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6 PR Questions: Are You a Rug or a Flying Carpet?

Gerard Braud * 15By Gerard Braud

In your public relations and communications role, which are you? Are you a rug or a flying carpet?

My dream is for you to soar as a PR expert, being both a thought leader and a brilliant, innovative, practitioner of your craft. My fear is that you let the so-called leaders in your company walk all over you, dictating what you can and can’t do.

Here are 6 questions to help you determine the answer, if you don’t know it already:

#1 Do your corporate leaders comprehend the monetary benefit of what you do OR do they see you as a financial burden?

#2 Do you hear “no” so often that you are feeling defeated and underappreciated? OR do you get summoned on a regular basis to serve as strategic council?

#3 Is it hard to focus on your tasks and know what your goals are because your leaders spontaneously throw new tasks at you? OR Do your leaders give you room to develop a communications plan with strategic goals and editorial calendars?

#4 Are you in constant reactive mode to emerging issues and crisis communications? OR do your leaders encourage preparation by having a crisis communications plan tested with crisis communications drills?

#5 When it is time to do a media interview, do you hold your breath fearing what your leaders may blurt out to a reporter? OR do your leaders willingly participate in media training and actively prepare for an interview?

#6 Do your leaders lump together tasks such as marketing, graphic design, internal communications, public relations and social media? OR do they recognize that unique talents and skills are needed to properly master each task?

If you are agreeing with the negative premises above, then you are a rug. You allow your employer to walk all over you. You are in a low place. You probably hate your job. Chances are you need to hire a headhunter and find a new job.

If you are agreeing with the positive premises above, then you are a flying carpet who can soar in your career. The sky is the limit. Life is good and rewards will follow.

Life is too short to be unhappy. The decision to control your happiness should be in your hands and not the hands of someone else.

4 Media Training Tips from Marco Rubio’s Interview with Chris Wallace

Marco rubio interviewBy Gerard Braud

I’m irritated by how Chris Wallace conducted his interview with Marco Rubio on Fox News Sunday. The media interview is generating a barrage of news stories about where Rubio stands on the issue of whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq.

For the full context of this article, watch this clip being used by Rubio’s political opponents. It is an edited three-minute exchange with Chris Wallace, which amounts to a verbal tug of war.

This type of media interview could happen to anyone from a CEO, to a corporate spokesperson, to a political candidate like Rubio. Lightweight media training can never prepare a spokesperson for this type of an interview. High profile people need intense media training at a high level, which requires the trainer to be combative at a high level.

Here are 4 tips for dealing with a tough interview:

Tip 1: Study interviews from others like you who have been asked the same question. Just last week Jeb Bush stumbled on the same question. It appears Rubio studied the Bush interviews and was for the most part prepared to answer the question.

Tip 2: Challenge the reporter’s question when you don’t understand the question. I suggested this in my Jeb Bush article, and to his credit, Rubio did this, saying to Wallace at one point, “I don’t understand the question you are asking.”

Tip 3: Shut up and listen. When a reporter gets combative, as Wallace did, you have to decide when you are going to talk and when you are going to listen. At some point you must realize that when two people are talking over each other a lot of valuable airtime is being wasted on the verbal tug of war. As the guest, sometimes you need to listen to the reporter’s question and wait for him or her to finish before refining your answer. Wallace kept asking the vague question, “Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?” Rubio kept arguing over the semantics of the question.

Tip 4: When you’ve practiced your answers, as it appears Rubio has done, deliver the answer perfectly without feeling compelled to insert a spontaneous thought or verbal ad lib. My review of the interview shows that Rubio has a consistent set of answers to this question. In a nutshell, he has said that he would have invaded if he had been handed flawed information and that it would have been a mistake to invade if he had known the true facts. But in an attempt to end the verbal tug of war with Wallace, Rubio adlibs, “Based on what we know now I wouldn’t have thought Manny Pacquiao was going to get beat in that fight a few weeks ago…”

Ultimately, because of Wallace’s constant interruptions, Rubio would have needed to let Wallace finish and then answer with his rehearsed answer stated clearly, with parsed words, and delivered with as few words as possible. Such an answer sometimes requires the spokesperson to include their version of the question and answer for context, such as:

If the question is. ‘Do I support the decision to invade Iraq?’ my answer comes in two parts:

Part 1 – “If I had been given the same flawed information as President, I might have made the same flawed decision to invade.”

Part 2 – “If I had been given accurate information based on what we know now, I suspect that no president would have invaded at that time for those reasons.”

In conclusion, preparation for a potentially combative interview requires a high level of preparation and perfection, which requires extra training and practice.

 

 

Media Interview Mistakes of Jeb Bush: The Sequel

jebbushrenoBy Gerard Braud

In yesterday’s blog we talked about the impact a bad media interview can have on a spokesperson, whether it is a candidate running for office or a corporate executive. In the article, we examined presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his interview with Fox News.

One additional aspect of a bad interview is our lesson today, as it plays out in the current news cycle. University of Nevada student Ivy Ziedrich challenged Jeb Bush in Reno, asserting that his brother George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq has given birth to ISIS.

What we see in this example is that a bad answer that makes headlines one day extends into more news cycles the next day. Rather than being able to focus on current issues and moving the conversation forward, Bush has to repeatedly focus on his past statement. This is a problem that many political candidates fall into. Bush is not the first and he will not be the last.

When your goal is to drive forward as a CEO, an executive, or a businessman or woman, it is difficult to see the road ahead when you have to deal with what is in your rear view mirror. Don’t let one misplaced statement harm your reputation or revenue.

When “It” Hits the Fan – Hurricane Season Readiness & Effective Communications

hurricane seasonBy Gerard Braud

Forecasters are watching for what might be the development of the first hurricane of 2015.  This happens just as the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association (LEPA) meets in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in advance of the official hurricane season.

I’m delivering the opening keynote presentation to LEPA emergency managers this morning as we look at how effective communications is changing. Emergency managers are being called upon to not only use all of their traditional crisis communications methods, but how to also incorporate social media and mobile technology.

Whether you are part of this group or not, you can take advantage of the lessons being shared using the resources below.

I’ve prepared two handouts for the group, which can be downloaded here:

Weathering the Storm

Leadership When “It” Hits the Fan

If you’d like to perfect your skills for creating effective videos to communicate with your audiences during a disaster, I encourage you to watch this 23 lesson tutorial.

Also, when a crisis strikes you you need to hold a fast news conference or issue a fast statement, I strongly recommended that people use my first critical statement as a fast alternative to writing a formal press release. To get a free download use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

 

4 Refreshing Public Relations, Crisis Communication and Media Relations Phrases

police chiefBy Gerard Braud –

In the past three weeks there have been three big public relations crises that have lead to unprecedented crisis communication. In these crises public relations professionals used phrases we should all say more often to the media, to our employees, and to our stakeholders.

They include:

I Was Wrong.

I Made a Mistake.

I Apologize.

We’re Going to Make this Right.

The cases involved the accidental shooting of Eric Harris by reserve officer Robert Bates in Tulsa, the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore Police, and the drone strike that inadvertently killed an American and an Italian hostage being held by terrorists in Pakistan.

In Tulsa, the officer went on the Today Show and in a live interview while surrounded by his family, he confessed to the accidental shooting and apologized to the victim’s family.

In Baltimore, the mayor and police chief stood before the media in a news conference where they said the death should have never happened and that they would fully investigate the matter to make things right in the community.

In Washington, D.C., President Obama stood before the media in the White House briefing room to take responsibility for the deaths caused by the drone strike. He apologized to the families and he said that the U.S. government would pay restitution to the families.

What is amazing is that in each instance, words were used that lawyers never want you to say. Legal advisors consistently warn people in a crisis to never use words that could be used against them by the plaintiff’s lawyers when you get sued.

The fight between lawyers and public relations experts is as old as time. We have competing interests. The lawyer is trained to get paid to fight a case in the legal system, while the expert in public relations is trained to mitigate the damage and make the crisis go away through effective communications.

Theoretically, the lawyer makes more money by letting the crisis continue if they have to see it through trial. That seems like such a conflict of interests, which could lead to flawed decision making. Is the legal expert giving advice that is in the best interest of the client or in the best interest of the law firm?

When I was a television reporter, I interviewed countless people who were suing an offending party. An incredible number of the victims and family members said to me, “If they had only said they were sorry I wouldn’t be suing them. But they never said they were sorry.”

Morally and ethically, I think saying you are sorry and taking responsibility is the right thing to do. There is a huge financial cost and liability to screwing up and causing a crisis. But there is also the possibility of settling out of court and making the crisis go away so that your institution or company can begin restoring its reputation while mitigating the impact on revenue.

Legal spin is spin and spin leads to distrust. Conversely, honesty leads to trust and trust leads to healing. Both have a cost to reputation and revenue.

As a war room veteran in many crises, my advice to clients and executives has always been to take the high road and to do the right thing on behalf of victims. Sometimes I win the argument and sometimes they listen to their lawyers. On numerous occasions, my moral compass has instructed me to terminate my working relationship when the best interest of the client is lost because they want to follow their lawyers. Sure, I make less money, but I feel much richer knowing I’m true to an honest goal and a principle of fairness.

Experience tells me that having these discussions during a crisis, while in the war room, is the worst time to be making such critical decisions. The best time is to talk it out and establish policy on a clear sunny day before your crisis happens.

Consider scheduling a meeting with your executives and leaders to discuss this one day soon. Another option is to test the decision making and arguments in a crisis communications drill. In many of the crisis communication drills I conduct for clients, one of my goals is to force executives and lawyers to hash it out during the simulation, so that we can evaluate the discussion and decision making during the evaluation phase of the drill.

Try saying these words to determine how comfortable you and your organization are with them:

I Was Wrong.

I Made a Mistake.

I Apologize.

We’re Going to Make this Right.

 

 

 

#FireBrittMcHenry: The ESPN Media & Social Media Crisis

britt mchenryBy Gerard Braud

How would you or your company handle the situation if one of your employees did what ESPN reporter Britt McHenry did?

A media and social media crisis has been created for ESPN and McHenry when a video was posted that showed McHenry berating an employee of an auto towing company.

At this moment, ESPN has suspended McHenry for one week. How would you handle this situation?

C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” We could paraphrase that to say, “Character is doing the right thing, regardless of whether you are in public or private.”

McHenry was at a business, thinking she was having a private conversation with the clerk. But in a world where cameras record everything, McHenry’s encounter became public.

On the line right now is the character of ESPN and McHenry. The hashtag #FireBrittMcHenry began trending shortly after the video was posted.

Here are some of the things McHenry said on the video that was posted:

britt mchenry2“I’m in the news sweetheart and I will fu*&ing sue this place.”

“That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”

“With no education, no skill set, just wanted to clarify that.”

“Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college drop out and do the same thing.”

“Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me huh?”

“Oh, like yours cause they look so stunning. Cause I’m on television and you’re in a fu*King trailer honey. Lose some weight baby girl.”

I spent 15 years on television and worked very hard never to be or be perceived as a celebrity. My wife used to go crazy because people would ask, “Where do I know you from?” I’d always shake their hand and say, “I don’t know. I’m Gerard Braud. And your name is…?” Never did I identify myself with my television station.

Conversely, I also knew some really mean reporters and anchors with huge egos who thought they were better than everyone else. Many were notorious for throwing temper tantrums.

In McHenry’s case, being angry that your car got towed is understandable. But when your anger turns to personal attacks about the appearance of other people, indicating that you clearly believe you are better looking and a better person than everyone else, you’ve crossed the line and you deserve to be fired.

In television, ratings often drive decision making more than a network simply doing what is morally and ethically the right thing. That’s sad. This should be a no brainer for ESPN to fire McHenry. Sure, she gets ratings because of her looks. But there are many other talented young women with nicer personalities and smaller egos who are ready to take her place.

And here’s the kicker to the on camera rant – when McHenry says on video, “Why, cause I have a brain and you don’t.” If McHenry had a brain she would be smart enough never to say what she said or treat a person the way she did.

#FireBrittMcHenry

 

Editor’s note: Left Jab Radio interviewed media and crisis expert Gerard Braud about Britt McHenry. Listen to the interview here.

 

 

Media Training Case Study: The Hillary Clinton Campaign

hil By Gerard Braud

The media lessons of Herman Cain, in our last article, should be heeded well by the Hillary Clinton campaign as well as by all public relations experts, CEOs and executives.

Lesson #1: Always consider the financial impact of your words.

Lesson #2: When you have big negatives in your past, you must be ready to explain them to the media the day you decide you want to be a candidate. Therefore, you must spend time to craft an answer, practice that answer, and be able to deliver it flawlessly the day you eventually get asked about it.

Lesson #3: Don’t be in denial about your negatives. The media will eventually find out and ask you about it and you’ll need a perfect quote and explanation.

Hillary Clinton is a much more masterful pro before the media than Cain. She’s been the first Lady of Arkansas and of the United States. She’s been a previous presidential candidate and the Secretary of State. However, she still is not perfect when it comes to answering questions. Some may believe she works as hard not to answer a question as she does to answer a question.

As she enters her campaign she will have to answer some heavy negative questions right from the start including questions about her Secretary of State emails on her personal server. Questions my arise about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, and about her past in Arkansas with issues such as the death of Vince Foster and the Whitewater deal.

In the past, she tried to blame tough media scrutiny on, “A vast right wing conspiracy.” And for her loyal base, that answer worked. But the Sunday talk shows were abuzz with journalists bringing up the negatives previously mentioned here.

Regarding Lesson #1: The base has already filled her war chest, but if the media go negative on Clinton early and she does not reply properly in word or deed, she will be in trouble, either against an opponent in the primary or in the general election.

Regarding Lesson #2: Time will tell if she has plausible answers and quotes that will satisfy both the media and further questioning by Congress.

Regarding Lesson #3: If she fails to answer questions about her negatives, then she is in denial.

Some politicians with a strong base try to play the numbers game of knowing they have enough check-writing supporters to plow past their negatives. Wouldn’t it be easier to make the negatives go away with great planning and great quotes that provide a plausible and believable explanation?

Likewise, many corporate executives think their loyal customer or employee base will support them and the negatives will pass with time. My question is why wait? Why not be pro-active so you can focus on future positive rather than past negatives?

What do you think?

 

Media Training Case Study: Political Season Is Upon Us

Hermain CainBy Gerard Braud

In yesterday’s article I mentioned The New York Times called me Friday for a comment about Rand Paul’s hostile interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. When the Times starts calling for observations, that means the political season is in full swing.

You can learn a lot about your own media interview dos and don’ts during campaigns, especially the presidential campaigns. We’ll take some time this week to look at a few lessons from the current presidential campaign, as well as the last campaign.

We can learn two lessons from the 2012 failed campaign of former pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Lesson #1: Always consider the financial impact of your words. (See Chapter #2 of Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Lesson #2: When you have big negatives in your past, you must be ready to explain them to the media the day you decide you want to be a candidate. Therefore you must spend time to craft your answer, then practice that answer, and be able to deliver it flawlessly the day you get asked about it.

Lesson #3: Don’t be in denial about your negatives. The media will eventually find out, ask you about it and you’ll need a perfect quote and explanation.

The Herman Cain lesson begins with the fact that he had, according to reports, been accused by several women of sexual harassment. His employer at the time settled out of court and the accusers signed a confidentiality agreement about the settlements. However, before the settlement was signed, it is possible that these women discussed their cases with their friends. You can also bet that opposing campaigns hired opposition research experts who would eventually discover this. Those researchers will look for an opportunity to leak it to the media. The media_If you could attach a dollar to every-1 eventually asked Herman Cain the question, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?” Cain replied, “Well have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Really Herman? You wanted to be the President of the United States and on the day you announced your candidacy you didn’t know how you would answer your toughest question? This is such a rookie mistake, yet also a typical mistake of high powered people.

Why?

Regarding Lesson #1: The day after this quote aired, Cain told everyone it wasn’t hurting his campaign and that checks were still coming in from supporters. The reality is checks were arriving from people who wrote them before the bad quote. The checks stopped rolling in later that week and the campaign ended. My opening sentence in each media training class I teach is the question, “If you could attach a dollar to ever word you say, would you make money or lose money?” Herman Cain’s situation proved this point.

Regarding Lesson #2: The day a candidate launches their campaign, they must have their quotes written and practiced for every negative in their lives. Failure to do so is unprofessional. In public relations, failure of a PR person to do this for their company and failure of the C-Suite to know the answers is unacceptable and amateurish. It is the job of the PR team and the job of the executives to be prepared. As a public relations person, you must be willing to push your CEO hard enough that if he or she doesn’t listen, you are willing to quit your job.

Regarding Lesson #3: Every candidate has negatives, just as every company has negatives. It is only a matter of time before an opponent learns of the negatives and tips off the media. It is better for you to acknowledge this and prepare for this than to live your life hoping it never gets discovered. Hope is not a public relations or crisis communications strategy.

Next, we’ll apply these lessons to Hilary Clinton.

7 Media Training & Spokesperson Lessons from Rand Paul vs. Savannah Guthrie

guthrie paul interviewBy Gerard Braud

The New York Times called me Friday for a comment about Rand Paul’s hostile interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. When the Times starts calling for observations, that means the political season is in full swing. Reporter Alan Rappeport does a great job covering candidates and the things they say in his blog, First Draft. I wasn’t available when he called, but he did get some good insights from my friend and colleague Brad Phillips, who some of you know as Mr. Media Training.

You can learn a lot about your own media interview do’s and don’ts during campaigns, especially the presidential campaigns. We’ll take sometime this week to look at a few lessons.

For all of you who are spokespeople, I encourage you to first watch the NBC Today Show interview. Here are my observations about how it went:

Question one was background. It went smoothly.

Question two was about Iran negotiations. Guthrie tried to interrupt Paul 2:05 into the interview and Paul successfully interrupted to say, “Let me answer the question,” to which she did and the answer by Paul was a good one. However,

Lesson 1: To all spokespeople – the reporter has the right to interrupt you if it appears you are dodging the question. In this case, I think Paul was adding context, which many reporters don’t want to hear.

Lesson 2: Add context when you can. But if you look at the video, Guthrie appears embarrassed by the interruption. That isn’t good for Paul.

Lesson 3: Don’t embarrass a reporter on live television.

Question three was Guthrie at 3:03 into the interview asking Paul about issues that she said he changed his mind about over the years. On her third example at 3:16, Paul interrupts in a way that I believe crossed the line into being combative. Paul feels she is asking a biased question. Guthrie continues despite his talking over her. She completes the question by talking over his interruption, then he, in my opinion, comes across as being condescending as he begins to lecture her on how her question should have been phrased.

Lesson 4: Do not be condescending to a reporter. When a spokesperson reaches this point, things will always get uncomfortable and combative.

Lesson 5: As a spokesperson, you have the right to rephrase a question, but you should not think that lecturing a popular reporter on live television is a wise move.

My suggestion for any spokesperson at a time like this is to allow the reporter to finish their question, then to simply reply, “I cannot agree with the premise of your question.” The spokesperson should then state the facts as he or she believes them to be true.

Instead of the response I suggest, Paul initiates an argument that sounds much like a husband and wife who seem to be debating something that neither has heard correctly.

Lesson 6: When two people speak at the same time like this, neither can hear the other clearly.

From the perspective of control, Paul is completely controlling the interview. However, he is embarrassing Guthrie to the point that the loyal viewers who love and adore her will learn to hate Paul. For Paul, he gained control of the interview’s direction, but at what cost?

Brad Phillips told the New York Times that a spokesperson must remember, “The reporter is the conduit to the audience you want to reach out to.” This echoes the lesson I write about in Chapter 1 of Don’t Talk to the Media Until which is that in an interview, you are not talking to the media, you are talking to the media’s audience.

All of you who serve as spokespeople must walk a fine line when getting combative with a reporter, especially in a live interview on a high profile program like the Today Show.

Lesson 7: Making the media your enemy and being combative usually backfires. Making the media fall in love with you because you give great answers and sound bites always works. Just ask the young Senator from Chicago who ran for President and now sits in the White House. His quotes were always strong and that goes a long way.

The bottom line is that as a spokesperson, you have a right to provide context and to correct errors or misstatements. However, doing it right requires you to remember that, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

5 Crisis Communication Tips to Prevent Secret Service Style Delays

clancyBy Gerard Braud

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said it took five days before he was informed that a car carrying two agents struck a security barrier outside the White House.

How long does it take in your company for you to find out about an event that could be a potential crisis that requires you to implement your crisis communications plan and begin communicating with the media, employees, customers and other stakeholders?

Most public relations people tell me it is a constant challenge for the home office, leadership, and PR staff to find out what is going on in the field. Often, you find out only because the rest of the world has already found out and the issue is getting negative attention on social media or with the mainstream media.

How do you change this? It begins with new policies and procedures, supported by employee training, as outlined in the five tips below.

The reality is that the average employee, supervisor or manager is mostly afraid that they will get in trouble if they report a problem, large or small.

But an unreported problem creates problems for those of you who are the company expert in public relations, crisis communications and media relations.

Ultimately, you need to know about events that could damage the company’s reputation and revenue.

What are your solutions?

Tip 1: Conduct training programs that inform employees about the need to protect the company’s reputation and revenue through good reporting. Many employees and leaders never really make the full connection to the bottom line. Help them.

Tip 2: Establish an easy way for employees to notify the home office of a potential problem.

Tip 3: Train employees to get in the habit of using that notification method.

Tip 4: Provide positive recognition for employees who use the reporting mechanism and appropriate repercussions for employees who fail to report an event that could damage either reputation or revenue.

Tip 5: Do your part to speed communications by spending time on a clear sunny day to write a library of pre-written, fill-in-the-blank news releases so that you are not responsible for delaying crisis communications.

Crisis communications is a team effort and the team needs to be built for speed, both in the field and in the public relations office. One way to address this is to use the current Secret Service headlines to open a discussion with your executive staff.

If you have a great system you’d like to share with your public relations colleagues, please send me your thoughts in a guest blog post. gerard (at) braudcommunications.com

If you would like to discuss best practices for a public relations and crisis communications team built for speed, feel free to call me at 985-624-9976.