stop writing in order to decrease such self-censorship.

Facebook Privacy Settings

To be clear, there’s absolutely no evidence that Facebook is actually reading, monitoring, saving, or analyzing your abandoned comments. But that’s not the point of this post.

Rather, the point is this: I suspect that many of you, like me, thought the information you typed but deleted before posting was knowable only to you. Golbeck’s story suggests that may not be the case. And she writes that Facebook’s privacy policy suggests they’d have the right to access that information.

This risk is admittedly a low one, perhaps bordering on irrational paranoia. But in a world full of metadata, hackers and leakers, I’d rather play it safe.

I should point out that others have taken Golbeck to task for her article. Here’s a piece that calls Golbeck’s article “completely, categorically, profoundly, utterly wrong.” However, the author of this rebuttal piece focuses primarily on the study itself and doesn’t challenge the central premise of Golbeck’s article, that Facebook has the capacity to collect this type of data.

The advice I offered in my book—pause and review your posts before hitting ‘send’—still stands. But I’d add one important step first: Don’t type your draft posts about controversial or delicate topics directly into social media sites or web-based email (Gmail uses the same technology, as do others that use your real-time typing to generate relevant ads, for example). Type your draft offline—in a Word document, perhaps—or if you’re wary of using any electronic devices at all, think it through or scribble it on paper first.

And then destroy the paper.

A grateful tip ‘o the hat to @Marvelle, who sent me the link to this story.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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What We Owe Justine Sacco

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 14, 2015 – 1:30 pm

The most-viewed article on The New York Times website today is about Justine Sacco, the PR executive whose infamous tweet from December 2013 sent her life—and her career—into turmoil.

Justine Sacco Tweet

The article, titled “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life,” paints a sympathetic portrait of Sacco (and others) who have endured the painful wrath of online mobs.

As a reminder, the tweet above, sent to Sacco’s 170 Twitter followers prior to boarding an 11-hour flight without Wi-Fi, quickly became Twitter’s top trending topic. By the time she landed, she had become a source of outrage for some—but short-term amusement for many others.

Sacco says her tweet wasn’t meant to be taken literally: “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the third world. I was making fun of that bubble.” Regardless of her intent (she had sent other insensitive tweets the same night), the Twitter mob had selected its target. And, as The New York Times contributor Jon Ronson writes, being the target of online rage comes at a steep cost:

“For the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.”

Woman Holding Face in Shame Laptop iStockPhoto PPT


A Problem of Proportionality

The issue, it seems to me, is one of proportionality. In a bygone era, similar comments overheard in an office hallway might have prompted a friendly boss to throw an arm around her shoulder and say, “Hey, I need you to cut that out.” But those same comments made publicly today can lead to a fierce and life-altering blowback that far exceeds the original grievance.

There’s value in society enforcing publicly accepted norms by holding people who violate them to account. But social media makes it too easy to turn an act deserving of a mild rebuke into a moment that turns the offender into an unemployed moral reprobate. Perhaps it’s reasonable to ask who among us could endure such scrutiny and make it out unscathed?


Was Justine Sacco An Appropriate Target?

My preference is to analyze and critique bigger targets, people who put themselves into positions of responsibility by choice. But occasionally, the unknown PR professional, random university student, or obscure business manager comes along and says or does something stupid. And I occasionally decide to write about that person.

The question, then, becomes whether I’m simply joining the large chorus of attack or writing something intended to be at least somewhat productive. As readers of this blog know, I succeed at that only some of the time.  

Still, I aim to remain mindful of this brilliant monologue from comedian Craig Ferguson, who delivered these thoughts about choosing the “right” targets while Britney Spears was enduring her much-publicized breakdown.

To see if I met the “Craig Ferguson Test,” I went back and looked at my Twitter timeline from the period when the Justine Sacco story broke. I was relieved to see that despite sending a few snarky tweets, I lived up to my standards for myself at least some of the time.

Justine Sacco My Tweet2


What Do We Owe The Justine Sacco’s Of The World?

If the first rule of media training is this:

“Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want published on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.”

Then perhaps the first rule of blogging and interacting on social media should be this:

“Don’t write anything about another person that you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending if you went to dinner with them tonight.”

I’d maintain that it’s okay to write, tweet, and post about Justine Sacco, or any of the other formerly anonymous people who committed dumb thoughts to paper (or Twitter). It’s okay to ask that they be held to some sort of account for their actions.

But I’d argue that we have also have an obligation to talk about these people with some measure of compassion. Perhaps we should allow the person to defend themselves before assuming the worst about them. And maybe we should pause to examine whether our online bloodlust is coming from a place of genuine outrage or cheap titillation. For if we don’t, we diminish ourselves. 

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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A Tale From First Class: My Complaints And Gripes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 29, 2015 – 4:34 am

I recently flew first class from New York to London. I was immediately impressed when I boarded and saw my seat, one of those private pods that folds down into a horizontal bed. The flight attendant greeted me warmly, gave me a hot towel, and handed me a menu full of delicious-sounding food choices. This, I thought, is going to be a flight to remember. Unfortunately, a series of service glitches quickly tainted my experience.

First, for breakfast, the flight attendant brought me a croissant. It was soft and cold, not warm and flaky.

Then the attendant served me coffee a full 15 minutes before breakfast was served. By the time the meal hit my tray, the coffee was cold. Did anyone come by to refresh it or offer to warm it for me? Nope.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, I pressed my call button to attract the flight attendant’s attention. It took two minutes—two whole minutes!—for the flight attendant to respond. Why am I paying for first class if they’re not going to be efficient enough to respond to a first class passenger’s needs more efficiently?

To help distract myself from the poor service, I rented a movie. Guess what? The pilot and flight crew continually interrupted the movie with announcements. Don’t they know it’s hard to get into a movie if people keep talking over it?

First Class Airline Seat

Okay, I have a confession. With the exception of the fact that I was fortunate enough to ride first class to London (that’s really my seat above), nothing in the introduction above is true.

But I wanted to lead off this piece with that litany of complaints to ask you a few questions:

  1. 1. How did the introduction to this piece make you feel? Like I’m a whiner with a disturbing sense of entitlement?
  2. 2. Did your impression of me dim as you read it?
  3. 3. Are you ever guilty of lodging those types of complaints using social media?

Perhaps you don’t take to your social media pages to gripe that way, but I often observe people posting tweets like these:

Hey, @United, we landed 25 minutes ago and we’ve been sitting at the gate without being allowed to deplane. Guess your staff is on break? #Incompetent

Hey, @Delta, what’s up with flight 842? It’s already been delayed by 45 minutes—you can’t even keep flights on time during good weather? #morons

Blah Blah Blah2

Those tweeters should think about whether those petty complaints come at some small cost to their reputations. Whenever I see one of those tweets, I think to myself, “With all of the problems in the world, that 25-minute delay is worth an angry tweet to a network of thousands of professional contacts? It’s airline travel. Stuff goes wrong. You should know that by now. Get over it.”

I know that sounds strident, so it’s only fair to turn the pen against myself. I’ve been guilty of sending similar tweets. As an example, I sent an unnecessarily snide tweet to AT&T last year for assessing a late charge because I inadvertently shorted the payment by a few cents.

The issue with my AT&T tweet wasn’t the “rightness” of my complaint—I thought then and still think now that assessing a late fee for an underpayment of a few cents is a lousy way to treat a long-term customer with a perfect payment history. Rather, it was the snaky tone I used. There was no reason for me to begin with such antagonism, particularly because they responded quickly to me and remedied the situation. I imagine the tone I used was off-putting not only to the AT&T rep who amiably fixed my problem, but to a few people who follow my tweets—and rightly so.

Social media offers a wonderful platform for customers and companies to speak with one another. All I’m suggesting here is that you remember the company you’re tweeting is only one audience you’re reaching. You’re also reaching everyone else who sees and judges the tone of your posts and the manner in which you deal with life’s minor annoyances.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Social Media Fail: Let’s Make Fun Of Mental Illness!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 21, 2014 – 4:40 pm

JOY—the fashion and lifestyle chain that has 26 locations throughout the United Kingdom—is the latest brand to create unnecessary controversy by tweeting something stupid.

The trouble started yesterday when a customer complained via Twitter about a greeting card that the store has for sale.

Joy The Store Greeting Card

At first glance, I didn’t find this card offensive. But that’s the thing about offense: I don’t get to decide what’s sincerely offensive to other people; they do. And if a customer makes their sincere objection to this greeting card known to JOY, the company—at the very least—should know better than to antagonize the person who complained.

Instead, JOY said this:

Joy The Store Problem Solved


The customer responded by tweeting: 

Joy The Store Retort


To which JOY responded with its biggest error of all:

Joy The Store Rude

Now that offends me. To dismiss a polite customer who raises a sincere concern about stigmatizing mental illness by mocking people with bipolar disorder is completely beyond reason.


But Then They Made It Worse…

As is predictable in these situations, JOY apologized earlier today, but with one of those insincere, completely inauthentic apologies:  

Joy The Store Apology


How, exactly, their tweets were intended to “create dialogue” about mental illness is beyond my comprehension. The company’s Facebook apology was even worse:

Joy Facebook Apology


As their Facebook comments section shows, their customers aren’t buying it:

Joy the Store Facebook Commentrs


Why JOY’s Customers Shouldn’t Be So Quick To Forgive…

There have been far too many social media fails by this point for a brand to be quickly forgiven for committing its own. By now, they should know better—and if they don’t, their ignorance is no longer an excuse. There are only three possibilities in this case:

1. This is a deliberate strategy: It’s entirely possible that JOY is intentionally using outrage to spark a “crisis,” get attention for the brand, and increase name recognition. Giving credence to this theory is that Kenneth Cole—who has admitted creating these “social media crises” on purpose—apologized with almost the same response, that he was trying to “provoke a dialogue.”

2. The social media team is poorly trained: It’s 2014. There is no shortage of great consultants and experts available to help brands get their social media right. If the brand failed to train its staff properly, this incident is very much its own fault.

3. The employee went rogue. I doubt this one. Since the apology—which should have involved executives—had the same unapologetic tone, this incident strikes me as far more reflective of the brand than an exception to the rule.

UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 22, 2014, 1:16 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time

JOY just issued its second apology in as many days. Unfortunately, this apology comes only after botching the first apology. As a result, its sincerity will immediately be called into question by many people—including me—who wonder why a heartfelt apology should take two takes to get right.

Even though this apology is better than the first, it’s still not great. The store is placing the blame onto a staffer, but not acknowledging that management itself bears responsibility for insufficiently training its staff or for making the wrong person responsible for its Twitter feed.

Joy The Store Apology Take Two

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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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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This Comedian Refused To Apologize. I Agree With Her.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 6, 2014 – 6:35 pm

On NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly, a comedian named Natasha Leggero cracked a joke that offended many people.

The joke was about the social media uproar caused last month when SpaghettiOs tweeted a promotional photo of a noodle celebrating Pearl Harbor Day.

Here’s the video, and her joke:

“I mean it sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.”

Many people whose opinions I respect thought that Leggero and/or NBC should apologize. I disagree.

No, her joke wasn’t tasteful. I wouldn’t make it, and I probably wouldn’t attend a comedy show if I knew the comic was going to use Pearl Harbor as fodder. But I don’t believe that Leggero’s intent was to diminish the tragedy of Pearl Harbor or its survivors (I would have been offended if it had been). Rather, her quip played to me like nothing more than a silly “old people gum their food” joke.

Still, many people voiced their displeasure on Facebook and Twitter, and Leggero decided to respond with a defiant statement. I thought she got the tone just right.

“I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt? Let me just try instead to be honest.

I’m not sorry. I don’t think the amazing courage of American veterans and specifically those who survived Pearl Harbor is in any way diminished by a comedian making a joke about dentures on television. Do we really believe that the people who fought and defended our freedom against Nazis and the Axis powers will find a joke about Spaghetti O’s too much to bear?”

“My own father lost his hearing in the Vietnam War so the issue is pretty close to me too. So rather than apologize, let me offer another perspective.

On the one hand you have me, making a joke about how old people can’t chew tough foods very well.

On the other hand you have Veterans who receive inadequate care upon their return from active duty, rampant sexual assault against female soldiers, staggering rates of suicide, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse and depression among soldiers and political gridlock that prevents these problems from getting solved quickly.

Where do you think your outrage and action would be better served?”

At the end of her statement, she encouraged her fans to donate to the Disabled American Veterans.

Natasha Leggero

The reason I agree with Leggero’s refusal to apologize is simple.

She’s a comedian.

Leggero is not a corporate brand. Comedians are granted far more license than the typical corporate spokesperson, and thank goodness for that. 

Could you imagine how dull comedy would become if it was sanitized to the point that no one was offended, ever? Would we really want to live in a world in which Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Dennis Miller and Chris Rock were never allowed to appear on television for fear that they might [gasp] say something unpopular?

There are, of course, limits to how far comics can go. Michael Richards (Seinfeld’s Kramer) went way over the line in a disturbing rant full of racial epithets. And Tracy Morgan went too far when he suggested that he would stab his son to death if he was gay.

As for NBC, I think we have to ask ourselves whether it’s reasonable to expect NBC (or any other network) to apologize for every spontaneous, unpopular joke made on its air by an unscripted comedian. Sometimes, that answer may be yes. But I’m not sure negative social media activity is the only metric to use in determining whether an apology should be offered. In some cases, a combination of evaluating the perceived offense and monitoring the social media activity may be enough.

This “crisis” passed quickly. And as happens with many of today’s social media “crises,” NBC’s has already become a distant memory.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons user 92YTribeca

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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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