Selecting the Right Spokesperson: Should it be Multiple People?

DSC_0114Who should be your media spokesperson? In this series of blogs, we have reviewed the argument for the CEO serving as the spokesperson and the PR person serving as the media spokesperson.

Consider option 3: Should a Variety of People Should Serve as Your Media Spokespeople?

A subject matter expert, with proper media training, can be a great spokesperson. In fact, an expert in the subject is often the most credible with the media and the audience.

Numerous people should be media trained as spokespeople, with each ready to go when called upon.

In a crisis, the PR person should speak during the first hour of the crisis, as explained in our previous article. By the end of the second hour of the crisis, a subject matter expert should serve as the spokesperson. If needed, the subject matter expert can remain the spokesperson if the crisis is ongoing. The final news briefing of the day may be the best time to feature the CEO as spokesperson, as explained in our previous article.

Think of your spokesperson selection process the way sports teams operate. You have stars and strong people on the bench, ready to step in as needed.

Media training helps identify your star players and secondary players. Most of all, never let anyone speak without intense training. Media play hardball. Don’t send out an untrained person with little league skills.

Train your CEO. Train your PR expert. Train multiple subject matter experts. The number of experts you train is based on the type of organization you represent. A hospital, for example, could have multiple doctors from multiple fields, as well as one or two nurses. An electric company could train multiple supervisors and line workers, as well as someone who is an energy conservation expert.

The key to effective media training is to help these subject matter experts learn to put their daily jargon aside and learn to speak at a level that a sixth grader could understand. This is especially true for persons with an analytical mind, who have a propensity to focus on tiny, technical details, rather than focusing on the big pictures.

Who will be your media spokesperson?

About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is a media training and crisis communications plan expert. He has helped organizations on 5 continents. Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. www.braudcommunications.com

Three Media Training and Crisis Communications Tips for Doctors and Employers

By Gerard Braud

ebola

Click image to watch video

The current Ebola crisis has the media calling upon their medical experts to communicate about infected patients being flown to the United States for treatment.

Media training for this type of crisis requires you to have a plan for how your doctors and physicians will respond if they are called upon to talk with reporters. Every employer needs to be prepared to follow these same rules. When talking about the health of an employee or a patient, HIPPA rules – the Federal rules that govern patient privacy — essentially prohibit a doctor or employer from talking about the patient.

Yet the media want details; details a treating physician cannot give; details the employer cannot give.

The three secrets to an intelligent interview answer that satisfies the media are to:

1) Set the context of the situation

2) Politely admonish the reporter

3) Speak in generalities

An artful answer may look like this:

“First, we need to recognize that because of Federal laws governing a patient’s privacy, I’m not allowed to give any specifics about this patient and neither should the media. In general I can say that a patient with Ebola can be safely quarantined because the virus is not transmitted by breathing in the infection, but only by contact with blood or body fluids.”

The medical experts and reporters on the network news programs have done a brilliant job of walking this fine line when being interviewed by their networks and reporters. An increasing number of reporters are more aware of HIPPA rules, but many are not, while others try to trick the spokesperson into saying something.

Here is the key: The media need a good sound bite or quote. Write a good sound bite then train the spokesperson to deliver it in a masterful way to the media.

On the NBC Today Show Monday morning, the doctor spokesperson from Emory University Hospital, where the patient is being treated, does a good job of not violating the patient’s privacy. It is an interview worth watching.

If we dissect the interview a bit further, here are a few things to note:

NBC News anchor Savannah Guthrie states in her question, “I know that you can’t say much, if anything about the patient, under your care, but let me just try. Can you confirm that he is improving this morning?”

The doctor responds by saying, “I really can’t comment on the clinical condition of the patient. That comes specifically from the request of the patient and his family.”

The answer is an okay answer that doesn’t violate HIPPA. However, to a reporter and the audience, it may seem like something important is not being said or that the spokesperson or doctor is hiding something, when in fact they are just protecting the patient. Granted, doctors are not professional spokespeople, which is why they require extra media training when talking about a crisis like this. Granted, the doctor needs to be focused on the patient and not the media, which is why regular media training with doctors, when there is no crisis, is the best way to have them ready for a future crisis.

An abrupt answer like that is known as a “block.” A “block” is more acceptable when it is combined with a “bridge” and a “hook.” The bridge allows you to bridge to an acceptable answer and then hook the reporter and viewer with new information and a quote.

A better answer would follow my guidelines above and sounds like this:

“First, we need to recognize that because of Federal laws governing a patient’s privacy, I’m not allowed to give any specifics about this patient and neither should the media. In general I can say that a patient with Ebola can be safely quarantined because the virus is not transmitted by breathing in the infection, but only by contact with blood or body fluids. While I cannot comment on the prognosis or any progress about this patient, I can say that our institution is optimistic that we have the right facilities and right physicians to treat someone with Ebola, which is why the patient has been flown here from Africa.”

Using this technique, the doctor doesn’t just block the reporter’s question, but also bridges to useable information.

In the PR department at Emory, the media trainer and the PR team are likely calling this interview a success… and they should… and it is, because the doctor walked the fine line of HIPPA. But with a slight bit more training and practice, the doctor can be taught to use the full block-bridge-hook technique, for a more polished answer.

For all of you who must media train a spokesperson, realize that you can go from good to great with just a few minor adjustments in an answer. Regular media training goes a long way to make your spokespeople great.

Lesson 10: Mock Media in Your Face at Your Crisis Communication Drill: Six Great Tips

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159A real crisis is a pressure cooker and your crisis communications drill should replicate that. The pressure causes the media to be intense and often abrupt. The media may appear hostile. You will see similarities between media and sharks that sense blood in the water. Your crisis communications drill must duplicate that.

Here are six ways to do that.

1) Television cameras are intimidating, so make sure your mock media team has real television cameras to record each mock news conference. When your spokesperson or team of spokespeople enter the room for their mock news conference, have at least one camera person in their face with the camera as they enter. Get realistically and uncomfortably close. Make it real

2) Still photographers are also a part of real crises, so have a few of them in the room making noise with their shutters, setting off distracting flashes with each photo. Have them move about the room capturing the spokespeople from various angles.

3) During a real crisis, chances are your cell phone and desk phone would be ringing constantly as reporters try to get the inside scoop before their competition gets it. Therefore in a crisis communication drill, set up a phone bank of at least five people, with at least five fake personalities and fake names for each.

Personality #1 – A member of the local media

Personality #2 – A member of the national media

Personality #3 – A local mayor, councilperson or county official

Personality #4 – A state regulatory agency or state legislator

Personality #5 – A citizen with a host of fears and concerns

IMG_2621I give each personality a script containing likely questions they would ask and we schedule realistic calls at realistic intervals in a realistic sequence.

The challenge here is to force your communicators to stay on task to issue news releases in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, while letting most calls roll to voice mail or passing their phone off to an assistant who can log the calls without answering any questions.

4) Media are not polite to one another during a real crisis, so they should not be polite to one another in your crisis communications drill. During your mock news conferences, let your mock reporters ask realistic questions simultaneously. Let them try to out shout one another. Force your spokesperson to take control of the news conference and the reporters by calling on specific reporters and recognizing questions at their discretion. This type of practice is invaluable.

5) Do your homework before the drill to know what previous crises are like skeletons in the closet of the organization being drilled. Nothing makes a spokesperson look like a deer in the headlights like asking a question based on serious facts. Just this week in a drill I did this to a spokesperson, when I quoted the company’s past news releases and past news articles about recent layoffs, losses in stock value, and the $511 Million spent for repairs at their facility featured in the drill. The kicker is a nugget I found in a news article about the company replacing a part which actually failed during the scenario of the drill. Having Google at your finger tips on an iPad or iPhone is amazing. Real reporters would do it to you, so in your crisis communications drill, your mock reporters must duplicate this behavior.

6) Fake live shots are now faster and easier than ever, because of iPads and iPhones (or the smart phone of your choice.) In a real crisis, a serious news conference might be carried live on television, followed by a live report from the reporter covering the story. To duplicate this, after every mock news conference I use the video feature on my iPad to record me doing a fake live report. I then hand the iPad to the crisis communication media monitoring team and let them see within seconds what I would have said if I were real media and this were a real event.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Many executives admit that managing the crisis is the easy part, but managing the media is the tough part of a crisis. The truth is, most organizations spend more time, more money, and dedicate more people to emergency response then they do to crisis communications. Hence, if you dedicate more time, money and people to practicing and preparing for your crisis communications, you will have less difficulty with the media.

Each organization should conduct media training at least once a year for all spokespeople and again prior to every news conference. Spokespeople should include public relations professionals, subject mater experts, and top executives.

The great flaw is that most organizations treat media training as though it is a bucket list item that can be checked off and forgotten about. The key is maintaining and improving training based on modern communications.

Lesson 4: Test Your Crisis Communication Speed

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Drill_5723*How quickly can you get approval for and issue a statement to the media, your employees and other key stakeholders during a crisis? Your crisis communication plan should clearly spell out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

It greatly disturbs me to see that some companies and government agencies think five hours from the onset of a crisis is an acceptable time frame to respond within. It disturbs me even more to know that some organizations think tomorrow or the day after is soon enough. Just this week, while speaking to a group of public relations professionals in Washington, D.C. several of the attendees said it often takes their organizations one to two days to approve a news release.

Wow! It is 2013 and we live in a world where social media gives details about a crisis the second it happens. Speed is important.

In every crisis communication plan I write, it states that the first communications should happen in one hour or less. Admittedly, this is about 59 minutes too long, but is likely a realistic amount of time in a corporate setting where statements must be written by the public relations team and approved by executives before being released.

My key to speed is the use of a First Critical Statement. It is a pre-written, fill-in-the-blank document that allows an organization to release a few basic facts until more is known. The goal is to control the flow of accurate information rather than allowing rumors to spread on social media and speculation to run rampant among the media.

(Download a free copy with this link. Enter this coupon code to get it as a free gift: CRISISCOMPLAN )

If your crisis communications plan has this template in it, you should be using it in your crisis communications drill.

Katrina Media_0318Your crisis communications drill, while allowing you to test your crisis communications plan, allows you to test your public relations department and their ability to gather facts quickly. The team must fill out the First Critical Statement, get it approved by executives, then release it to the world. It also allows you to test your executives, who must be taught that time is critical and that major rewrites can slow the communications process.

Yesterday’s article referred to feeding little bits of information to the media, just as you would serve a buffet. Following that analogy, the First Critical Statement is the salad.

As the crisis communications drill continues to unfold, your crisis communications plan should dictate that by the start of the second hour of your crisis, a more detailed statement should be released to the media, your employees, and other key audiences.

Katrina Media_0327The plans I write for my clients may have over 100 of these pre-written statements in the addendum of the plan. These are also fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice documents written on a clear sunny day that can be quickly modified and released to the key audiences. They can also be pre-approved by executives on a clear sunny day. Such pre-approval eliminates approval delays on the day of your crisis.

Your crisis communications drill allows you to again test the speed at which the documents are modified and the speed at which they are approved.

Speed is critical when you need to communicate in a crisis. Your crisis communications drill helps you to perfect that.

 

Effective Communications for Your School’s Shooting – Lone Star College – Houston – Shooting Update

By Gerard Braud

Do the communications surrounding school shootings drive you nuts? The repetitive crisis communication failures are enough to drive a communications specialist insane. While the debate over guns rages, no one debates the merits of good or bad crisis communications. Here are my thoughts on what you should recognize and work to improve…

Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is when you keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. I’m watching television right now – January 22, 2013 – and there is another shooting at another school, with the same crisis communications failures.

 

Here is what I’m seeing – and it is the same as what I see 99% of the time when there is a school shooting:

1) The media show aerial video and speculate because no official spokesperson comes forward in a timely manner.

2) Social media becomes both helpful and harmful. On the one hand it can be a place for updated information, but in this case Facebook is a place for ugly discussions while Twitter is a repetition of both current and out of date tweets.

 

3) Without an official spokesperson, the media are interviewing as many students as possible. Some are more knowledgeable and forthcoming that school officials and some are fueling rumors in the absence of an official spokesperson.

4) The school’s website fails to give accurate, timely information. The message is poorly worded.

This is what I expect from our school leaders and public relations teams:

1) Stop living in denial and thinking it won’t happen to you. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That means that on a clear sunny day, you must write a crisis communications plan to guide you through your communications challenges on your darkest day.

2) Stop saying you don’t have the time or the budget to write a crisis communications plan. You are responsible for the lives of thousands of people. The lawsuits you face after their injuries and deaths far exceed the cost or time you spend upfront. A communication plan should be considered a vital part of your operations, just like turning on the lights or putting chairs in a classroom. And let’s be more honest… these are the lives of people who trust you – not just an economic decision.

3) A crisis communications plan is not a 6 page free document you download from the Internet. It must be a precisely crafted document that anticipates every twist in the crisis and the precise communications steps you must take. The heart of a good plan will be about 50 pages long.

4) You should never be at a loss for what to say. Your crisis communications plan should be filled with 100 or more pre-written statements that you can read to the media, post to your website and e-mail to your students, faculty and staff. Every plan must have a document called a “First Critical Statement” which quickly shares the basics while you gather more information for a more detailed release. On a clear sunny day you can write 75%-95% of what you will need to say on the day of your crisis.

5) Go beyond texting. Texting only tells your students to take cover. The downside of texting is the panic and media attention that follows, as well as the firestorm that you ignite on social media.

6) Manage the expectations surrounding an emergency text message. People who get their texts late get mad.  It may take 20 minutes before everyone gets a text. People who get their text late will often take you to task, especially complaining on social media.

7) A text may cause an instant traffic jam on roadways, which limits the ability of emergency responders to reach your campus.

8) You still need to hold a traditional news conference for the media as quickly as possible. This should not come as a surprise. Whether in person or over the phone, someone must be able to do this in the first 30 to 60 minutes of the crisis. Your first critical statement template is exactly what you will read to the media. There is no need for anyone to attempt to ad lib his or her way through this. A public relations spokesperson is my first choice for this first statement, not the top dog, who should be managing the crisis.

9) A bad or confused spokesperson undermines the credibility of your institution. You expect your students to go to class to learn. Likewise, all potential spokespeople should take an annual media training class so that you are well educated and prepared for your media interviews. It is part of your job. Failure is not an option, but too often is a reality. Media Training must be like a sport – you must practice to be good at it.

10) You won’t perform well on your darkest day if you don’t practice on a clear, sunny day. Hold at least one crisis communications drill each year. This will test your plan, your spokespeople, and your ability to communicate quickly and effectively.

11) Be wary of Twitter. Hours after you give the all clear, well meaning people will re-Tweet messages about the shooting and further fuel the confusion and panic.

My files are full of case studies like this. Beyond adding text messaging, I really haven’t seen any significant improvements at schools since the first major shooting in 1997 at Pearl High School. Instead, it appears that many in education have yet to learn the craft of effective communications. I find that sadly ironic.

About the author: Gerard Braud helps organizations achieve effective communications during a crisis and effective communications with the media. He has successfully helped organizations on 5 continents.

www.braudcommunications.com

gerard@braudcommunications.com

 

 

 

One Month After Sandy Hook: Effective Crisis Communications In Critical Times

One Month After Sandy Hook: Effective Crisis Communications In Critical Times By Gerard Braud

(Free conference call Monday, January 14, 2013 REGISTRATION IS FREE TO ALL)

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut will raise many questions about school safety and gun control. What will it not do? The Sandy Hook shooting will likely not raise any discussions about effective crisis communications, although it should.

As television viewers, we see the coverage, but most people don’t realize that such a crisis immediately brings 500 media outlets and approximately 2,500 people to your town and to your front door, all with questions they want you to answer now.

Why no attention to communications? Schools will review emergency procedures. School safety consultants will call for more security measures. Companies that sell school text messaging systems will be in full sales mode. But few if any schools or school systems will do anything to prepare for the day when they might have to communicate with parents and the media about a tragedy at their own school.

The sad reality is that school shootings and workplace violence happens all too often. If you are the leader of a school or company, or the designated spokesperson, examine whether you are prepared to flawlessly and effectively communicate amid chaos, trauma and grief. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine if you had a personal relationship with any of these victims. Now imagine trying to talk with parents or loved ones to break the bad news, then respond to hundreds of media calls, while dealing with your own personal grief.

The worst time to deal with crisis communications is during the crisis. The best time to address all of these issues is on a clear sunny day.

As it relates to tragic shootings in schools, be aware of these realities:

• A text messaging system is not the same as a Crisis Communications Plan. A text messaging system is only a notification system. Your text messaging system may save lives on a college campus when you can warn students to take cover from an active shooter. But when those texts are going to parents, a text sent too soon will lead to panic with potentially thousands of parents attempting to reach the school. This traffic jam then keeps emergency responders from reaching the scene. A text messaging system is notification; it is not communications.

• If you are unfortunate enough to experience a shooting at your school or workplace, you can be assured the media will be on the scene in greater numbers and nearly as quickly as emergency responders. You have an obligation to speak to them within one hour of the onset of the crisis, regardless of how tragic and personal the event is. For that reason, on a clear sunny day you should write the statements you will say to the media, parents, employees or any other stakeholders. You must successfully use three types of sentences in such a pre-written statement, which would include 1) fill in the blank statements, 2) multiple choice statements, and 3) declarative statements that are true today and will still be true on the day of the crisis.  I’ve successfully used this system in every Crisis Communications Plan I’ve ever written. On the day of your crisis, your template can be customized for release within 10 minutes. This message should then be shared simultaneously with all audiences, including communications to the media, e-mail, the web, social media, employee meetings and with all stakeholders. No audience should be told anything that is not told to all audiences.

• Denial and ignorance are the greatest evils that keep organizations from writing an effective Crisis Communications Plans. Denial means many will never take this step because they don’t believe they will fall victim to such a tragedy, although they may spend money for all sorts of security measures and text messaging systems. Ignorance means they simply think that having a text messaging system, a public address system and a plan for a fire drill are enough. You will forever be judged by your ability to communicate effectively.

• Do not summarily dismiss your responsibility to communicate and defer all communications to law enforcement.  Some law enforcement officials are effective communicators and some are shamefully bad. Furthermore, their comments should only be about the crime, crime scene and the investigation. Your job is to communicate on behalf of your institution. Your job is to be the face and voice of comfort to those you know so well and with whom you share a bond and grief.

• Leaders will quickly second guess every decision and every word during a crisis. That is why all communications decisions and all words that will be spoken should be determined on a clear sunny day. Most Crisis Communications Plans state only vague policy and procedures without definitive timetables or job assignments. Most Crisis Communications Plans fail to have a bountiful addendum of pre-written statements and news releases. By my standards, if I can identify 100 potential crisis scenarios, then on a clear sunny day, I can and will write 100 pre-written and pre-approved news release templates.

• Stay in close touch with members of your Crisis Management Team. Each team member is running their own team, be it emergency response and incident command or communications. Meeting in person is best, but you should never delay meeting because you are not all physically present. Opt to use conference call technology to hold virtual meetings when necessary.

• The perfect Crisis Communications Plan should outline in great detail every decision that must be made in order to effectively communicate. The plan must be written in chronological order so that in one hour or less you can successfully gather all of the facts known at that time, confer with fellow decision makers, then issue your first statement to the media and all other stakeholders. Your plan must be so perfect and thorough that no steps are left out, yet easy enough to execute that in the worse case scenario, it can be effectively executed even by an untrained communicator.

• Many leaders fail to communicate in a timely manner because they are waiting for all of the facts to be known before they say anything. This is a bad strategy. Speaking early helps eliminate rumors and helps to gain the public’s trust. It is better to communicate a little than to say nothing. You need two types of pre-written statements. The first statement gives only the most basic information and is void of many of the hard facts, which are usually not yet known in the first hour of a crisis. In my plans, this is known as the First Critical Statement. Some organizations call these holding statements.

Such a fill-in-the-blank statement should acknowledge to the world and the media that the event has happened and that you are gathering more information which you will share within the second hour of your crisis.

The second hour statement is a more detailed statement that fills in the blanks to many of the facts that were not given in your First Critical Statement. This statement should be written on a clear sunny day, when you are not under emotional distress. This is the type of statement I referenced above. To achieve this you must successfully use three types of sentences in such a pre-written statement, which would include 1) fill in the blank statements, 2) multiple choice statements, and 3) declarative statements that are true today and will still be true on the day of the crisis.

• Communicate quickly, especially in a college or high school situation where an active shooter is present. During the Virginia Tech shooting, the university had a woefully inadequate Crisis Communications Plan, which is sadly still used by an enormous number of universities. Furthermore, when the first two students were killed, school officials were slow to communicate. Two hours after the initial shooting, the gunman shot 30 more people. The university, meanwhile, had still not communicated the events and dangers from the initial event. In addition to the sad deaths of 32 people, extensive fines and court damages have been levied against Virginia Tech for their failure to adequately issue communications that could have saved lives.

• Never get frustrated because you think reporters are asking stupid questions during a news conference. The questions get dumber when you fail to communicate quickly. On a clear sunny day you can actually make a list of all of the questions you think you might get asked by reporters in any given crisis event. Once you have written all of these potential questions, you can effectively write news release templates that will sequentially answer each anticipated question, beginning with who, what, when, where, why and how. You can also successfully write answers that deflect speculative questions, which are the specific questions that so many spokespeople and law enforcement officers consider to be stupid. I can promise you are going to be asked, “why do you think this happened.” You also know that in the early stages of the crisis you will not know the answer. But don’t get frustrated and angry.  On a clear sunny day write a benign answer and have it ready in your news release templates. All of my pre-written statements contain this phrase: “One cannot speculate on why a violent individual would commit such an act. We will have to wait for our investigation to tell us that.”

• When you have your emergency drills, enhance those drills by including mock media and mock news conferences, complete with video cameras. Never use real media for these drills. During your drill you can test your skills, your Crisis Communications Plan and your pre-written statements all on the same day.

• Social media in such a crisis may do more harm than good. As a communications vehicle, social media is a tool and it should never be substituted for talking to the media, talking to employees, posting to the web and communicating to stakeholders via e-mail. All of these tried and true techniques should be used before Facebook and Twitter. YouTube should be your first social media option, followed by links on Facebook and Twitter to your primary website and your YouTube videos. My experience and research shows that Twitter is especially problematic, because well meaning, yet ill informed people, will re-tweet old tweets as though the shooting is still under way, causing undue panic. Once a shooting is over you must tweet an all clear message repeatedly for several hours, complete with links to your primary website where you must post the latest information.

• Do not delay in writing your Crisis Communications Plan. Twice this year I was contacted by organizations that wanted to write their Crisis Communications Plan “within the next 6 months.” Both had shooting fatalities in the workplace before they “ever got around” to writing their plan. One experienced a triple shooting with a double murder and suicide within 12 hours of calling me.

Please realize that the question should not be if you should have a Crisis Communications Plan, but how soon can you have one. Every organization must be prepared to effectively communicate in critical times.

About the author: Gerard Braud is known as the guy to call “When ‘It’ Hits the Fan.” He is an expert in writing Crisis Communications Plan and Media Training, and has practiced his craft on five continents. He has developed a unique workshop that allows multiple organizations to write and complete an entire Crisis Communications Plan in just 2 days, using his proprietary message writing system. You can reach him at gerard@braudcommunications.com  www.braudcommunications.com  www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com
Amid the heartbreak of every tragic shooting we always hear, “No one every thought it would happen here.” The “never happen here” attitude creates huge problems, leaving schools, businesses and communities unprepared – whether it is a tragic shooting at a school, a theater, a mall or your workplace.

It is heart breaking to have to address these concerns during this holiday season, but such is the reality of our world today.

CommPro.Biz has asked global crisis communication expert Gerard Braud to offer a free conference call and conversation to guide us through the steps every school, community and business should be prepared to take when the unthinkable happens.

REGISTRATION IS FREE TO ALL

http://www.commpro.biz/green-room/the-sandy-hook-tragedy-effective-communications-in-critical-times/

Please share via Twitter, Facebook and e-mail with your child’s school leadership, with community leaders and with leaders in your organization.


In this conversation we will discuss:

• Why this tragedy will lead so many institutions to do absolutely nothing

• Tragic flaws in the conventional wisdom about crisis communications

• Social Media’s upside and downside in a crisis

• Tried and true techniques that everyone must be prepared to undertake

• How leaders fail to lead while throwing up roadblocks


 

So… The new International Media Training No-No

Gerard Braud - Crisis Communications - Media TrainingSoooooo…. I’ve noticed a new trend. Soooooo…. it appears people think every sentence needs to start with “Soooooo….” Soooooo…. stop it already!

I first noticed this alarming trend while teaching media training to a global defense contractor in Los Angeles in 2010. One engineer — a lead engineer –started every sentence with “Soooooo….” It was driving me nuts and I worked with him to eliminate it.

When I came back to Los Angeles for their annual media training class one year later, “soooooo….” had spread like an epidemic. Much like corporate jargon spreads like a virus, so had soooooo…  In the 2011 refresher course,  nearly every engineer was saying soooooo…. as the open to every sentence.

Normal people don’t talk like that. But it is spreading, not like any ordinary virus, but like a global pandemic. I was teaching media training in Europe recently and a petroleum engineer with a major oil company had the same bad habit. During our media training role playing on camera, she began every answer with “Soooooo….”

As best as I can tell, this bad habit is rooted among engineers and IT (information technology) employees. If you hear it, please try to put a stop to it. Otherwise the pandemic will infect every conversation and media interview in the future.

Media Coach Training Tip: Control the Interview Questions with Leading Answers

I want you to think for a moment about the last interview you did with a reporter. The reporter asks you a question then you start talking. Think very carefully now – what were you wondering the entire time you were answering the question?

In most cases, my media training students will confess that the entire time they were talking, they were thinking, “I wonder what the reporter is going to ask me next.”

Well here’s a little confession – Most of the time while I was a reporter, the entire time people were answering my question I was wondering what I was going to ask them next.

This means that in most interviews, both people are distracted, wondering what the next question will be and therefore neither is really concentrating on what the current answer is.

Therein lies the biggest problem in most interviews and therefore the greatest opportunity.

Gerard Braud Communications Expert Interviewing tipsHere is what you need to know about reporters to fully understand how the interview will go down. In most cases, the reporter has no written, prepared questions before the interview. And chances are the reporter has not done an extensive amount of advanced research.

If you are dealing with an investigative reporter or a television network news magazine, you can expect the reporter has done more research and has some specific questions to ask. But in your average interview for your average story I would estimate that 80-90% of the time, the reporter is going to make up the questions on the spot when the interview begins.

The interview will start with “soft” questions, designed to help you relax and get into your comfort zone. As the interview progresses, the questions will become more direct and possibly more negative.

But here is the big secret – How you answer the current question will dictate what the next question is. Even more specifically, the words you use at the end of your answer will often be used by the reporter to craft the next question.

In other words, the reporter will mirror your language right back to you in a form of a question. For example, if my final words are, “…the challenges we’ll face next year will eclipse the challenges we face this year…” what do you think the next question will be?  The reporter will ask, “What are the challenges you expect to face next year?”

To test this theory, watch a TV news anchor talking to the reporter who is live on the scene of an event. The anchor will ask a question and the reporter will repeat part of the question back to the anchor as part of their answer.

Mary the Anchor: “Bob, it sure looks like a disaster zone out there…”

Bob the Reporter: “It sure is a disaster zone out here Mary…”

I’ve developed a system for crafting answers that foreshadows the things that I want to talk about in an interview, followed by a “cliff hanger” or a sentence that creates some suspense. The trick is to always stop short of giving all of the details about something and to make the reporter want to know more. You want to make the reporter ask you a logical follow up question.

Observe news anchors tossing questions to reporters on live locations and in your next interview try to create a few “cliff hangers” that will make the reporter ask you the logical follow up question that you want.

This technique makes life easy for the reporter because they never have to think very hard about their next question. You, therefore, are controlling the interview and the questions. The reporter is just following along.

Media Training Coach Tip: The Top 4 Reasons Media are Considered Biased

There is much debate about whether the media are biased; especially whether there is a liberal bias. If you truly want to explore that subject, I suggest you read the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg. (http://www.amazon.com/Bias-Insider-Exposes-Media-Distort/dp/0895261901)

It has been my experience over the years that much of what is perceived as bias is really the result of the following:Gerard Braud Communication tips for media photo

• Editors send reporters out of the door armed with only partial facts or rumors

• The reporters and editors have misconceptions or misperceptions about you or your issues

• A competitor or opponent of yours has approached the media and only told them half of the story

• Ignorance by the reporter

All four of the above result in the reporter calling you, asking for an interview, asking you negative questions, and putting you in a defensive posture.

Let’s break it down.

Partial facts are usually the result of rumors and innuendos. We all share rumors every day. “Hey, you know what I heard today…?”  In the newsroom, a reporter or editor turns that rumor into a research project and must confirm or refute it. “Hey Gerard, I heard a rumor today that… Why don’t you go check it out?”

That rumor would become my assignment for the day. If there is a rumor that the mayor is on cocaine, then I try to prove that the mayor is using cocaine. If he is, it is a story. If he isn’t, then there is no story.  If the rumor is that the married congressman has a girlfriend, then I try to prove the congressman has a girlfriend. If it is true, I have a story. If I can’t prove it, then there is no story.

You may not like it, but it is the nature of the business.

The next issue is very similar; it’s the impact of a misconception or misperceptions. Often this is purely subjective. Perhaps you are proposing a new development, but something just seems shady. Then the news report may likely reflect a tone of skepticism. The reporter may even seek out a 3rd party who is willing to cast further doubt on your project or credibility.

On the issue of opponents – I’ve watched many opponents make compelling cases and provide an enormous amount of supporting material and a hefty helping of innuendo. In the U.S. they’re often called “opposition groups” while around the world they are called “NGOs,” which stands for non-government organizations.

Usually the members of these groups are very passionate about a specific issue and those issues may be considered liberal issues. If a member of one of these groups makes a compelling case to a reporter, they could trigger a news report about you or your company. The reporter may come armed with reams of documentation supplied by the opponent, placing you in a defensive position. The resulting story could portray you in a very negative light.

And the final issue is ignorance by the reporter. Sometimes reporters just get the wrong idea about something and pursue it as a negative story. For example, most reporters look at steam belching from an industrial facility and think they are seeing pollution. Hence, they may do a story about industry polluting and fill the report with images of the stack belching what looks like smoke.

When you are faced with a situation like this, you need to explain everything to them in simple terms the way you would explain it to a 6th grade class at career day.

Chances are the media are not “out to get you.” But somebody else may be out to get you and they are letting the media do their dirty work.

Media Training Coach Tip: The #1 Technique to Shut Down Reporter Speculation

As a media training speaker and media training coach, my clients can sometimes find themselves asking, “What’s the worst that could happen? How much worse could it get? But what if…?”Crisis Communications training for the media

Oh, those great “what if” questions – reporters love those.  Why?  Well, reporters love a great story and sometimes the story doesn’t materialize the way they hoped it would.

Such questions indicate that the reporter is as disappointed as a 4-year-old who was hoping you would stop to buy them ice cream, but you didn’t.  Beware of reporters who ask you to speculate, because you are heading into very dangerous territory. If you do speculate, you’ve made the story bigger than what it is.

The most important phrase you can use when addressing such questions is to say, “I couldn’t speculate on that, but what I can tell you is…”  Another variation of that answer is to say, “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on that, but what I can tell you is…”

In my media training work, I often recommend that when you’re asked to speculate, apply the Block, Bridge and Hook Technique:

  • Block: “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate…”
  • Bridge: “But what I can tell you is…”
  • Hook: Redirect the reporter back to one of your key messages and one of the facts that you have previously confirmed.

Ideally, you should create an additional hook that keeps the reporter from asking another speculative question as a follow up. But the most important thing that you are doing is immediately putting an end to the speculation and sticking to the facts.

Use the Block, Bridge and Hook Technique when a reporter asks you to speak for someone else.  The block response should be, “I can’t speak for them, but what I can tell you is…”

One more media training lesson we should address here is how to handle the reporter that misstates certain key facts in their question.  It has been my experience that most spokespeople try to gingerly work their way back to a key message and then correct facts without ever clearly telling the reporter they are wrong. Well my friends, that seldom works.

If a reporter misstates a fact in their question you have permission to stop them dead in their tracks if necessary and say, “I’m sorry, but you misstated a key fact in your question.” At that time you should give them the correct fact. Another variation is to use the phrase, “I can’t agree with the premise of your questions.”

Over the years many spokespeople have confessed to me that they are afraid that such an approach could be perceived by the reporter as hostile. I personally think you can do it without being hostile.

In fact, I have found that the dynamics of the interview or news conference will change in your favor because the reporter sees that you are in charge and that you are holding them accountable. The reporter will not only choose their words more carefully in the remainder of the interview, but they will also choose their words more carefully when writing their script.

Final media training tip: In the end, you must realize that YOU are in charge of the interview. Don’t relinquish control to the reporter. Tell your story your way and you win!