News media copycats make life more difficult in the world of crisis communications and public relations. More than ever before, your small crisis can get undue media coverage because of the latest disturbing media trend.
Disturbing news media trend #2 is the breaking news trend. CNN is the king of using the “breaking news” banner and verbal exclamation by their news anchors. Fox News is the king of using the phrase “news alert.” But it doesn’t take long, in the land of few original ideas, also known as TV news land, for other news stations to copy what they see the “big boys” are doing. Local television stations open nearly every newscast with both verbal and graphic exclamations, proclaiming the first story of the newscast as breaking news.
As a former journalist, during my time in the television news business, “breaking news” was used to describe an event that was happening or “breaking” at that very second. A fire, an explosion, a shooting are breaking news.
Sadly, this new disturbing trend slaps the breaking news moniker on whatever the first story of the newscast is, even if the event happened hours before. In many cases the issue is already resolved with no new information.
In other words, the breaking news is not breaking and breaking news is broken.
During CNN’s non-stop speculation coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370, CNN even proclaimed breaking news about, “new speculation about what might have happened.” Yes, CNN combined two disturbing media trends at the same time – the breaking news trend combined with the excessive speculation trend. It was truly a low point in the world of television news.
This disturbing trend toward excessive use of the breaking news banner has profound effects on every corporation, non-profit organization or government agency, and their public relations teams. Things that are little crises might easily get portrayed as a much bigger crisis.
How do you deal with this? Your crisis communications plan, your media interview skills, and your media monitoring need to be better than they have ever been. Your need to respond quickly as soon as an event occurs is more important than ever. You can’t afford to linger in your response and allow the media to blow things out of proportion.
Now is the time to:
1) revise your crisis communications plan
2) make sure a crisis communications drill is conducted at least once a year, which includes mock news conferences
3) make sure all spokespeople go through media training at least once a year
4) make sure you are using the latest media monitoring tools (I’m super impressed with the I.Q. Media platform)
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If your job is to communicate with the media in the form of crisis communications or pro-active public relations for a good-news event, your life and job will become more complicated because of disturbing news media trend #1.
Excessive speculation ranks as disturbing media trend #1. CNN has taken the sin of speculation to an all time high with their 24/7 speculation regarding the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370.
The flight disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014 and has never been found as of the day of this writing. That didn’t stop CNN from calling upon every third party expert in the world to get their opinion on why the plane may have disappeared, where the plane may have disappeared, and why absolutely no trace of the aircraft has ever been found.
The speculation included junk floating in the water near China, junk floating in the water near Vietnam, and debris west of Australia. There was also speculation that the aircraft was either commandeered by the pilot or hijacked and flown to a remote airstrip where the passengers might be alive and held hostage.
As a former journalist, I’ll share with you that in newsroom lingo, when a spectacular news event happens, it is not uncommon for the news director to proclaim to all in the newsroom, “We want to ‘own’ this story people!”
CNN clearly set out to devote more time to this story than any of their competitors. But there is a big gamble when going all-in on such a story. If there is no reasonable conclusion within a reasonable amount of time, the news media outlet is trapped. CNN had to decide if they would taper off their coverage or continue to go all in with the 24/7 speculation game. Unfortunately for anyone who watches CNN, the network decided to for-go coverage on most anything else in the world, in favor of non-stop speculation.
As a journalist and as someone who has reported for CNN, this relentless speculation fell below any standards of journalism I was ever taught. It was so absurd that I reached the point of feeling embarrassed for the anchors and the network.
Often another news event will happen that gives the media an opportunity to gracefully exit their excessive coverage. For example, on March 29, 2014, when Los Angeles experienced a 4.1 earthquake, which killed no one and injured no one.
(As a side note, I FaceTimed with my daughter in New Zealand and watched her screen bounce with great frequency as she experienced an earthquake. We immediately went online to see where the quake was centered and watched continuous aftershocks, all of which exceeded the single 4.1 earthquake in LA.)
Rather than giving the story a simple mention commensurate with a minor quake, CNN launched into yet another round of speculation news coverage. This time the story centered on whether LA was going to experience a big quake, capable of causing mass destruction, injury and death.
Really CNN? You didn’t need a 4.1 quake to speculate on that. Heck, everyday you could speculate about a quake rocking California.
Meanwhile, days later, on April 2, 2014, a big quake really did hit, this time in Chile. This massive quake measured 8.2, it killed five, injured others and caused massive destruction of buildings and a tidal wave. Yet the Chilean quake barely stayed in the news cycle.
Furthermore, while CNN went all in on the Malaysian Airlines 370 story, sending their top anchors to report from Malaysia and Australia, they sent no anchors to cover the massive destruction and chaos in Chile.
The frightening aspect of CNN’s relentless speculation is that often what happens at the network level trickles down to the local TV stations. Television news consultants seldom have an original idea. Rather, they watch what some other television news outlet does and they simply copy it.
This trend toward speculation can have a serious impact on corporations, non-profit organizations, and government agencies that experience a crisis. It also has significant impact on the people in public relations who must communicate reactively in a crisis and those who must communicate pro-actively when trying to get media coverage for good news events they wish to promote.
On the reactive side of crisis communications and public relations, should your company, non-profit or government agency fall prey to a crisis, it may be harder than ever to manage and communicate about your crisis.
This disturbing trend of speculation means you will spend more time than ever before responding to and reacting to rumors. Not only must you constantly slap the media on the wrist, but, in the case of Malaysia Airlines 370, if you are the company featured in the news reports, you must intensify your communications to your customer and family member audiences. The media and their speculation inflame your stakeholder audiences, causing greater mental anguish and emotional hostility.
Conversely, if you are a public relations person trying to get positive coverage for a news event during a period of time when the media is in excessive speculation mode about another entities’, your chances of getting good news coverage dissipates. In fact, your chances are almost zero that you could get any sort of news coverage.
The bottom line is for those of you who are professional communicators, the world of communications has gotten a great deal darker and harder because of the disturbing trend of excessive speculation.
Consider this: Just a few years ago rural electric cooperatives were not under pressure to communicate rapidly with the media, members or employees. Today, you have less than one hour to control the flow of accurate information.
There are three major reasons why this is changing and four things you can do to adjust to these changes. If you are not adjusting to these changes, you will be in big trouble.
To learn about the three major changes and four ways to adjust, read on…
To communicate effectively at a 2014 level, you need these four things:
1) Your co-op must have the most extensive crisis communications plan ever written.
2) Your crisis communications plan must have a library of at least 100 pre-written news releases.
3) Your CEO/manager, operations director, customer service director, and public relations director must agree to all train at least once a year for media interviews.
4) Your co-op must conduct a crisis communications drill at least once a year to test your crisis communications plan, your pre-written news releases, and the media interview skills of your spokespeople.
Why is this suddenly so critical in 2014? Here are the three reasons:
#1 Urban Sprawl
Time was, when city media seldom reported on rural electric co-op issues. Today, as cities like Houston, Atlanta, and others have turned pastures and forests into neighborhoods, the media aggressively covers stories in these areas. New residents in new houses represent a young, emerging audience with disposable income that appeals to advertisers, especially for television news. Those same new residents are likely to be the quickest to call a television news investigative reporter and they will be the first to comment online about a negative news report.
#2 The Rural Weekly Paper is Online
Time was, when rural news was only reported by the local weekly newspaper. Today, the internet has allowed the weekly paper to publish online 24/7. No longer can you take days to respond to a co-op controversy. The weekly paper may still print just one day a week, but they need an interview, facts and quotes from you just as fast as the big city media.
#3 Social Media
An angry member can quickly escalate any issue to the crisis level. They can escalate an issue into an online controversy and a mainstream media controversy. While many co-op managers and board members continue to wrangle with, question, and oppose a social media presence, members are creating their own anti-cooperative Facebook pages. Your extensive crisis communications plan must have a social media strategy.
Co-op communications is changing rapidly. If you, like so many cooperative communicators, find yourself with too many other tasks and too few people or hours in the day, please call me. I have fast, easy and affordable solutions to your communication challenges, including a world class crisis communications plan that can be customized in just two days.
Click here to LISTEN to what other cooperative communicators have to say about this fast, cost effective way to implement a crisis communications plan customized for your cooperative. You can also call me at 985-624-9976 to learn more.
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Media training in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other cities in Louisiana carry a special set of challenges. Usually the training is for spokesmen – as in all men. Seldom is the media training for spokespeople, representing both genders. The spokesmen generally work in the oil and chemical industry. Most are not trained public relations professionals. Most are managers and supervisors in a chemical plant or an oil refinery.
In Louisiana’s industrial corridor, the bulk of the media training is to prepare someone for crisis response. Often companies call asking for crisis communications training or crisis management training. Seldom do they ask for media training because many do not know what the training should be called.
At the risk of generalizing, many of these spokesmen grew up as I did. We were taught to tell it like it is. Telling it like it is usually starts with negative information, followed by a justification for the bad news or event. After the bad news and the justification, Louisiana men often tell you what they are going to do differently.
Analyzed, it looks like this:
Bad News – Repeat the negative
Bad News – Repeat the negative
When I was a television reporter, I was often first on the scene when a chemical plant blew up between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Often the spokesperson would share too many negative details that should not have been shared. They might say something such as, “Well we’ve been having problems with the vessel in the hydrocarbon unit for the past month. We had one small fire that we put out last week. But we don’t know what caused the explosion today. But I promise you, safety is our top priority.”
To be an expert spokesman in media interviews, the fewer negatives you repeat, the better you will be. In media training, you need to learn to say positive news first and as little of the negative news as possible.
The statement above might have better been worded by saying, “Our goal is to always be protective of human health and the environment. What has happened here today will require us to investigate so we can find out what happened, how it happened, and how we can keep it from ever happening again.”
Are you up to the challenge for a media interview?
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Not a day goes by that I don’t have a phone call with a public relations person who is telling me what they can’t do and why they can’t do it. This trend concerns me gravely.
I call this getting ready to get ready to get started to begin.
Wow. I would hate to live like that, which is why I don’t work within a corporation. Having been a corporate V.P., I can tell you such behavior was never allowed in my department. It was not allowed from those who reported to me, nor did I allow people to give me excuses on why we couldn’t do what needed to be done.
Granted, in any endeavor in life and business, I value the ready, aim, fire approach. However, each step should have a reasonable time limit. Strategic planning, for example, seems to just keep dragging on for so many public relations colleagues I speak to. They never find the target at which to aim and they are slow to fire. They are stuck in ready. Dare I say, many are getting ready to get ready to get started to begin.
Boldly, I’ll predict that 50% of all activities in corporations are a complete waste of time. What do you think? Ask yourself, “How long have we dragged out or waited for a strategic plan to be developed before we could make a move?” When all that strategic collaboration was completed, did you really learn anything significant that you didn’t know? Did you figure out anything that you couldn’t have strategized on your own – and in a shorter period of time?
How often has a project come to a halt because your company is going through reorganization? Did that reorganization make the organization better? Seldom does it get better, it just gets slower. Usually it is the equivalent of rearranging the proverbial chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
Are you operating in slow motion?
Are you letting your company keep you from doing what you know should be done?
Are you letting your company keep you from being the professional you should be?
Are you a floor mat for your corporation to wipe their feet on?
As a former news guy, I can tell you we moved at the speed of seconds. When a crisis hits, we’re on the story and we were on you. Meanwhile, PR people, and especially the corporate bosses, think you can move at your own good ol’ pace. They fall into decision paralysis, which I’ll define as making no decision at the fear of making the wrong decisions, which sadly, is always the wrong decision. They fall into paralysis by analysis, which means weighing too many factors that don’t need to be weighed. Meanwhile, your reputation and revenue are going to hell as detractors and the media take the organization to task.
Public relations people and corporate leaders can see a crisis on the horizon, yet they are slow in planning their response and they are slow to respond. Meanwhile, aggressive opponents are generating negative news about the organization, harming reputation and revenues.
And all that social media that you love in PR… it is often really bad for you in a crisis. It accentuates and escalates your crisis. Social media, in many cases, further damages your reputation and revenues. Why is it public relations people want to use it for good PR, yet ignore its potential negative effects in a crisis?
I challenge you: Pick one PR project and fast track it. When you get done, tell me how it feels. I expect to hear back from you in 24 hours.
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In media training and crisis communications training, there are many debates about who should be your spokesperson in a crisis. Here are three common arguments and what you should consider.
Argument 1: The CEO Should Always Be the Spokesperson
A CEO who wants to be the only spokesperson is destined for failure. In a crisis, the CEO should be:
1) Managing the crisis
2) Managing the business operations
This is especially true in the first hours of a crisis when information is just becoming available.
In a severe crisis involving injuries or fatalities, the CEO becomes the face of the organization’s compassion. Even then, the CEO as a spokesperson might come several hours into the crisis. In the first hour, when a statement needs to be made, the CEO is often busy with other issues.
Also, if a CEO misspeaks early in the crisis, they destroy their credibility and undermine the reputation of the organization. Whereas, if anyone else misspeaks early in the crisis, the CEO can step in to clarify the facts and becomes the hero figure.
Remember BP’s CEO Tony Hayward, who uttered, “I want my life back.” That line caused him to be fired as CEO.
Argument 2: The PR Person Should Always Be the Spokesperson
The public relations person is an excellent choice as spokesperson in the first hour of the crisis when media might be just arriving, but doesn’t need to be the spokesperson throughout an entire crisis.
The PR person should be on the crisis management team and should serve as leader of the crisis communications team.
A “First Critical Statement” should be in every crisis communications plan. When few facts are known, it allows the PR person to:
1) Acknowledge the crisis
2) Provide basic facts
3) Say something quotable, while promising more information at a future briefing
(For a free First Critical Statement contact email@example.com)
Argument 3: A Variety of People Should Serve as Spokespeople
My recommendation is that numerous people should be media trained as spokespeople. In a crisis, the PR person should speak during the first hour of the crisis. By the end of the second hour of the crisis, a subject matter expert should serve as spokesperson. If needed, the subject matter expert can remain as spokesperson if the crisis is ongoing. The final news briefing of the day may be the best time to feature the CEO as spokesperson.
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.
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
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It is a bold move; perhaps unprecedented. Certainly in my career in crisis communications and my prior career as a reporter, I cannot recall a community that has suffered a crisis, asking the media to stay away. However, officials in Newtown, Connecticut are asking the media to stay away on December 14th, the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that killed 27 people.
From a media relations perspective, I support this bold move.
As for the lessons for communicators and public relations professionals, Newtown offers many crisis communications lessons. Free information and a free webinar from one year ago are still online. Sadly, a bold post-Newton prediction I made in a blog post on CommPro.biz has come true.
I predicted that, “The Sandy Hook shooting will likely not raise any discussions about effective crisis communications, although it should.” With CommPro.biz, I presented a free webinar outlining what all schools should do in order to be properly prepared for effective crisis communications should they experience a shooting or some other type of crisis.
An effective crisis communication plan can save lives and move people out of harms way. With all my heart I believe it and advocate for crisis communications preparedness each day.
Sadly, I can report my prediction has come true, at least among the schools that contacted me immediately after the webinar and during the year. Of those who had more questions about writing a crisis communications plan, to date, not a single person who has contacted me has been able to get their school officials to endorse or believe in the premise that if you plan on a sunny day, all will go much more smoothly on your darkest day. So many organizations see communications about a crisis as a reactive response to media after a crisis rather than a pro-active event of planning that should be done long before a crisis ever strikes. Not a single person who contacted me was able to get their schools to allocate even a modest amount of time or money to begin the effort.
It would be a great day for children, parents and educations if my prediction were wrong.
Watch the news coverage as winter storms move across the United States, leaving many people without power in the cold for up to two weeks. Much of this story is being told through the eyes of the so-called, “citizen journalists.”
Citizen journalism is one of the reasons breaking news got broken. While corporate communicators, corporate executives and corporate lawyers haggle over every word and comma in a news release, eye witnesses to news events are posting their pictures and videos online with astounding speed.
Corporations around the world need to wake up. They need to rethink their approach to media relations and crisis communications. They need to think and act like citizen journalists. They need to post fast to the web.
When I hear a corporate communicator tell me, “Our people will never let us do that,” my first instinct is to channel my inner Ron Burgundy because, “I’d like to punch you in the spleen.” Trust me, in 1994 I heard these same people telling us that we couldn’t use e-mail and websites. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
But seriously – stop saying you can’t. Here are 5 things to consider.
#1 The Miracle on the Hudson
When U.S. Airways had a jet full of people land in the Hudson River in the media capitol of the world, all of the world’s media used the same image taken by a guy with a smart phone who posted the image to Twitter. I’d wager that U.S. Airways might have not even known they had lost a plane when those first images hit Twitter. You must be that fast to post images of your own news events.
#2 The Virginia Tech Massacre
On that sad day when 32 people died at Virginia Tech, University officials were slow to meet, slow to make decisions, and slow to issue both news releases and emergency communications to their student body. Instead, an engineering student used his smart phone to capture video of police officers on campus as 26 gunshots from the gunman are heard on the video. There was no national news media on the campus at that moment, yet when the students uploaded his video to CNN iReports, the media had all they needed to tell the story from a location where no media would have been allowed. You must be that fast to post video of your own news events.
#3 Stop Analyzing Words and Commas
After more than 30 years in communications, I still don’t understand why corporations spend so much time scrutinizing a written news release, only to have the spokesperson say dumb, un-vetted comments in an interview. If the interview isn’t going to match the written news release then stop spending so much time on the news release and spend that time in media training with the spokesperson.
#4 Stop Writing News Releases from Scratch
Every crisis communications plan should have a huge library of pre-written and pre-approved news releases that can be easily modified through strategically placed fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice options. If 100 things could go wrong in your organization, you should have 100 pre-written news releases. The pre-approval process will allow them to be posted to the web and read to the media in less than one hour of the onset of your news event or crisis.
To be as good as a citizen journalist you must have the necessary Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts set up. You must set up accounts with CNN iReports and other media uploading profiles. You need the right phone or tablet device and it must be configured to interface with your social media accounts. You need Skype for live reports. Here is the big one – you must practice your performance on camera as well as your ability to share and publish online from your smart device. This isn’t easy to do, yet you must do it and make it look easy.
The bottom line is someone will be telling your story. It can be an uninformed, yet technologically advanced eye-witness, or it can be an official source who understands the technology, as well as good media relations and crisis communications.
Who will tell your next story?
Want to learn more? Register for this free CommPro.Biz webinar on December 16, 2013 at 1 p.m. EDT
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A bad media interview caused by insufficient media training is creating a crisis communication problem on social media. Experts will weigh in on this, but I don’t think any one expert has the answer as to the best way to handle this.
As I write this, nearly 500 people have clicked “Like” on this particular Facebook post while more than 700 comments are posted. The vast majority of these comments are negative.
I have several crisis communication questions for you:
1) Do you think the founder, Chip Wilson, has made the situation better or worse by attempting to apologize on Facebook for comments he made on television?
2) Do you think the situation is getting better or worse on the Facebook brand page as the company’s public relations and social media teams try to engage in a conversation with those who post comments?
Without providing an answer to those questions, here is something to consider — Each time the public relations and social media team replies to a comment on the Facebook post, it moves the discussion higher in the news feed of the page followers, increasing the odds that someone new will jump into the conversation.
Was this a big mistake to take this discussion to Facebook?
Could this apology have found a better home in the company’s newsroom?
Was the apology itself poorly worded, leading to more negative comments?
Was the apology made only to employees and not to customers?
If the apology was to employees only, should it not have been posted where only employees would see it?
Could all of this crisis on the back end been eliminated by doing things differently on the front end?
As a father, I’ll tell you that my wife and I had a couple of basic rules when we were raising our two daughters. One rule was that you never have to fix the big things if you fix the little things. In this case, the lesson for all PR people, CEOs, and executive spokespeople, is to understand that the apology would never have been needed if the CEO had not said a foolish ad lib in the interview. The foolishness would have been eliminated if executive media training had been done prior to the original interview.
I’m amazed on a daily basis at how under valued media training is among executives and public relations teams.
In every media training class that I teach, I challenge the CEO or spokesperson with this question, “If you could attach a dollar to every word that you say, would you make money or lose money?”
Of the more than 700 comments on the Lululemon Athletica Facebook page about this issue, many clearly say they will no longer buy the company’s product. Need I say more to prove my point? I think not.
In every crisis you should consider my “Crisis Rule of Thirds,” which states that one-third of the people love your company/brand, one-third will hate your company/brand, and the third in the middle will swing like a pendulum, based on what is popular at the moment.
In a social media crisis, in a world that is already filled with negative comments, I think many companies will lose the battle, lose the war, lose customers, and lose money.
Consider this: Delete the video, delete the Facebook post, and stop talking about it.
What do you think?
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Media training, media trainers and the executives and spokespeople who go through media training need to understand the importance of practicing before every media interview.
Chip Wilson, Lululemon Founder is being criticized today for comments about how Lululemon pants only fit some women and the ongoing crisis or controversy over allegations that Lululemon pants are “see through.”
Media training requires the spokesperson, executive or CEO to recognize that every word you say can have a positive or negative impact on your corporate sales and revenue. Sales, revenue and the words you say are part of the reputation package you develop over time. As a spokesperson, you either enhance or degrade your reputation and revenues during a media interview.
Media training and the expert who serves as the media trainer, requires us to recognize that while the spokesperson, executive or CEO is invited into a media interview for one topic, other topics may be brought up. This is especially true if the interview is within a reasonable time period of a recent crisis or controversy. This is true for Lululemon and founder Chip Wilson.
Wilson is making headlines because of an interview he did on the Street Smart program on Bloomberg TV with anchor Trish Regan. Wilson appeared on Bloomberg with wife Shannon, who was being interviewed about Whil, a 60 second meditation she was promoting.
Instead of Whil and meditation being the headline in news reports today, the trending headline is “If your thighs rub together, Lululemon’s pants may not be for you.”
Regan asked Chip Wilson, “What’s going on with the pants?”
Wilson replies, “I think everything’s blown up. There is no doubt about it we made a mistake. The thing is we’re a technology company, and when you push technology, something is going to happen every now and then.”
He goes on in his confession to say, “There are a thousand things that could go wrong on a technical fabric and when three of those things go wrong at the same time something is going to happen and it is almost impossible to build a quality control case for each one of those combinations.”
Regan responds, “It’s tough and it continues to be a problem, because now there are complaints of pilling in the fabric.”
Wilson responds with an attempt at an analogy by saying, “There has always been pilling. The thing is that women will wear seatbelts that don’t work, or they will wear a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it.”
“They don’t work for the pants?” Regan asks.
Wilson replies, “They don’t work for some women’s bodies.”
“So it’s more likely they will be more see through on some women’s bodies than others?” Regan follows.
“No, I don’t think that way, because even our small size would fit a woman who is an extra large,” says Wilson. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it…”
Regan injects, “Not every woman can wear Lululemon yoga pants…”
“No, I think they can. It’s just how you use it,” Wilson concludes.
Media training before the interview should have prepared Chip Wilson for a better answer. Media training in the midst of the initial controversy over the alleged “see through” yoga pants should have established a dialogue of carefully parsed, verbatim sentences. With training, Chip Wilson would have been able to say these sentences in an instant if I were to wake him from a dead sleep.
If Gerard Braud, a media trainer from New Orleans, were brought in to provide expert council and media training advice to help the 10th-richest man in Canada and his Vancouver based company, this is how he would have been taught to handle this exchange.
Regan’s initial question was open ended and neither positive nor negative. She asked, “What’s going on with the pants?”
Chip Wilson, like many CEOs, because there is a negative in his mind, focuses on the negative issue, rather than focusing on the positive solution. Remember, Regan implied no negative. Chip Wilson voluntarily went negative.
(By the way Chip Wilson, many CEOs learn this the hard way. My wealthiest CEO client is worth $2.4 Billion and knows that spending a few dollars on media training and a few minutes on practice protects his company, his brand, and his wealth. My number is 985-624-9976. Call me and I’ll let you talk with him directly as one CEO to another.)
If I were in a private executive media training with Chip Wilson, he would be coached to respond with honest truth about the Lululemon yoga pants and not the negative truth about the Lululemon yoga pants. His answer would be, “The popularity of our yoga pants continues to grow. It is humbling to see that we were able to follow our passion and create a form of sports apparel that continues to grow in popularity with men and women.”
Since Regan appears to be fit, I might even instruct Wilson to ask the Bloomberg news anchor, “Trish, do you have a regular exercise routine and are you a Lululemon customer?” This is also something Wilson could have learned prior to the interview. If Wilson had employed this technique of asking Regan a question, chances are the discussion would have turned to Regan and her exercise routine.
There is a chance the interview would have never gone negative. If Regan followed up by saying, “A while back you had issues with women complaining that the pants were see through. Have you fixed that problem?”
Wilson could have replied, “Yes, as we investigated we found that many of these issues were caused by customers loving their pants so much they wore them often and in some cases they sat on rough surfaces, such as concrete. So, while we love the fact that customers want to wear our product a lot, like any fabric… including your favorite pair of jeans… get thinner and you need to buy a new pair.”
There is a good chance the negative tone of the interview would have ended there.
Additionally, in a politically correct, hyper-sensitive world, a CEO, a spokesperson or executive cannot say anything that could be implied as criticism of a woman’s body and shape. Regan baits Wilson with her question, “So it’s more likely they will be more see through on some women’s bodies than others?” This follow up question might never have been voiced if Wilson had used my positive, pre-planned and practiced answer, rather than his bad ad-lib.
Wilson steps in a big pile of “do-do” when he says, “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it.”
What my experience as a media trainer also picks up on here is that Wilson is likely an analytical person. Many CEOs are analytical, which causes them to answer with technical facts and confessions, in an effort to be honest. Often a stronger form of honesty can be found in a less technical and more positive answer.
Surely, the entire Lululemon public relations team gave out a loud cry when Wilson mentioned thighs? Or did they? I don’t know.
I do know that I have watched many PR teams simply tell a rich CEO what a great job they did in an interview, rather than providing honest feed back and more media training before then next interview. If you are in public relations, it is your job to provide executive council to the CEO and not be a wimp who is afraid to speak.
(For all of you who have asked, “How do I get a seat at the table?”, the answer is to have the nerve and professionalism to speak up rather than being fearful that you will lose your job.)
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In the spirit of avoiding negatives, Wilson never needed to use words such as, “There are a thousand things that could go wrong on a technical fabric and when three of those things go wrong at the same time something is going to happen and it is almost impossible to build a quality control case for each one of those combinations.” This, once again, indicates an analytical engineering type mind is answering the question.
Finally, the analogy used by Wilson about seat belts not fitting and purses not being right represents what happens when a media spokesperson does not develop and practice their analogies during their media training class.
The bottom line: Headlines on the internet and headlines in the media focus on words such as, “Chip Wilson, Lululemon Founder: ‘Some Women’s Bodies’ Not Right For Our Pants.”
This didn’t need to be the headline. The CEO is at fault. All CEOs need to recognize the importance of media training and public relations teams must not gloss over media training prior to every interview.