Archive for the ‘Media Training’ Category

Media Minute: Silence can be golden

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Media Minute: Silence can be golden

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Silence can be goldenWant to be quoted by the news media? Then be quotable when you’re talking to reporters.

But you don’t always want to be quoted. Bloomsburg University student Jake Close learned that lesson the hard way recently.

His picture and a comment about whether the Washington Redskins should change their name appeared in a “Your Opinion” feature in his hometown newspaper, the Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania) Press Enterprise.

Jake’s problem? He was wanted for skipping bail in New York. The local cops saw his name and picture in the paper, realized he was wanted in New York and arrested him.

What was the comment that got Jake into hot water? He suggested the Redskins keep their name but change their mascot to a potato. He probably got a nice chuckle out of seeing his joke in print — until the cops showed up and hauled him off to jail.

So, remember the rule: Be quotable if you want to be quoted. But you don’t always want to be quoted. If you don’t want to be quoted, keep quiet.

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

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: 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: 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

Media Minute: Etch A Message

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Media Minute: Etch A Message
By Jerry Brown, APR

Romney Etch A SketchI’ve always considered politics a source of entertainment as well as consternation.

And I found last week’s flap over Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch metaphor very entertaining.

But there were some interesting PR and messaging lessons as well. Here are four that struck me as I followed the story:

Concrete images are stronger than abstract ones. Romney, among others, has been accused repeatedly of being a “flip-flopper.” But the Etch A Sketch metaphor resonated in a way that flip-flopper simply doesn’t. Why? Because the Etch A Sketch is tangible. What does a flip-flopper look like? I don’t know. But I know what an Etch A Sketch looks like — and how it works. And so do you.

Take note: Use concrete imagery to tell your story whenever possible. Concrete images are powerful. Abstract ones less so.

Media training is important for anyone who talks to reporters. I was a journalist for 20 years. I still needed media training when I started talking to reporters as a spokesperson. Fehrnstrom is a former reporter and he’s been serving as a spokesman for Romney for many years. He should have known better than to use the Etch A Sketch analogy. For whatever reason, he didn’t.

I’ve long preached in the Media Minute and elsewhere that media training is essential for anyone who talks to reporters. And regular refresher courses, once a year or so, are a good idea. A key tenet of good media training: Know what your message is before any interview and stick to it. The Etch A Sketch analogy probably wasn’t on the Romney campaign’s message list for that day. Or any other day.

Some stories are impossible to stop. The Etch A Sketch story was one of those stories that have a life of their own. Sometimes you can use damage control to shut a story down. Sometimes the best damage control is to keep quiet and let the story run its course.

Some stories are impossible to start. The company that sells Etch A Sketch got a lot of free publicity because of the Romney story. Probably saw a spike in sales a result. But I heard the head of the company that makes them trying to make the case for the Etch A Sketch being a continuing metaphor for campaign messaging. That story’s not going anywhere. Trying to sell it was just silly. Be grateful for the free PR. Take the money from the extra sales to the bank. But don’t try to oversell a story that isn’t there.

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

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?

Know what to avoid

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

in_the_ditchHaving a clear message isn’t enough.  You also should know what messages you want to avoid.

Although often overlooked, asking yourself what you want to avoid can be as valuable as knowing what you want to say. In fact, I encourage media training participants and other clients to give careful thought to what they want to avoid once they know what they what they want to say.

Here’s why:

  • In a controversial or competitive situation, these are the messages the other side will use that you’ll need to rebut. What are they?  You may not be able to keep them out of the story. But what’s your rebuttal? Have your rebuttal ready before you talk to the reporter.
  • Anyone who knows a lot about a given subject generally knows something about it the rest of us believe is true that isn’t.  If there are common misconceptions about your topic that could end up in a news story you may be able to keep the misinformation out of the story simply by explaining the facts to the reporter before s/he sits down to start writing.
  • This is also don’t-overlook-anything question.  No matter how positive or innocuous, any story can go into the ditch.  You should always know where the danger points are for your story going into the ditch so you can avoid going there.

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

Reporters write stories? About what I say?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

newspapersReporters talk to people and write stories about what they say.  What part of that isn’t clear?

You’d think a four-star general in charge of a war would get that — and understand the potential consequences of telling a reporter things that can get you fired.

So, what were Gen. McChrystal and his staff — including his PR adviser — thinking?  Apparently they weren’t.  Forget the insubordination.  The general and his PR adviser deserved to be fired for simple stupidity.

Interestingly enough, McChrystal and his staff aren’t alone.  People who should know better frequently tell reporters things they shouldn’t.

Some advice that’s too late for McChrystal but I hope useful to some of you:

  • Never talk to a reporter without knowing what your objective is.  Getting Rolling Stone to do a profile of you — no matter how positive — isn’t a clear enough objective.  What do you want to happen as a result of the story the reporter writes?  That’s your objective.  If your objective is simply to feed your ego, you’re playing with fire.
  • Always have a clear message and stick to it.  Your message should support your objective.  It should be clear enough and interesting enough that the reporter will get it, remember it and use it — and the rest of us will also get it and remember it.  That means you need to be able to say it 15 seconds or less.  Otherwise, it’s not clear enough yet.
  • Media training, by someone who knows what they’re doing, is essential for anyone who talks to reporters.  Talking to reporters without media training is like skydiving without lessons.  You’ll get through it, but the outcome may not be pretty.

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

Candidate lays an egg with chicken comment

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

chicken_egg2One of my grandfathers was a country doctor in the little town of Grady, Arkansas.  He occasionally received chickens or something else besides cash in return for his services.

That was because in his day country doctors didn’t turn away patients, whether they could pay or not.  And some folks were too proud to accept something for nothing.  So, if they didn’t have cash, they paid with whatever they had to offer — including chickens.

But that’s not why I noticed when U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden of Nevada suggested recently that patients could use chickens to pay for their medical care.  That story caught my attention because I knew as soon as I heard it she was about to receive a lot of media attention she didn’t want.

Lowden quickly became the butt of jokes from comedians and opposing politicians.  The chicken-joke story hit its peak, as far as I can tell, with a Las Vegas TV story that’s since found its way onto YouTube.

Lowden made at least three mistakes:

  • Her first mention of paying doctors with chickens appears to have been off the cuff.  She went off message.  Always have a clear message before you talk to reporters and stick to it.
  • Once the story blew up, she didn’t take steps to contain the damage.  Check out the link to the Las Vegas TV story.  Lowden still looks like a deer in the headlights several days after this story went south on her.
  • She doesn’t appear to have a strategy for putting the story behind her.  Lowden’s not the first public figure and won’t be the last to say something she shouldn’t have in public.  Such gaffes can be hard to fix   Just ask British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who quickly apologized last week after calling a woman he talked to while campaigning a bigot.  Brown was in his car when he made the “bigot” comment and thought he was speaking in private.  Unfortunately for him, he was still wearing a TV microphone.  The comment may have ended his chances of staying in office — despite his hasty effort to undo the damage.  Lowden hasn’t really tried to contain the damage.  She needs media training.  And help with her messaging.

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

Truth in Advertising

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

Truth in advertising.  I’ve always thought Domino’s pizzas tasted like cardboard.  But I never expected them to agree with me.

So, I was pleasantly surprised a couple weeks ago when I saw the Domino’s ad, you’ve probably seen it too, acknowledging what I already knew — their crust tastes like cardboard and their sauce tastes like ketchup.

Well, they were just repeating customer complaints.  But they also said they’ve fixed the problem.  And they’re hoping a lot of us will buy one of their pizzas to see if their new pizzas really are better than the ones they used to make.

It’s great advertising.  And it makes several points worth noting:

  • Great storytelling starts by grabbing your audience’s attention.  They did that.  Looking for a way to get your audience’s attention?  Start by telling them something that surprises them.
  • Conceding obvious weaknesses in your story can help you gain credibility for the messages you really care about.  This is a point I often make during media training.  Don’t try to defend every point — especially the ones you know are indefensible.  Acknowledging a mistake or two is a great way to gain credibility for the things you really care about.  Okay, your pizza tasting like cardboard isn’t a small point.  Unless, of course, enough of us believe it that it’s hurting your sales – and you can tell us with a straight face that you’ve fixed it.
  • No matter how strong your story, the proof is in the . . . pizza.  Domino’s “cardboard” ad works as an ad because it got our attention.  But the real proof of whether it worked will be decided by whether enough people who give them another try agree they’re now making good pizzas.  I think the verdict is still out on that one.

I also heard from several of you last week who said Toyota is mishandling their big recall.  I don’t agree.  I think the verdict is still out on that one, too.

Crisis Communications 101:  Acknowledge the problem, fix it, and make a credible promise to assure us it won’t happen again.

Toyota has stepped up to the problem.  And they say they’ll begin fixing it this week.  If they do, and if they live up to their promise of restoring our confidence in the quality of their cars, then they will have done a good job.

But they’re in the same boat as Domino’s.  What they say will be less important than what they do.  If they’ve really begun cutting corners that affect quality as some analysts have suggested, and if that shows up in more problems with their cars, then Toyota’s reputation will suffer.  Ditto, if they screw up the repairs to the cars they’ve recalled.

But if the accelerator problem proves to be an aberration and if they fix the problem, they’ll ultimately come out of their current crisis just fine.  In fact, if they do a great job of fixing the accelerator problem, this incident could actually help their reputation. But the jury’s still out on that.

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