Should The Washington Redskins Change Their Name?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 22, 2013 – 6:00 am

Imagine a professional sports team called the “Newark Negroes.” If the year was 1913, that name might make historical sense. But if they were still playing in 2013? It’s actually unfathomable—it couldn’t happen, and it wouldn’t be tolerated by American society.

And yet, each week, fans gather at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland to cheer on their hometown Washington Redskins—a name that many consider just as offensive.

If you’re not familiar with the historical baggage carried by the term “Redskins,” here’s how Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News summarized it:

“In 1755, when the United States was just 13 colonies, Spencer Phips, lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called for British settlers to kill Native Americans who resisted.

Instead of bringing the bodies of the Penobscot Indian Nation — who lived in what is now Maine — as proof of the slaying, settlers could return instead with scalps of the men, women and children they attacked, and those “red skins” earned them as much as 50 pounds.”

Washington Redskins by Keith Allison

A poll of Washington, D.C.-area residents conducted by The Washington Post in July (margin of error 4.5 percent) found that only 28 percent of respondents thought the team should change its name. But interestingly, 56 percent of people acknowledged that the term was offensive to Native Americans, and 88 percent of people said a name change would have no impact—or a positive impact—on their support for the team.

That suggests that most people know it’s an offensive name but are reluctant to change it due to their own, positive associations with the team. I can understand that. I grew up in Maryland and rooted for my hometown ‘Skins for many years. Changing the name would feel, in part, like it would partially erase my fond memories of Sundays in the stands at the old RFK Stadium.

Nonetheless, it’s still the right thing to do.

This issue is quickly becoming a big crisis for the team. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King said:

“I’ve decided to stop using the Washington team nickname. It’s a name you won’t see me use anymore. The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I’ve been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname…Some people, and some Native American organizations…think the nickname is a slur…I can do my job without using it, and I will.”

Mr. King isn’t alone. According to the BBC, at least five news organizations refuse to use the word “Redskins” in their reporting: The Washington City Paper, the Kansas City Star, Slate, New Republic, and Mother Jones. And certain reporters at USA Today, the Philadelphia Daily News, Buffalo News, and The Washington Post also refuse to use it.

For his part, Redskins Washington NFL franchise owner Daniel Snyder says he will never change the team’s name. Never.

In fairness to Snyder, changing the team’s name could cost the team many millions of dollars. The “Redskins” brand name took decades to build, and changing it could compromise some of its brand equity. But the question is at what point that business loss becomes the less expensive of the two options. If reporters increasingly refuse to use the team’s name, the name “Redskins” would surely lose some of its brand equity anyway. And if the name becomes more stigmatized, you might find fewer fans buying Redskins memorabilia for themselves and their kids.

There’s a good precedent here, and it also comes from Washington, D.C. sports. In 1995, the owner of the Washington Bullets basketball team, Abe Pollin, decided to change the team’s violent-sounding name—a name change he thought appropriate since Washington, D.C. had such a high crime rate.

Pollin ran a contest and allowed fans to decide the new name; fans renamed the team the “Washington Wizards.” If public sentiment continues moving swiftly against Dan Snyder’s Redskins, he might consider using a similarly fan-based approach to rename his team.

Should The Washington Redskins Change Their Name?

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Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons


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Advanced Media Training Technique: Be Boring

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 13, 2013 – 6:02 am

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is no stranger to challenging media situations.

In recent years, he’s had to address his team’s notorious participation in the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, welcome the potentially distracting Tim Tebow to his roster, and, most recently, deal with player Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with first-degree murder earlier this summer.

Central to his media success is an underlying media strategy that goes beyond mere message discipline. As Patrick Coffee of PR Newser put it, “the man’s secret: keep things nice and dull.”

Belichick’s “be boring” approach is evident in his press conference about the Aaron Hernandez murder charges. (Questions begin at the 7:15 mark.)

Since you’re probably not a football coach, here’s a question of greater relevance for you: Should you ever “be boring” on purpose? Is “nice and dull” a winning media relations strategy?

If you’ve read The Media Training Bible, you know that I generally propose being an engaging media spokesperson who delivers sound bites reporters love and the public remembers. Doing so not only helps to build your brand, but keeps you high on a reporter’s list of sources to call; if you can deliver a great interview, reporters know they’ll get what they need from you and keep calling.

But as Belichick’s press conference points out, there are times you want your presence in a story to be minimized. (Here are four ways to minimize or kill a news story.)

For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to message discipline and “being boring” as two different things. (After all, you can still deliver a memorable media sound bite while being on message.)

Below are three examples of when “being boring” might work.

Boring Seminar

1. You agree to an interview about a topic you’d prefer not receive a lot of attention.

If you deliver a great media sound bite, that very well may become the headline—which would only serve to magnify the story and make it more memorable. Using purposefully uninteresting language would serve up little to make the story bigger.

2. You’re a politician who is a part of a negative story along with three other politicians of equal rank.

You know that the other three politicians are also speaking to the reporter. If you’re purposefully boring, odds are the reporter will give more ink to one of your other three political peers, one of whom will presumably say something more interesting. The same principle applies if you’re talking about business competitors or a controversy involving three other not-for-profit groups.

3. You work in an unpopular industry.

Some of our clients work in controversial industries. They prefer to do their work under the radar—not because they’re engaged in a nefarious effort, but because the media and/or the public too often misunderstand or mischaracterize the nature of their work. Still, there are times they must speak on the record, and being boring is a great way to help keep the story less dramatic.

In closing, though, I’d advise most clients in most situations not to engage in the “be boring” strategy. For most of us, our goal is to build our brands and reinforce our reputations. And developing positive long-term relationships with reporters and delivering media-friendly responses is usually the best way to accomplish that. 

A grateful hat tip to @PatrickCoffee of PRNewser.

Can you think of other situations when the “be boring” strategy might be helpful? Have you ever used it? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.


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Riley Cooper: A Racist Remark, A Terrific Apology

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 2, 2013 – 6:02 am

Riley Cooper, a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, earned the critical glare of the media spotlight this week after a secretly recorded video emerged of him using racist language (Riley is white).

Cooper was attending a concert by country star Kenny Chesney and wanted to go backstage. The African American security guard wouldn’t let him pass through a checkpoint. And that’s when this happened:

“I will jump that fence and fight every ni*ger here, bro.”

Riley has rightly been blasted for his use of racist language (not to mention the threat of violence). And although I offer no excuses for his inappropriate and incendiary language, his reaction to this incident has been rock solid. 

First, Cooper sent these tweets:

Riley Cooper Tweets

On Wednesday, he faced cameras and delivered this press conference:

Elements of a Good Apology

A good apology is one that is sincere, not contrived; is motivated by the right reasons, not by hope for personal gain; that demonstrates a genuine sense of remorse, not dismissiveness. A good apology conveys an unmistakable impression that the person understands their infraction and is genuinely committed to change.

Cooper succeeded on all of those counts.

He looked dismayed, ashamed, and pained during the press conference. He refused several opportunities to make excuses for his behavior, such as when he refused to go into details about what caused the confrontation or make his alcoholic consumption that night a reason for his behavior. After the press conference ended, he apologized to his teammates directly.

Some readers might conclude that he only apologized because he got caught and that his less guarded moment revealed more about his true character. But as someone who reviews a lot of apologies in these types of situations, this one struck me as sincere. I suspect this incident won’t have a devastating long-term effect on Cooper’s career.

Still, there’s a lesson here for all of us. As I’ve written so many times before on this blog, today’s media culture requires public figures (and the rest of us) to comport ourselves in public as if there’s always a camera filming us. In many cases, there is.

A grateful h/t to reader @DavidPetroff; Twitter screenshot from Deadspin.com.

Update: August 2, 2013, 3:45 p.m.

According to ESPN, Cooper’s teammates have not rallied around him, and this incident might cost him his job in Philadelphia. There’s also rampant speculation that some players around the league will make Cooper a “target” on the field by punishing him with particularly hard hits. 

All of that may seem to contradict my point about the long-term impact this will have on his career, but that’s yet to be seen. Keep in mind that the NFL has welcomed back players involved in homicides, acts of violence, and dog fighting rings. 

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10 Questions Rutgers Officials Need To Answer Right Now

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 3, 2013 – 9:50 am

By now, you may have already seen the hidden video of Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice physically assaulting his players. The video quickly went viral after airing on ESPN yesterday.

After watching this video, there’s no doubt in my mind that Rice should be fired. Immediately. (Editor’s note: Rice was fired shortly after this story posted.) He probably should have been fired when Rutgers officials first learned of the video last November. But Rice may be somewhat irrelevant at this point, assuming he will be fired in the next few days.

What’s much more relevant is the failure of the officials at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, who knew they had a problem on their hands and failed to take appropriate action. (They suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000, and ordered him to take anger management classes. That’s more than nothing, but not commensurate with the seriousness of his infractions.)

Below, you’ll find ten questions I’d pose to the president and athletic director of Rutgers right now. If I was their media trainer, I’d insist that they develop credible answers to all 10 of these questions before doing any interviews.

  1. 1. What did you know, and when did you know it?
  2. 2. In December, you decided to suspend Mr. Rice for three games. Why didn’t you feel that his firing was warranted at that time?
  3. 3. If calling players “fucking faggots,” physically assaulting them, and throwing basketballs at their heads isn’t a fireable offense, what is?
  4. 4. A player could have been seriously injured or killed as a result of having a basketball thrown at his head. Again, why didn’t you view that as a fireable offense?
  5. 5. You’re now reconsidering your decision to retain Mr. Rice. If you feel you took the appropriate action by suspending him, why are you suddenly changing your mind? It looks like you’re just bowing to pressure because ESPN released a story you had hoped remained hidden.
  6. 6. After Penn State’s scandal, it became clear that athletic departments could no longer treat out-of-control coaches too leniently. Weren’t you nervous that your decision to keep Rice employed could bring all of you down?
  7. 7. How would you have treated, say, a humanities professor or a provost who hurled a basketball at a student’s head at high speed? 
  8. 8. What would you say to the parents of these athletes who trusted Rutgers coaches to treat their children with respect?
  9. 9. Your University Code of Student Conduct says: “All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to behave in an ethical and moral fashion, respecting the human dignity of all members of the community and resisting behavior that may cause danger or harm to others through violence, theft, or bigotry.” How would you respond to those who say you appear to have two sets of rules: one for high-profile university leaders, and the other for students and more lowly staff?
  10. 10. Why should students, faculty, and the community trust you to retain your positions?

What questions would you ask? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

UPDATE: April 3, 2013, 10:10 a.m.: Rutgers University just announced that it terminated Rice’s contract. The questions posed above remain just as relevant now as they were before his firing, since it took the University months — and public pressure — to take that action.

UPDATE 2: April 3, 2013: 11:23 a.m.: Rutgers’ Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, issued a reasonable statement this morning, in which he took responsibility for the delayed firing. His statement, and my response, can be found on PR Daily here.

Photo credit: Getty Images


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Dear NASCAR: Information Wants To Be Free

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 1, 2013 – 12:56 pm

Last Saturday, NASCAR driver Jeremy Clements made a racist remark during an interview with MTV (his comment was not recorded). NASCAR handled the incident swiftly, suspending him indefinitely and reportedly insisting that he attend sensitivity training as a condition of his eventual return.  

Clements and NASCAR may have been able to get away without the public ever learning about this story. The only two people who heard the comment were an MTV reporter (who said he had no intent to make the comment public) and a NASCAR publicist.

Despite that—and to its great credit—NASCAR acted anyway, releasing a statement saying that Clements’s comment was “intolerable.” But it’s what NASCAR didn’t put in its statement that caught my eye.

NASCAR released the following statement on Wednesday:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jeremy Clements, a driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR for violating the sanctioning body’s Code of Conduct.

On Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway, Clements was found to have violated Sections 7-5 (NASCAR’s Code of Conduct) and 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing).

“During the course of an interview, Jeremy Clements made an intolerable and insensitive remark,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that’s explicitly spelled out in the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book. We fully expect our entire industry to adhere to that Code.”

Clements simultaneously released his own statement:

“I apologize and regret what I said to the NASCAR writer and to NASCAR, my sponsors, my fans, and my team. NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that everyone must follow and I unintentionally violated that code. I will not get into specifics of what I said but my comment to the writer was in no way meant to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone or to be detrimental to NASCAR or the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I will do what I need to do in order to atone for my error in judgment.”

Both of those statements left a gaping hole: What did he say?!?

Journalists, who weren’t satisfied by the vague statements, started digging. And sure enough, they started finding answers within 48 hours. This morning, Marty Beckerman, the producer who was present during those comments, said on MTV:

“I was there to do a fish-out-of-water story about going to NASCAR and having a wild, crazy weekend. And, we were doing interviews with many of the drivers, and I was on the way to another interview — we were looking for [driver] Johanna Long’s trailer — and the NASCAR publicist called Mr. Clements over and asked him for help finding her. He walked us toward where she was, and on the way over, I explained to him that Guy Code is rules for guys, how you treat your friends, how you treat your ladies, things like that. I was there to do a humor piece, so I asked him what would be Guy Code for race car drivers, and he blurted out [a phrase that used the n-word].”

So here’s the question: Would NASCAR and Clements have been better off by releasing those details themselves? Wouldn’t doing so have given them more control over how the comments were reported?

And it’s not just this incident. After a horrific crash last week, NASCAR immediately claimed copyright over all fan photos and videos of the wreck. That stance led to the predictable “Streisand Effect,” which occurs when a person’s effort to remove content has the opposite effect as defiant bloggers fight back by making the content more widely available.

In both cases, it appears that NASCAR is still operating in a world in which they think they can control all information. But that’s an increasingly difficult task in the age of social media.

When a person—or an organization—is viewed as hiding information, the resulting coverage is typically harsher. Their obfuscation only served to prolong the news cycle.

What do you think? Should NASCAR have released more details in order to help control the story?

Jeremy Clements photo credit: Royalbroil, Wikimedia Commons


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Review: The Lance Armstrong / Oprah Winfrey Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 17, 2013 – 11:12 pm

A sociopath is defined as a pathological liar who lacks remorse, is manipulative and superficially charming, and who fails to take responsibility for his actions.

Watching Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight, you wouldn’t have to work hard to make the case that he fits that classic profile.

Armstrong offered a self-interested and rather obvious admission of guilt, but didn’t look like he really meant it. On some intellectual level, he seemed to understand that he had to make a perfunctory admission—but that’s all he gave, failing to deliver his words with the emotion that would give the public a hint that he “got it.”

A person in crisis who “gets it” doesn’t say that he looked up the definition of the word “cheat” and then reveal that he didn’t think he met that definition. Nor should a person in crisis play games when asked whether it was true that he never failed a drug test (in fact, he said, he didn’t, evading the real point of Oprah’s question).

But one of his lowest moments came when discussing a recent phone call with Betsy Andreu, wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu. When recounting the phone call, Armstrong seemed to find it funny that although he admitted calling her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” He grinned at his apparent wit, as if he was a mischievous kid who thought his cruelty was somehow funny.

In describing himself, he told Oprah that he was “a guy who expected to get what he wanted and control every outcome.” Although he used the past tense, the same could be said for his demeanor during the interview tonight. Armstrong was stiff, with clenched hands and crossed arms—but he also couldn’t stop himself from jumping in and talking over Oprah several times.

Armstrong also used distancing third person language, calling himself “Lance Armstrong,” and linguistically trying to separate “that part of my life” from “this part” of my life—as if he wasn’t still denying the juicing charges just a few months ago.

The medium Armstrong chose for his interview was telling—by choosing an interview with Oprah Winfrey instead of, say, Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, Armstrong made clear that this “confession” was more about image rehabilitation than a sincere attempt to come completely clean (he didn’t; he refused to offer many specifics). To Winfrey’s credit, she came prepared, asking short, to-the-point questions before getting out of Armstrong’s way.

In the end, Armstrong managed to diminish his brand even further tonight. Given his reputation, I would have expected him to train for this interview with the same seriousness he once used to prepare for his cycling events (without the doping, of course). Perhaps he did work in advance with a media trainer. But at some point, even the best media trainer can’t prevent a remorseless bully from getting out of his own way. 

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2013, 10:00pm

The clip above was one of Armstrong’s lowest moments of the entire interview. His comment about whether he should be allowed to compete again, “I think I deserve it,” was one of his most tone-deaf of the two nights.

That moment aside, Armstrong exhibited more emotion tonight than he did in the first part.

What struck me is that the only time during both nights that he seemed truly emotionally connected was when he discussed his family. On the other hand, he showed little of that same emotional connectedness when talking about doping, the people he bullied, or his years of dishonestly.

That contrast showed me something: Armstrong has the capacity to feel and care about other people – so perhaps he’s not a sociopath after all (even though he said he was one during tonight’s interview). But it also shows that he’s not nearly as personally connected to the torment he caused so many people outside of his family.

All in all, tonight was a slightly better night for him. But he still doesn’t seem to fully “get it”; nor has he fully disclosed his infractions or expressed a willingness to give something up (such as his aspirations to be allowed to compete again).  Until he does, he’s going to have a long path to public redemption.

What do you think? Please take our poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below. And if anything interesting happens during Friday night’s interview, I’ll update this post.

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How The Media’s Fast Reporting Hurts Athletes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 2, 2013 – 6:02 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kimber Auerbach, the Director of Communications for the New York Islanders. He wrote this to supplement a post I wrote last month about the challenge of notifying families about a death before they learn about it from the media. 

I do not want my comment to come across as demeaning the bigger picture of, “Should you wait until the family is notified of a death.” That’s obviously an issue of greater severity than the one I’ll write about today, but I wanted to share an issue we deal with in sports regarding “Information being released before a player is notified.”

The trade deadline is one of the busiest days of the season in hockey (or any sport) for management as they try and better their team for either a playoff run or the future. Players are on edge because they don’t know if they’ll be on the ice skating one moment and get pulled off the next to be informed that they’ve been dealt.

Reporters are so connected to their smartphones that it has literally become a race to see who can tweet the information first. Who can write the better story about how BLANK player will fit in with the team or how this deal helps the future seems to have become secondary. The media are too fixated on tweeting the news first, as reporters want to be the one sourced in all the articles as “BLANK reporter (@BlankReporter) tweeted the news first.”

There have been players that said they found out about being traded from watching TSN TradeTracker:

It really is a shame that players wind up finding out about a trade this way. For them, it’s life altering news that means they’re going to have to pick up their world and move it to another city. Yes, the media are doing their jobs in reporting the news as quickly as they possibly can, which in one way you can’t fault them for doing. However, there should be something that prevents them from doing so until all players are notified and the information is properly filed to the league, much like there seems to be in news reporting when someone tragically passes away.

It goes the other way as well. Sometimes, the media speculate about where a player may be dealt, and family and friends of a player see the rumors before a deal is even done. We’ve had players call to ask if it’s true that they’ve been traded, only to find out the reports are false. But because the media are so into breaking the news—and are often times correct—a player’s world gets turned upside down for no reason.

Until the day when there is a system to allow a period of time between the finalization of a deal and alerting the media, we as PR reps for teams are left to confirming the news that the media has already reported.

Now available: The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. Click here to read more.


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Lance Armstrong Doping Allegations: Deny and Defend?

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on June 14, 2012 – 2:00 pm

Editor’s Note: This article is by Christina Mozaffari, Senior Media Trainer, Phillips Media Relations.

As a media trainer and a former journalist, I tell my clients never to lie to reporters, especially in a crisis. Once the truth comes out—and it usually does—you lose any credibility you may have had and become a completely unreliable source in the future.

Which is why I’m torn thinking about the recent developments in Lance Armstrong’s current battle against doping charges. The Washington Post reports the seven-time Tour de France winner is being accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of a “massive doping conspiracy” from 1998-2007 witnessed by more than 10 cyclists.

Armstrong released a strong statement on his website yesterday denying the allegations, saying:

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”

 

This is not the first time Armstrong has faced these charges. The US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles investigated Armstrong for two years before terminating its inquiry in February without charging him. In that case, two of his former teammates testified in public that Armstrong was doping.

Which gets us to the big question: Assuming, for the sake of argument, Armstrong did dope, what should he do? Should he come clean and put this whole mess to rest, relinquish his seven Tour de France titles and jeopardize his fundraising prowess for his Livestrong Foundation? Or, should he continue to deny the allegations and defend himself in the court of public opinion?

Complicating the matter, a confession would not send Armstrong to jail. The USADA cannot prosecute him criminally; it can only strip him of his titles and prevent him from competing in future events. So this really is solely a matter of Armstrong’s reputation.

Mark McGwire's reputation never recovered after he admitted using steroids.

Past athletes who have admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs have not fared well. Take Mark McGwire, for example, who in 2005 pleaded “no comment” when asked during a Congressional hearing whether he had ever taken steroids. The public convicted him of being a cheat, and his reputation has never recovered. He finally confessed the obvious in 2010, and has been on the outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame looking in ever since. 

Former Olympic champion Marion Jones faced a similar fate when she confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs and lying about them to a grand jury. She was stripped of her five Olympic medals and the promising career and sports endorsements she once had.

Our firm wouldn’t represent a client that we knew was lying. But assuming that Armstrong is guilty, is his best PR move to deny and defend? Is this an exception to the “never lie” rule?

UPDATE: June 29, 2012: According to one of Lance Armstrong’s lawyers, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency voted today to officially charge Armstrong with doping and being part of a doping conspiracy.

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

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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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