Why are there so few examples of great crisis management?

When I ask most audiences to name a company that did a great job managing a crisis, most people (in Canada, anyway) say the name of one company: Maple Leaf Foods. I agree. They did a great job. But the real question is this...Why are there so few examples of excellent crisis management and so many instances of companies doing the wrong thing? The answer, in part, is human nature. That, and a lack of prep and planning.

Media training is the blind spot

Media training is the blind spot

Executives and entrepreneurs dedicate their lives to self improvement. They vie for the most prestigious schools. Many pursue post-graduate studies. They go on retreats, read books, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, do cleanses, meditate, do yoga, try intermittent fasting. They’re constantly on the lookout for a hack. An edge. Something that will make them smarter, more agile, better prepared, more successful.

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Having your PR agency do your media training is a missed opportunity

You wouldn’t get the guys at the quick oil change place to install a new engine in your classic car. You wouldn’t go to your dentist for complicated dental surgery. I think you see where I’m going with this…

When companies let their PR or marketing agency facilitate their media interview training sessions, they’re taking the path of least resistance. They’ll say things like, “It’s included in our monthly retainer" or “We already have a relationship with them”.

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The top things people are worried about before their media interview (and how to address them)

The top things people are worried about before their media interview (and how to address them)

Media interviews can be stressful. After all, there’s a lot on the line. And while no two people are exactly the same, as someone who helps coach people to do better media interviews for a living, I can tell you that there are some very common sources of interview anxiety. Here are the most common reasons people are stressed out about their media interviews (and some tips for minimizing that stress so that your interview goes well) and you can get that great coverage you’re hoping for:

Worry #1: They could ask me anything.

This is the biggest source of anxiety prior to an interview. Your mind starts racing with all the things they ‘might’ ask you and you spiral down a rabbit hole of terrible hypothetical topics. In reality, a media interview is a negotiated interaction. If it’s a proactive story you’re pitching, you know what the topic is. If it’s a reactive story where they’re calling you, the reporter should give you a clear overview of the focus of their story. Once you know the focus, it’s your job to craft some high-quality remarks that cater to that focus and tell an actual story that the reporter’s audience would find interesting. Could they go off script and ask you something totally out of the blue?

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Why are people not doing practice interviews before speaking to the media?

One of the sad truths I’ve come to realize doing media training sessions in Canada and other countries is that the typical smart, career-minded professional will put WAY more work and preparation into a short, in-house presentation than they will for a media interview. I have my theories about why that is - namely, that they’re seeing it more as a conversation with the reporter than what it really is - an on-the-record interview that will be archived online forever.

I have this saying when it comes to media interviews, that ‘the first is the worst’. By definition, the first time you do it should logically be the worst. Most people do that first interview with a reporter though and they leave a lot of upside on the table. But what if you tried doing the first version of an interview with your in-house media relations person or with someone like me? Then you got some real, pull no punches feedback and tried it again. The second version of that interview will be significantly better than the first. Then, you do it with the reporter. The result is better media coverage.

You can't rewrite yesterday's headlines

You can't rewrite yesterday's headlines

Interview regret…

It’s that nagging feeling, right after you’ve given a media interview, that you didn’t quite nail it. That you could have done a better job.

If only I had answered that one question differently. Did I say ‘um’ too many times? Could they see that I was sweating? They’re not going to put that last thing I said in the story, are they? If they do, our competitors are going to have a field day with it. What’s my boss going to say?

Cue anxiety. Self doubt. Interview regret.

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The camera is always on...

Your media interview doesn't start when the reporter asks their first question. It starts the moment the phone rings, the moment you walk into their building or the moment they walk into yours.  And the interview isn't over when they say thank you and ask you how to spell your name. It's over when you've hung up the phone (and confirmed that you've hung up), when you leave their building and hear the door click behind you or when you see the journalist driving off into the distance... This unguarded, 'hot mic' moment of Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe singing 'We're in the Money' is now part of his professional legacy. And it was totally preventable. 

Why you owe it to yourself to get proper media training this year

Why you owe it to yourself to get proper media training this year

Most companies and executives are obsessed with the idea of 'getting' media coverage. They send out news releases, pitch reporters, buy ads, create events/promotions and throw thousands of dollars at PR firms in the hopes of securing interviews. Far fewer, however, take the appropriate steps to prepare for the actual interview itself. The result....

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Should we ask a journalist for a correction?

You did an interview with a journalist but you or someone at your company didn't like one of the quotes in the story or didn't like the way your company was characterized. Should you go back and ask for a correction? Here's my take on that question.

Want the media to pay attention to you? Think more like a journalist!

"Is there any way to make your association's good news story more appealing to journalists?" Someone asked me this question after my talk on media relations at the CSAE National Conference in Newfoundland. Here's my take on getting reporters to pay attention to your media pitches... FYI, I reference my sister a few times in this clip. Just for context, so you know who I'm referring to, my sister is Carly Weeks, a health reporter at The Globe and Mail.

Advice to media relations pros: "Never stop learning"

The media landscape is always changing. When you think you've seen it all or when you think you're done learning, you'll be putting yourself and your clients in a vulnerable position. Keep learning. Pay attention to the changes from things like social media. Continue to adapt to the changing media environment.

Your key messages are too long!

One of the quickest things you can do to improve the quality of your media coverage is to focus on creating shorter, more powerful messages that tell your story in a way that will be interesting to journalists and your audience. 

When your messages are too long, journalists are forced to edit your answers, which increases the chances that a partial answer may be taken out of context.

So...how long should your messages be? This is my take on that question.

Be wary of repeating a reporter's negative language

The #1 most common mistake that people make in their media interviews? Repeating the negative language that reporters often use in their questions.  If you pay attention, you'll find quotes like these in most news stories, whether it's in print, radio or TV.  Why is it such a serious mistake? Because you end up telling your story using someone else's words and, in many cases, they're negative, controversial words you would never use to tell that story. If you can kick this habit, you'll be well on your way to better media coverage.

A media relations primer for Anthony Scaramucci

A media relations primer for Anthony Scaramucci

Apparently the new White House Communications Director doesn't understand how journalism works. Here's a quick primer:

  • If you're talking to a reporter, that's an interview.
  • Anything you say during an interview can be used by the reporter (unless you clarify and agree in advance that something is either 'background' or 'off the...
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Media spokespeople: Get out of 'CSI' mode!

Without realizing they're doing it, many media spokespeople put themselves in what I call CSI mode. They default to a role that's the equivalent of a suspect being interrogated by the police. And when it comes to conducting media interviews on behalf of your brand, that's not a winning approach...

Stop treating your media interviews like police interrogations

Stop treating your media interviews like police interrogations

You've seen it a million times on shows like CSI, Cold Case, Law & Order and NCIS. They cut away from a commercial and suddenly, you're transported to the interrogation room. It's just a table, a few chairs and a one-way mirror. But this is a room with a lot of baggage. Before anyone says a word, the power dynamic is already well established. There's no doubt about the fact that...

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Don't trust your spokespeople with a media training tourist

Don't trust your spokespeople with a media training tourist

Being asked to prepare a company's spokespeople to deal with the media is a huge honor and it's a big responsibility. One way or another, as a media trainer, your ability (or inability) to coach these people will impact the quality of their company's media coverage, their brand and, to an extent, their professional legacies. Because there's so much riding on the outcome of your media training program, if you're serious about preparing your executives to deal with the media as effectively as possible, you need to stay away from media training 'tourists'... 

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