Tag: Dallas

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin Walk Into a Bar…

In the last few weeks we have seen three public examples of “open mouth, insert foot” that have provided different levels of shame, misguidedness and opportunities to right real and perceived wrongs.

The first example, and most widely seen and reported was perpetrated by Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson. In an interview with GQ Magazine (anyone else see some strains of irony here), Robertson got himself in some hot water. According to Fox News – “Robertson was suspended indefinitely by A&E after saying that ‘everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine … Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.’

screen-shot-2013-12-18-at-2-05-34-pm

“In response to A&E’s sanction, the Robertsons have reportedly considered pulling the plug on the popular program. Politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have leapt to the family’s defense, decrying what they see as an attack on free speech and Christian values.”

Cracker Barrel initially took a stance by pulling Duck Dynasty merchandise of off the shelves, only to place the merchandise back on the shelves when perceived public perception (read dollar signs) seemed to fall on the side of the Duck Dynasty clan.

For his part, Robertson stands by his comments which he says are taken from scripture and individuals and companies like Sarah Palin, FOX News and others back him, citing free speech.

Every day is something new. Reports are saying he’s back on the show and according to the Chicago Tribune, in a recent announcement, Jesse Jackson Sr. compared Robertson’s recent comments about African-Americans, gay people and women to comments made by the driver of Rosa Parks’ bus.

Our second recent gaffe occurred when, according to CNN, Justine Sacco, a former PR executive sparked a firestorm of controversy on Twitter for the following tweet:

untitled (3)

Sacco’s employer – media company IAC – fired Sacco after her tweet went viral. IAC issued the following statement: “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”

In a written statement. Sacco apologized “for being insensitive to this crisis — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed.”

She added that she is a native of South Africa and was upset that she had hurt so many people there.

The last recent example, also occurred on Twitter, this time with comedic legend, Steve Martin. Per ABC News, the actor asked his Twitter followers to “submit your grammar here,” and when one user asked, “Is this how you spell lasonia?” Martin responded, “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?”

images

After receiving some negative feedback, Martin took responsibility, apologized on Twitter for the “offensive thing I’ve done” and posted on his website “I am very upset that a tweet I sent out last week has been interpreted by some to be insulting to African Americans … To those who were offended, again, I offer a deep, sincere, and humble apology without reservation.”

But Martin further explained that his “grammar” session with fans is something he’s done on other occasions, like “For example, a person might write ‘What’s the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than?’ I would say, ‘then’ is a conjunctive preposition, and ‘than’ is a misspelling of ‘thank.’”

Martin continued, “I was going along fine when someone wrote, “How do you spell ‘lasonia?’ I wrote: ‘It depends if you are in an African American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant.’ I knew of the name Lasonia. I did not make it up, nor do I find it funny. So to me the answer was either Lasonia (with a capital), or Lasagna, depending on what you meant.”

“That they sounded alike in this rare and particular context struck me as funny. That was the joke. When the tweet went out, I saw some negative comments and immediately deleted the tweet and apologized. I gathered the perception was that I was making fun of African American names. Later, thinking it over, I realized the tweet was irresponsible, and made a fuller apology on Twitter,” he added.

Martin added that he was cited incorrectly by some media outlets, who have yet to correct their misquoting of his tweet. But in the end, he again took responsibility for the blunder.

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin. Three widely different public figures who faced fast public scrutiny and outcry for things they said/did. My thoughts:

  •  Phil Robertson does have the “right” to believe what he believes. We all do. What is unfortunate is we are at a point where thoughts – right or wrong; left or right – are amplified and exasperated. Individuals and groups seem more concerned with furthering agendas instead of getting to the heart of the matter.
  • Should we be taking everything written in scripture verbatim?  Would it be helpful/healing to open real conversations where we can better understand why…who…when?
  • Like it or not, we are all public figures. As a PR-person, Justine Sacco has to know better. Heck, she is a native of South Africa. Twelve words that will change her life. What she said was stupid, wrong, hurtful, naïve, etc. That said, I haven’t seen or heard the outcries of “free speech” that I’ve seen from Sarah Palin and others. Maybe, Sacco isn’t public enough…
  • From a PR and social perspective, Steve Martin handled things great. He apologized. Took all the blame and explained the “backstory” of what he did. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, “news outlets” distorted his tweet to make a better (and less accurate) story.

Bottom line, this isn’t the last we will see of situations like these. As long as we continue to care about “public figures” and the definition of “public figure” continues to expand; and as long as groups and individuals wanting to push forward agendas and personas are opportunistic; and as long as businesses have a stake in things; and as long as we all like being social and consider it social to hit someone when they are down; well, you get the idea.

Advertisements

Strategy of Answering Question’s Big Finish: Building Your Spokesperson’s Messages and 11 Keys to Remember

MARYCHUCKLES[1]

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about The Strategy of Answering Questions; specifically:

But as you may recall from these different posts, we never developed the specific messages. We had several bullet points, but no real messaging surrounding the launch of our sample product or service:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

To get from bullet points to actual compelling messages, review your bullet points. Are these the points you want to make in the interview? These are not the answers to questions you may be asked. These are the points you want to make, the reasons why you agreed to the interview; the points you want your real audience to hear/read/see.

Prepare a mini-speech for each bullet; a headline followed by an example. The headline is your message stated in the strongest possible language. The example is the way to prove your headline.

There are four types of examples you can use:

  1. personal experience
  2. experiences of others
  3. facts/statistics
  4. analogies

Whenever possible, have several examples that support and reinforce your headline. Doing so allows you to repeat your headline without going back to your only proof point. The person you are meeting with may not remember all of your specific examples, but the headline becomes memorable. I don’t recall one “light” or “bridge” but I sure do remember “A thousand points of light” and “building bridges.”

As you think about all things spokesperson training, remember:

  • Think of the questions a  reporter might ask you during an interview.
  • Decide on the best possible response to each question (short and sweet) and then determine whether you can bridge from that answer to one of your objectives. (Use the three-column technique.)
  • If you can bridge, state your message in the form of your prepared mini-speech. If you can’t, state your answer and wait for the next question or say,” I don’t know.”
  • Avoid over-answering the question. Give a direct response to each question in as few words as possible and then bridge, if you can.
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” Don’t care how good your relationship is with the media or how clever you think you are – – the media will either not honor it, or find another source to verify it.
  • Nodding. People often nod inadvertently to show they understand the question. They’ve heard the question before, and/or they’re ready to answer the question. Unfortunately, nodding also suggests agreement with statements, and that may give a false impression.
  • Labeling the question. Refrain from such expressions as “That’s a good question,” or “I’m glad you asked that.” Those phrases buy time, but they can be irritating.
  • Competitive questions. Be especially careful about questions involving proprietary topics. You can discuss the issues but you don’t have to discuss your strategies.
  • Avoid jargon. Think in terms of simple language understandable to a larger audience.
  • Pick your battles. Stick to your prepared messages. Don’t go off message. Going off message can easily lead to complaints of being taken out of context.
  • Go back to your messages. Often the last question is “Do you have anything to add?” Use this question as the opportunity to reemphasize your message points.

Well, that’s it for Strategy of Answering Questions and it is it for me for a little bit. Need to re-charge the blog-battery so I can take a fresh look at the PR industry. Thank you for taking the time to read. In the immortal words of Chuckles the Clown (circa the greatness of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) – – “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

How to Effectively, Seamlessly and Honestly Nail the Interview by Answering the Toughest, Dirty, Trap Media Questions

MOUSETRAP_rend

In my previous blog post, I talked about the how to best prepare messaging for a media interview (or a business meeting) by building a bridge from the question to your message.

But how do you answer the really tough questions? To get started, let’s first review the messages surrounding the launch of our sample product or service:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience is men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

And the possible types of questions:

  • Late to market
  • Too expensive
  • Not going to succeed
  • Already outdated
  • Not needed

My contention is that the toughest trap question is nothing more than a great chance to get your messages across (once you concisely answer the question). Let’s take a look at some of the most common trap questions:

  • A or B Questions:  “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you guys late to market?” The A or B question is asked in a way that suggests an answer.  However, the options offered may not be the correct response.  You can pick an alternate direct response: Answer:  “Neither. The new technology vastly improves the outdated technology…
  • Hypothetical Questions:  “If this new technology flops, will the company survive?”  The iffy question asks you to predict the future.  This type of question usually asks you to accept the hypothesis. Instead, you can reject the theory and create one of your own.  Thus, the answer is: “That’s not going to happen.  We’ve spent the last several years developing…”
  • Third Party Questions:  You never have to argue with or defend anyone else.  Third parties include but are not limited to: competitors, industry analysts, other people in the company, customers or other industries. The best answer to questions about other people is: “Ask them,” or “I can’t speak for them.” Then you can bridge to the issue in the question by simply saying, “What I can tell you is…”
  • Unfair/untrue Statements:  These questions contain misleading or untrue assertions or the question may include inflammatory words or phrases.  “Why are you charging so much for a technology that is outdated?” Here there are several incorrect statements. You never want to repeat back the negatives, but you can absolutely disagree with the premise. “That’s not true. This technology vastly improves existing technology and we are targeting men and women with a high disposable income…”

While there are certainly other types of “trap questions” that may or may not be designed to trip you up, proper preparation should prevent any of them from becoming an issue. Also, remember there are questions you don’t have to answer – competitive, security, etc.

The process – boiled down – comes down to listening and making sure you understand the question; answering it short and sweet and either bridging to your pre-prepared messages OR answering the question short and sweet and wait for the next question if you don’t have anything relevant to say.

My next and final post in this series will tie everything together by providing message preparation steps and tips.

How the Three-Column Approach is the Best Way to Getting Your Messages Across AND Answering the Reporter’s Question

megasharkbridge

When we last left our Strategy of Answering Questions blog, we were talking about – among other things – the ways to answer questions including not necessarily the way the media would like us to do so.

So, let’s get a little interactive. Grab a piece of paper. I’ll wait….

Draw three columns, making the middle column much narrower than the right and left columns. Label the right column Messages.

Now, think about a particular topic. This is the topic that was pitched to the media or – if reactionary – the topic the media is asking to talk about. Let’s say, the launch of a new product or service. Write down those points we want to get across. Think about it like you have a three-minute commercial to fill with facts. At this point, we aren’t sculpting true messages or worrying about anything other than those things associated with the launch.

I think it’s fair to say the points could look something like this:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

Pretty good list. Could have more bullets, but you get the idea. Label the column on the left side Questions and think about all the types of questions that may be asked.

Don’t look at the messages. Just think about the types of questions and jot those down.  Could look something like:

  • Late to market
  • Too expensive
  • Not going to succeed
  • Already outdated
  • Not needed

Again, you get the idea. Also, please note that I specifically did not write the questions in sentence format. Reality is a reporter isn’t going to repeat your questions verbatim. There are multiple ways a question can be asked and this prepares you to get comfortable with answering any type of questions – – even the tough ones.

Now if you take a look at both the left and right columns, you’ll see that the column on the right relates to the column on the left. Your message points may not specifically address the question, but they certainly relates to them.

But what about the middle column? Glad you asked.

The short, narrow middle column are for your Answers. The column is short and narrow to remind you to keep your answers short. You absolutely want to answer questions because you don’t want to sound like a politician, but you are taking part in an interview because you have messages you want to get across. Messages on a topic that you’ve already agreed upon.

So, a question is asked, concisely answered and “bridged” to your message points. Bridging is the technique that allows you to get from a question to your positive message. The secret to successful bridging is answering the question.  Whenever you’re asked a question give a short, honest answer, then bridge to the positive message you’ve prepared in advance. If you don’t have a positive message prepared in advance on the question’s subject, give a short honest answer and stop.

Next up – how exactly do you answer those really tough questions? Like, “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you late to market?” or “What if the new technology fails?” Fear not. The toughest question is nothing more than a great opportunity to get your messages across.

Strategy of Answering Questions – Three Spokesperson Rights and Three Ways to Answer a Question (All Involve Answering Honestly)

BARBARA WALTERS, JUSTIN BIEBER

In the first post of this series on the Strategy of Answering Questions, I provided an overview on how and why the strategy and tactics used in “spokesperson training” for a media interview can be applied to any business meeting, presentation or conversation. I also made it clear the PR professionals’ job isn’t over after the interview is booked and the training occurs.

In this post, we will talk about the rights you have when you agree to an interview and the three ways to answer a question.

Our spokesperson has three rights we – as PR professionals – need to be aware of:

The Right to Be Prepared – A spokesperson should never enter into an interview without a clear understanding of what the interview is about.

The good PR professional is going to provide a briefing sheet. This is a given. But, know your spokesperson. The purpose of the briefing sheet is not to prove your existence or worth. More may not be better. You don’t want your spokesperson to overanalyze a reporter or try to be too clever by referencing some obscure fact you found about the reporter.

It should include basic information on the outlet and why it is important (our target/real audience reads it, etc.). Same for the reporter. If there are relevant stories, you may want to include.

Part of making sure your spokesperson is properly prepared is letting him/her know that it is okay to conduct an interview with notes in front of them. Whether over the phone, in-person or – in many instances – on television. Work with the spokesperson in determining what they prefer – – note cards, etc.

The Right to be Comfortable – It is important to be comfortable for two reasons.  First, when you are physically comfortable, you will be more confident. Second, you should be thinking about your message, and physical comfort will allow you to do that.

The good PR professional will not only make sure the spokesperson is comfortable, but aware of the task at-hand. For example, if conducting an interview over the phone, make sure the interview is on a landline or on a cell where there will be consistent, good coverage. No speaker. No driving. No distractions.

The Right to Be Treated Fairly – Common courtesy is not always common in an interview. Part of our role is to make sure our spokesperson understands who he/she is talking to – – a reporter/anchor is allowed to ask tough questions but should “call it down the middle” while a columnist/commentator is getting paid to offer up an opinion.

If a media outlet has the reputation of being off-color or irreverent, go in with your eyes open. If the topic you are discussing is explosive, the interview may be.

When it comes to answering a question, there are three ways:

Direct, Immediate Response – Whenever possible, this is the best way to answer a question. You definitely want to convey your willingness to answer tough questions.

Sometimes people ask non-questions like:  “Tell us about your company,” or “Describe your strategy with this new move.” These “questions” are simply an invitation to start talking.  The interviewer is “handing you the microphone” and asking you to communicate.  Take this opportunity to define your company or cause.

After Thought – There are some questions that require you to think before you answer.  Since you don’t want to stare at anyone in stunned silence, these are techniques that will give you time to think:

  • Ask the questioner to repeat or rephrase the question.  The question will always be easier the second time.  Even if the question is repeated verbatim, it buys you some time to think about your answer.
  • Repeat or rephrase the question yourself.  “If I understand you correctly, what you’re asking is” or “The key point you are raising in your question is” or “What is important for the audience to know is…”
  • You can also think aloud to buy some time.  “That dates back to the a few years ago” or “Let me just provide a perspective to that…”

Try not to overuse these techniques. Save them for those situations when they are really needed.

Not at All – There are questions you don’t have to answer…well, sort of. You do have to give a direct response explaining why you are not going to answer the question.  These responses include:

  • “That’s personal.”  Questions about your salary, voting record, hobbies, personal opinions.
  • “We consider that competitive information,” “Our competitors would love to know that.”  Questions about corporate strategy, profit margins, expansion plans, new products or services are proprietary.
  • “I really can’t talk about it while it’s in litigation.”  There are legal reasons for not answering questions.
  • “Negotiations are in progress.”  You don’t have to reveal the progress of ongoing negotiations or private discussions.
  • “It wouldn’t be smart to give a blueprint to our security.”  You don’t have to answer questions about these precautions.
  • “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The best reason of all not to answer a question is that you truly don’t know the answer. Abraham Lincoln said it best – – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

One of two things will happen:  A question is asked and since you have agreed to the topic, and you’ve prepared ahead of time, you will concisely answer that question and “bridge” to your message points. Or, a question is asked and you don’t know the answer. Tell them that and wait for the next question.

You may have heard people complain that a reporter took their words out of context.  Odds are, the reporter didn’t do that. Odds are that person went off his message or tried to answer a question he wasn’t prepared to answer. The same could be said if someone “misinterprets” something you said. Never try to guess the right answer to a question.

Now that you know how to answer and what you can and cannot answer, the next post will talk about the process you should go through when preparing your messages and the technique of bridging, or transitioning from your answer to your message.

Prepping Your Spokesperson is More than Just How to do an Interview

tony-stark-threatens-mandarin-in-iron-man-3

Few weeks back I talked about the Four Ways to Make Sure Your Spokesperson Isn’t ‘Taken Out of Context’ by the Media. It was a much-abridged version of media training; something that is near and dear to me and a topic I was asked by several people to expand upon.

Before I do anything, I must credit the late, great Ken Fairchild who I was lucky enough to spend time with, learning this craft. Many consider Ken the “Godfather of Spokesperson Training” for he started this “take” on media training in the 1970s. Ken was a good man and is dearly missed.

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I dislike calling these training sessions’ media or spokesperson training. The fact is, while these sessions are designed to prepare an individual to handle the toughest of interviews from 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the like, what is being taught is a strategy of answering questions that can be applied to conducting new business meetings, presentations to clients or vendors, or any conversation where you are wanting to get your message across. Works with everyone except my wife.

Another little secret. If our spokesperson goes through training and we stop our work after we secure the interview and review key messages, we are just as much to blame if an interview goes wrong.

Without the proper training, most people when confronted with a media interview surrender their right to be an equal participant in a two-party conversation. An interviewee often behaves like a witness under a subpoena and not an active participant with a message to convey to a larger audience.

Remember, a media interview is more than just an agreement to answer a reporter’s questions. You participate in an interview because you have a message you want your real audience to receive (that said, and I cannot stress this enough – – you must answer the question).

Prior to the start of the interview, the PR professional should restate to the interviewer the purpose of the interview and what the spokesperson is going to bring to the table. If the spokesperson is by him/herself, he/she needs to do this.

Sometimes things get lost in translation between producer who was pitched and anchor/host who is doing the story. Doing this level sets, addresses any confusion and provides you or the spokesperson to possibly “test-drive” a key message you want to get across. This should be done with all interviews, not just broadcast. It reinforces what you are wanting to talk about.

As an interviewee, you have certain rights. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss what those rights are, and how you can leverage them to make sure you not only answer the questions, but do so and get your messages across.

Managing My (Now) 8 PR Pet Peeves – – All I Need is Love

Beatles - All You Need Is Love

Earlier this year I wrote about my five PR Pet Peeves:

#5: Client or prospect says, “I want to hire someone that has a good Rolodex” insinuating that the relationship we have precludes the story we are pitching.

#4: Those who want to send the pitch out to everyone and see who picks it up.

#3: Let’s spin that. Put a positive spin on that. Go do some PR on that.

#2: There’s no such thing as bad PR.

#1: I didn’t say that. The reporter took what I said out of context.

Apparently, I have more peeves of the pet variety:

Sending out a news release without following up – The caveat here is if you are sending out a release over the wire (PR Newswire, Business Wire, PR Web, etc.) for the sole reason of getting ranked higher on Google searches. Go for it. May want to consider writing a blog instead, but have at it.

However, if you are thinking the Good Morning America producer, the education reporter at the Washington Post or the business editor at the Chicago Tribune are waiting to receive your release sent out over one of the PR newswire services, forget it. Not going to happen. Major media. In the United States.

If you are a publicly-held company reporting your earnings, yes, the business wire services (Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg) may use parts of the release – including a quote – but for the average company sending out a release over the wire thinking that major media (and a live person at the major outlet) will see and use…Not the case.

Relying on the vehicle more than the message – Many people are enamored by the myriad of touchpoints available to reach their real audience. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the book of face, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Companies should be absolutely taking advantage of these different ways to get what they want out to the right people. Those not doing so are not only missing the boat, they are missing opportunities to increase revenues, better public perception, etc.

The challenge occurs when the proper care is not used in developing and crafting the key messages. Empty and/or inappropriate/irrelevant messages do no good whatsoever.

Throwing marketing, advertising and PR under the same umbrella – While we are all communication professionals we all take a different approach. You wouldn’t want a podiatrist to perform heart surgery (trouble would be afoot). Asking an advertising agency to write a release is not the best approach. Ideally, you’d want the three disciplines to work together…wait a second, what am I doing….

I love public relations. Why am I focusing on some of the challenges we face on a daily basis? Here are three of the many aspects of public relations that rock:

Creating the story – The full story. Taking what we need to get across and developing around it. Looking at the story a different way. Going out for a walk and having “it” come to you. Bouncing your idea off of a colleague. Getting it to the compelling stage.

The chase – Knowing “that outlet” is the right one to reach the real audience and doing whatever it takes to get a hold off the reporter/producer and making it happen. Finding answers to possible hurdles.

Seeing the fruition of my efforts – The day I don’t find myself getting up early to get a copy of USA Today, looking on with anticipation at the local 5pm news or waiting – not so patiently – for the story to load on my laptop is the day I’ll be hanging it up.

What are your “loves” with public relations? Whatever they are, hold onto and embrace them – – they will help you manage and deal with those pesky pet peeves.