Archive for the ‘Media Interviews’ Category

Media Minute: An apology isn’t always enough

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Media Minute: An apology isn’t always enough

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: An apology isn't always enoughNow that he’s had time to see the reaction to his post-Belmont rant, owner Steve Coburn has apologized for this “coward’s way out” comment following California Chrome’s fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.

Too bad he didn’t have some pre-race media training — or simply the common sense to know that his post-race rant made him a sore loser.

Despite the apology, Coburn did himself — and his horse — lasting damage. To the degree that Coburn and California Chrome are remembered at all, Coburn’s rant will live on as part of California Chrome’s legacy.

Picking a fight or losing your temper in front of cameras is generally a bad idea unless a lot of people will agree with you. There’s no reason to believe a lot of people will take Coburn’s side when he said racing a horse in the Belmont without also running it in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is the “coward’s way out.” Winning the Triple Crown is hard. That’s why doing it is so special and so few horses have done it. If you want to win the Triple Crown, you enter all three races and run faster than everyone else who shows up.

Coburn made a mistake with his rant. He’s apologized for it. But the damage is done. Don’t make the same mistake. Know what you’re going to way, and why, before you open your mouth in front of a camera or a reporter.

And if you’re not sure how to handle yourself in those situations, get media training from an experienced professional.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Cheese with that whine?

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Media Minute: Cheese with that whine?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Would you like cheese with that whine?He should have kept his mouth shut.

Instead, pro golfer Sergio Garcia complained to the media on Saturday that Tiger Woods made him muff a shot during the Players Championship golf tournament.

And the media went nuts. It was the dominant angle in stories about Saturday’s round and a major theme of stories about Sunday’s final round — when Garcia put three balls into the water on the last two holes to drop from a tie for the lead to eighth place while Woods went on to win.

The facts are a little murky. But, as is often the case, they don’t really matter much.

Garcia’s version: While Garcia was at the top of his backswing during a shot on the second hole, Woods reached into his bag for a club and “everybody started screaming” causing Garcia to muff the shot.

Woods’ version: “The marshal said he already hit and I pulled the 5 wood and hit.”

The Washington Post’s version: Replays showed Garcia hadn’t begun his swing so he could have stepped back from the ball.

I’ll go with the Washington Post’s version since they relied on replays and presumably are less biased in this case than either Garcia or Woods.

But it doesn’t really matter. If Garcia thought Woods had done something wrong, he should have filed a complaint with the officials running the tournament and let them decide.

Taking his complaint to the media makes him sound like a whiner — something he has a history of doing.

It was no surprise his complaint became the story of the day. The media buzz would have been deafening if the two golfers had ended up paired together for the final round.

That didn’t happen. But they were tied for the lead with just two holes remaining and a playoff pitting them head-to-head against one another was a real possibility. That would have churned up the buzz machine once again.

Garcia’s collapse on Sunday made his Saturday whine, legitimate or not, all the more embarrassing.

The lesson for the rest of us? Just because you think you’ve been wronged doesn’t mean the story will play out that way if you complain in public.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at

Media Minute: A secret no more

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Media Minute: A secret no more

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: A secret no moreIt’s a girl. But don’t tell anyone. It’s supposed to be a secret.

Some people think Catherine Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, accidentally spilled the beans last week about the gender of her unborn baby.

According to news reports, the mother-to-be said “thank you, I will take that for my d…” when offered a teddy bear during a recent public appearance.

Did she really spill the beans? My guess is yes.

I don’t much care one way or the other. But enough people do that her apparent slip of the tongue was big news in the tabloids and for royalty followers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Why do I bring it up here? Because it’s a good reminder of a piece of advice I’ve offered media training and other clients for many years: If you don’t want to see it in print or hear it on the air, don’t say it.

There was a time when I offered that advice to people who talk to reporters — or get talked about by reporters.

But it applies to all of us these days. Celebrities have always lived in a fishbowl. With social media, the rest of us do, too. Potential employers, prospective customers, prospective dates and others regularly go online to check us out.

So, now my advice is: If you don’t want to see it in print or online or hear it on the air or on YouTube, don’t say or do it in public.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s new content-focused blog at

Media Minute: “Big” news from Mars

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Media Minute: “Big” news from Mars

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: "Big" news from MarsDid you miss the big news from Mars last week? You’re not alone.

Three weeks ago, a Caltech scientist who serves as the chief scientist for NASA’s Curiosity project said the latest Mars rover had made a major discovery.

“One for the history books,” he said.

But he declined to be more specific, saying NASA would announce the discovery in December.

Of course, everyone’s waiting for NASA — or someone — to announce they’ve discovered life on Mars or somewhere else beyond Earth. So, the scientist’s comment led a flurry of headlines. And, while no one said it straight out, the hint of big news coming soon about a discovery on Mars triggered thoughts that the announcement of life somewhere else might be at hand.

Well, it’s now December. And the big discovery? According to the New York Times: “In a sand drift on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered . . . sand.”


And the scientist whose comment spawned the headlines about NASA’s “major discovery” now says he had been referring to “the richness and quality of the data” coming from Curiosity — not a breakthrough finding from that data.

“I think certainly what I’ve learned from this is that you have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it,” the scientist was quoted as saying. Let me add one more: Be careful about who you say it to.

Did the scientist really believe three weeks ago that NASA would soon have a big announcement from Mars? Or did he simply make an offhand comment to a reporter not realizing his tantalizing hint would lead to headlines? Either way, he shouldn’t have said anything to the reporter. The story wasn’t ready to be told.

That’s the lesson for the rest of us from this incident: Anything you say to or within earshot of a reporter is potential fodder for a news story.

Some more specific lessons:

  • If you don’t want to see it in print or hear it on the air, don’t say it to or around a reporter. Speculating about a major announcement you’re not ready to make is usually something you don’t want to see in print or hear on the air.
  • Don’t get ahead of your headlights when talking to reporters. We all love to share secrets or big news. We like being the one who lets the rest of our world in on what’s happening. Unfortunately, people have a tendency to share rumors and speculation as well as hard news. If you do that with reporters,you may end up having to backtrack when a big development you thought was going to happen doesn’t. That may be what happened here. Did NASA have some preliminary data that on further examination wasn’t as exciting as originally believed? We’ll probably never know for sure. But I think that’s a possibility. The bottom line remains: The scientist should have kept his mouth shut.

You have news you think you will be able to share soon? Good for you. But keep it to yourself until it is news and you’re ready to talk about it.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s new content-focused blog at

Media Minute: Who’s in charge?

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Media Minute: Who’s in charge?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Who's in charge?When you sit down to talk to a reporter, who’s in charge — you or the reporter? My answer: You both are.

The reporter’s in charge of deciding whether to interview you, the questions asked during the interview and the story that gets written (or not written) after the interview.

You’re in charge of whether to be interviewed and your answers during the interview.

You and the reporter don’t have to talk to one another. Either of you can say no. That means news interviews are an activity involving mutually consenting adults. Like most activities involving mutually consenting adults, they’re better if you’re both fully engaged.

You can’t control the reporter’s level of engagement. But you can control yours. That’s why it’s so important to have a clear agenda and to prepare. In fact, preparation is the key to successful interviews. Give some thought to the questions you think the reporter will ask and how to include your message in your answers. If you’re working on a news release, consider what questions the release will generate and prepare your answers.

The fact that you’re in charge of your answers is important. Know what your message is, say it clearly and stick to it. You get to answer the questions your way, even if the reporter wants a different answer.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. And check out Jerry’s new content-focused blog at

Media Minute: No Comment!

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Media Minute: No Comment!

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: No Comment!No comment. Won’t talk about it. I have nothing to say.

Well, actually, I do have something to say about having nothing to say. Fair warning: Some of you will disagree.

Somewhere there’s a public relations rulebook that claims you should never ever say “no comment” to reporters.

Balderdash. You can substitute another word, if you like. I’ll stick with balderdash for the benefit of those of you who’d be offended by the word I normally use.

I committed journalism for 20 years. Been practicing PR longer than that. I’ve heard “no comment” many times as a reporter and used it many times as a spokesperson. And there are times when “no comment” is perfectly okay. In fact, there are times when it’s the only appropriate response you have.

If you appear to have done something illegal, immoral or stupid then saying “no comment” can make you look guilty as charged. No comment is generally a bad idea in such cases — especially if you have something to say that will help change our minds.

Sometimes people say no comment because they’re trying to hide something embarrassing that the rest of us have a legitimate right to know. No comment is generally a bad idea under these circumstances, too. Swallow hard. Answer the reporter’s questions. And take your lumps.

In short, saying no comment is a bad idea a lot of the time. It’s the never-ever part that’s a problem. Mark Twain got it right when he said, “all generalizations are false, including this one.” Never say no comment? One of those generalizations that’s false.

If you work for a company with publicly traded stock, you can’t provide previously undisclosed material information to a reporter without issuing a news release that discloses the same information to everyone else. Some information is legally private, personal medical information or personnel information, for example. Some information’s proprietary. And some things simply aren’t anyone else’s business.

You don’t have to answer a question just because a reporter asks it. But answer reporters’ questions unless you have a good reason not to. And if you’re not going to answer, it’s generally a good idea to say why. But you don’t have to give a reason. And sometimes giving a reason will just lead to more questions.

It’s also a good idea to have a clear policy about what you will and won’t discuss with reporters. That’ll make it easier for you to make clear, consistent decisions. And reporters who cover you regularly will come to understand what you will and won’t discuss.

Here’s why that’s a good idea: A reporter asks you about a rumored acquisition. You know there’s no truth to it. And you say so to the reporter. Later, the same reporter comes to you with another rumor, also untrue. Again you deny it. Then the reporter asks you about a rumored acquisition you know may happen, but you’re not ready to announce it yet. You don’t want to lie. But you don’t want to confirm the story, either. So you decline comment. But what you’ve really done is confirm the rumor because the reporter knows from experience you would have denied it if it weren’t true. A better strategy would be to have no comment every time — until you’re ready to say something.

Some would agree in principle with what I’ve just said but suggest you come up with a non-response that avoids saying you have “no comment.” I call them dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin responses. I don’t like them. Reporters and the people they write for — people like you and me — aren’t stupid. They can generally tell when you’re dancing on the head of a pin. And it just makes you look dishonest. For good reason. You are being dishonest.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. And check out Jerry’s new content-focused blog at

Media Minute: Ambushed! Now What?

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Media Minute: Ambushed! Now What?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Ambushed! Now What?Ambush interviews. There’s nothing scarier or potentially more damaging when dealing with reporters.

How can you avoid them? And what should you do if you find yourself caught in one?

A recent incident involving U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado provides a good case study for examining those questions.

It all began when Coffman, a Republican who represents the southern suburbs of Denver, was caught on tape saying at a private campaign fundraiser in a conservative part of his district that he didn’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and that “in his heart, he’s not an American.”

Armed with audiotape of Coffman’s comment, reporter Kyle Clark did an “exclusive” story about Coffman’s apparent endorsement of the birther issue on Denver’s 9News. Coffman’s office promptly issued a statement saying the congressman misspoke and apologizing for the comment.

Clark says he spent the next several days trying to get Coffman to agree to an on-camera interview and that Coffman’s office ignored the requests.

Microphone in hand and videotape rolling, Clark finally caught up with the congressman in Denver on his way to another fundraiser. Over the next 52 seconds, Coffman repeated the same one-line statement five times: “I stand by my statement that I misspoke and I apologize.”

The interview’s gotten some play within the political sphere locally and even nationally because of the birther issue and because of the robotic, deer-in-the-headlights way Coffman repeated the same canned statement over and over.

I don’t want to get into the birther issue here. That’s outside the scope of the Media Minute.

But I heard several commentators use Coffman’s performance as an opportunity to criticize the advice he presumably got from his PR advisor(s) not to elaborate on the statement issued by his office.

Did Coffman get bad advice from his PR staff? I agree with the decision that Coffman shouldn’t expand on the statement released by his office. But his staff could have done a better job of prepping him to do that more effectively. Could Coffman have done a better job of responding to the reporter’s questions? Absolutely.

So, what could Coffman and his advisors have done differently? Let’s start at the top.

Avoid the ambush

Most ambush interviews happen because the target of the interview has turned down a request, often repeated requests, for an interview.

Sometimes a simple no to an interview request is all it takes. But the chances of an ambush interview go up dramatically when a reporter persists in the request and it involves a story the reporter sees as hot. That was the case here. Coffman and his staff shouldn’t have been surprised by the ambush. They should have expected it.

How could they have avoided it? By agreeing to the interview request. Why would they do that? To gain more control over when and where it happened and avoid the appearance of being overly defensive. And Coffman should have been prepared with his own agenda for the interview — other topics to talk about. See my version of the interview below.

You’ve been ambushed! Now what?

Reporters do ambush interviews to trap their victims into looking guilty or foolish. Mission accomplished if that happens. In Coffman’s case, the reporter probably went away with a feeling of mission accomplished. Watch the interview and judge for yourself. The ambush interview begins a minute and 20 seconds into the story.

Your job if ambushed? Defuse the confrontation and avoid looking guilty or foolish. With that in mind, here’s how I think Coffman should have responded to the reporter’s questions. The questions are taken directly from the interview. The answers are mine.

Q. I apologize for showing up unannounced. I’ve been trying to call your staff. They won’t return my phone calls. So, let me ask you, after your comments about the President, do you feel that voters are owed a better explanation than just “I misspoke”?

A. I stand by my statement that I misspoke and I apologize. (Coffman’s response.)

Q. Okay. And who are you apologizing to?

A. My statement’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t really have anything to add.

Q. I apologize. We talk to you all the time. You’re a very forthcoming guy. Who’s telling you not to talk and to handle it like this?

A. Again, I misspoke. And I don’t have anything else to say. I’m focusing on representing the people in my district. We should be spending our time talking about the real issues facing the citizens of Colorado. Things like jobs, the economy and [fill in the blank].

Q. Was it that you thought it would go over well in Elbert County where folks are very conservative and you’d never say something like that in the suburbs?

A. To repeat one more time, my statement’s self-explanatory and I don’t have anything else to say on the issue. We should be talking about putting more people work, improving the economy and [fill in the blank].

Q. Is there anything I can ask you that you’ll answer differently?

A. Ask me about how we can put more people to work, improve the economy or [fill in the blank].

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Check out Jerry’s new content-focused blog at

Bad Jokes

Monday, October 11th, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

lacrosse_goalIf you don’t know who Karen Owen is, she’d probably like to keep it that way.

Owen is a recent graduate of Duke University who has gained notoriety for her mock academic thesis entitled “An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics.”

The 42-page PowerPoint document details her sexual exploits with 13 Duke athletes.  It includes names, pictures, detailed descriptions of her sexual encounters and a rating for each man’s physique and performance.

Owen shared her “honors thesis” with three “close friends.”  You know the rest:  It went viral.  And Owen has gone into hiding.

For years, I’ve told media training clients don’t say anything to or within earshot of a reporter that you don’t want to see in print or hear on the air.  I need to update that.  Don’t say anything on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else on the Internet that you’re not willing to share with the media, prospective employers and the rest of the world.

You can blame Owen’s mistake on youthful indiscretion and naivete, I suppose.  Not so with Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise, who was suspended for a month after putting an inaccurate item on his Post Twitter account.

Wise posted a Tweet saying Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would get a five-game suspension instead of six games as widely reported in the media.  Wise claims he posted the misinformation as a joke to show that inaccurate information spreads quickly on the Internet without much fact-checking.

But his bosses at the Post apparently did check — and weren’t amused.

As long as there are people with mouths to speak and fingers to type, there will be gaffes that lead to unintended negative attention for saying stupid things that become public.

So, this is still good advice:  If you don’t want to see it in print, hear it on the air — or have it appear all over the Internet — don’t say it.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?

Be quotable if you want to be quoted

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

By Jerry Brown, APR

If you’re having trouble getting reporters to quote you in their stories, maybe you aren’t saying anything worth repeating.

Denver Post columnist Susan Greene took members of Colorado’s congressional delegation to task last week for the non-answers they gave the Post in response to the newspaper’s questions about their positions on the current healthcare debate.  Here’s what she said:

“Never in a million years did I expect to miss Wayne Allard.  But I’ve been wistful about our plain-talking former senator.  Say what you will about Allard’s medieval political views, his votes in favor of torture and his notoriety as one of the ‘least influential’ senators.  Credit should go where credit is due.  When asked a question, he answered.

“That hardly can be said about some of our current congressional delegates, especially given their responses to the Post’s recent survey about health care reform.  This was no pop quiz.  Their offices had two days to address basic aspects of our most pressing public policy challenge.  Their triangulating was stunning.”

If you haven’t read Greene’s column, I strongly recommend it.  Then ask yourself whether you’ve ever been guilty of similar non-answers when talking to reporters.

The “responses” quoted in Greene’s column should be embarrassing to the politicians responsible for them.  They don’t say anything.  Intentionally so.

There’s a simple rule in journalism:  Be quotable if you want to be quoted.

In this case, the politicians didn’t really want to be quoted.  They wanted to stay in the shadows.

There are two problems worth addressing here:

  • Too often, I see clients and others who want to be quoted but water down what they say to a point where it doesn’t say anything.  Then they wonder why what they said didn’t get used.  It’s simple:  They ignored the “be quotable” rule.
  • The flip side is what happened in the statements quoted by Greene.  It’s one thing to avoid being quoted.  That’s everyone’s right.  But the kind of non statements these politicians offered up actually do them damage.  When you waffle, you come across as dishonest because it’s clear you’re trying to hide what you really think.  That was true for the politicians in this case.  And it’ll be true for you, too, if you do it.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?

President Obama Opens the Wrong Door

Monday, July 27th, 2009

By Jerry Brown, APR

Even Secret Service protection can’t keep a president from opening the wrong door and getting into trouble.  And President Obama has the political scars to prove it.

I like to think of media interviews as happening in a big room with a lot of doors.  Your job is to open the one door that leads to the story you want to tell that day.  Reporters will try to get you to open as many other doors as possible in hopes there’s a more interesting story behind one of them than the one you want to tell.

Obama made the classic mistake of opening a door he shouldn’t have at the end of last week’s White House news conference when he answered a question about Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s run-in with the Cambridge police.

Whether you agree or disagree with what Obama said, he made a mistake when he answered the question.  Why?  Because the whole point of the news conference was to build support for healthcare reform.  But the news coverage of the flap caused by Obama’s comment on the Gates incident overshadowed the coverage of what he had to say about healthcare.  The Gates incident’s still drawing coverage.  But all the stuff Obama said at the news conference about healthcare?  Nada.

Let’s go back to our room with the doors for a moment.  Some of the doors may have skeletons behind them – things you never want to talk about.  And there may be stories behind some of them you’d love to talk about another time.  But don’t talk about them today if they’ll distract from the story you want to tell today.  For that reason alone, Obama should have avoided the Gates incident at his news conference.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?