Posts Tagged ‘Media Training’

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: 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?

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?

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?

Message Discipline Under Fire

Monday, July 13th, 2009

By Jerry Brown, APR

This week’s confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor are as strong an example as you’ll ever find for the importance of media training.

With 60 Democrats in the Senate there are only three things that could derail her nomination to the Supreme Court at this point – a sudden health crisis, a surprise none of us know about yet or a serious gaffe when it comes to answering questions during the hearings.

With the stakes so high and the atmosphere so heated, Supreme Court nominees now go through extensive practice sessions to get ready for their run through the nomination-hearing gauntlet.  If Sotomayor learned to stay on message – which in this case means ducking most of the really difficult questions – she’ll soon be a Supreme Court justice.  If she gets off message, things could become interesting.

Most of us will never face the kind of sustained, nationally televised grilling she’s about to go through.  But anyone who’s been in front of a hostile reporter or group of reporters during a crisis knows just how unnerving it can be if you’re not prepared.

A single comment can lead to negative headlines.  So, anyone who talks to reporters on behalf of your organization should have professional media training.  It’s the single most effective thing you can do to improve the success of your interactions with the media.

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

What s/he meant to say was . . .

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Six words you never want to have to say if you’re in charge of media relations for your company:  “What s/he meant to say was . . .”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs got to use them last week after Vice President Joe Biden said in response to a question about the swine-flu outbreak:  “I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now . . . in a confined aircraft, where one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.”

What Biden meant to say, according to Gibbs, was that you should limit your travel if you’re feeling sick and have flu-like symptoms.

Biden said exactly what he meant.  He was just off message.  And Gibbs’ explanation was met with laughter from White House reporters.  Biden’s famous for being off message.

If you’ve ever been responsible for media relations, you’ve probably had to deal at least once with an executive or someone else who was off message.  And, like Gibbs, you probably were the one left to clean up the mess.

I’ll leave it to the White House to deal with the vice president.  But here’s my advice if you’re responsible for your company’s media relations:

  • Make sure, if you can, that anyone – including your CEO – who talks to the media on behalf of your company gets media training, preferably from someone with experience in both public relations and journalism.  You want a media trainer who will teach your spokespeople how to prepare effectively for interviews and stay on message.
  • Don’t damage your reputation and credibility (and your company’s) by providing an unbelievable and/or clearly dishonest explanation of whatever got said in the first place.  This is the most common mistake companies make when it comes to cleaning up the mess created by someone who was off message.  If you need to respond, make sure the response is true and believable.
  • If you can, avoid using any executive who is unwilling or unable to stay on message as a spokesperson for your company.  You’ll be doing yourself and your company a favor.  And, if you can, don’t feel compelled to defend comments by someone who, like Joe Biden, is frequently off message.  The quickest way to get someone like that to shut up or stick to your company’s message is to let them be embarrassed by making clear to reporters that they were speaking on their own – not for the company – if they screw up.
  • If your company doesn’t already have a policy clearly stating that only officially designated spokespeople can talk to reporters then do everything you can to get such a policy approved by the people who run your company.
  • If possible, have someone from your media relations staff sit in on all media interviews.  They can often limit or prevent the damage by bringing an interview that gets off message back on message.

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


The Monday Morning Media Minute is now available as an eBook.  My new eStore features five eBooks based on the Media Minute.  To check them out, visit my eStore and buy early and often.  The eBooks come as PDF files.  You don’t need special eBook software to read them.

Circus or Purpose?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment trial started today in the Illinois Senate, but he’s in New York doing network TV interviews.  Among the morning’s revelations:  He considered Oprah for President Obama’s old Senate seat.

As someone who loves political theater, the Blagojevich saga rates high on my personal entertainment scale.  But is there a viable communications strategy behind Blagojevich’s big splash on network TV?

Maybe.  Or he may simply be as delusional as his critics say.

Blagojevich appears to have given up on keeping his job.  That’s realistic.  There was only one vote in the Illinois House against impeachment and he doesn’t appear to have any friends in the Senate.  So, he really has nothing to gain from attending his own trial or presenting a defense through his lawyers.  That just gives TV news organizations footage of Blagojevich or his attorneys trying to defend the indefensible in a venue that works against him.  So, odd as it may sound, he’s probably on the right track there.

I assume his real objective is to do what he can to stay out of prison.  The fact that he’s doing high-visibility interviews throughout the day says to me that federal prosecutors aren’t interested in negotiating a deal.  He’s running out of options.  What’s left is for him to try to influence the jury pool for his almost certain criminal trial.  The best shot he has at that is making an emotional appeal to the public about why he’s the victim and the one who has stood up for the little guy.

Will it work?  Probably not.  At best, it’s longshot.  But Blagojevich doesn’t have a lot of other options open to him.  So there may be some method to his madness — assuming, of course, that he actually tried to cop a plea and couldn’t.  If he started with the PR offensive without making a serious effort negotiate a bargain that would keep him out of prison, then he is simply delusional.

What’s the point?  You have to have a clear, realistic agenda to have any chance of developing a successful communications strategy.  The “obvious” choice for a communications strategy isn’t always the correct choice.  To make intelligent decisions:

  • You have to have a clear objective.  You have to know what you want to achieve.  For Blagojevich, the objective appears to be limited to staying out of prison.  He isn’t even trying to keep his job.
  • You have to know who your audience isWho can help you achieve your objective?  In this case, that’s federal prosecutors or the jury seated for his criminal trial.  The TV interviews say Blagojevich has given up on negotiating a deal with prosecutors.
  • You need clear messages.  What will it take to convince your audience to give you the outcome you want?

Given the choices he faces, Blagojevich’s strategy of going to the media probably is about as good as anything else available to him — assuming he’s exhausted his options of negotiating a deal with the prosecutors.  If he skipped the negotiations with prosecutors before embarking on his media tour, he’s made a huge mistake.

Map out your agenda before you start talking in public.

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


The Monday Morning Media Minute is now available as an eBook.  My new eStore features five eBooks based on the Media Minute.  To check them out, visit my eStore and buy early and often.  The eBooks come as PDF files.  You don’t need special eBook software to read them.

Media Fortress Is Self-Defeating

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Remember Sarah Palin?  The one running for vice president.

After delivering an acceptance speech that turned her into something of a political rock star, Palin’s largely disappeared from public and media view.  And the few interviews she’s done have been – to put it kindly – less than rousing successes.

From outside, it looks like the McCain campaign has put their VP candidate under wraps because they’re afraid she’s not ready to handle questions from the media.  Understandable at first since she hasn’t been on the national political stage before.  But at some point it becomes an issue.

I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind about Palin and whether she should be talking more often to reporters.

But the media fortress that’s been built around her reminds me of a problem I see too often within companies and agencies who see themselves as besieged by a hostile media.  They simply quit talking to reporters except when they feel they have no choice.  And they go into the few interviews they do with a chip on their shoulder, assuming the reporter’s only there to do them harm.

The problem with this kind fortress mentality is that it fosters the kind of negative coverage it’s designed to protect against.

Some reporters do practice gotcha journalism.  Most don’t.  But reporters are human.  And, like all of us, they draw conclusions about the people they come in touch with based on how those people react around them.

Most of us assume that people who are constantly on the defensive have something to hide.  Reporters do, too.  And they’ll reflect that in the stories they write.  Most of us assume that people who defend the indefensible or say things that are misleading or untrue are untrustworthy.  Reporters do, too.  And they’ll reflect that in the stories they write.  And that’s the very behavior that seems to go with a fortress mentality when it comes to dealing with the media.

You don’t have to answer every question a reporter asks – or even agree to every interview.  But if you’re too evasive at some point it becomes an issue.  And if you have a chip on your shoulder every time you do an interview because you assume the reporter’s only out to “get” you, you’re not going to like most of the stories written about you.

Talking to reporters is different than talking to your neighbor.  You need to understand how to tell your story effectively and stay on message.  That’s one reason why good media training is so important.

But if you know the rules of engagement, have a solid story to tell and tell it clearly you’ll do just fine most of the time.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

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


The Monday Morning Media Minute is now available as an eBook.  My eStore features five eBooks based on the Media Minute.  To check them out, visit my eStore and buy early and often.  The eBooks come as PDF files.  You don’t need special eBook software to read them.