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More than a
traditional PR firm.

More than a traditional PR firm.

Did He Really Just Say That?

Post by Susie Bell. Susie is a Director at Himle Rapp. You can follow her on Twitter @swbell.

As someone who has worked in communications for more than a decade, I am always intrigued by PR blunders made by public officials, corporate leaders, athletes and others in the spotlight. Of course, it is easy to stand on the outside and judge a performance without knowing the internal discussions and complicating factors that always accompany high-profile media appearances, public apologies or trips to The View’s couch. On the other hand, some examples are so cringe-worthy that it does not take a communications professional to judge them to be disastrous.

So, below are some tips for media interviews and public appearances, along with examples of some very smart and successful people memorably ignoring them.

1. Be truthful. It sounds simple but can be so hard. If you try to answer a direct question by parsing words it will convey the clear message that you are at best dodging the question or at worst untruthful. See Bill Clinton and his famous line: “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

2. Be prepared. Most interviewees prepare for the tough questions they fear a reporter might ask. However, it is equally important to prepare for the questions you hope will be asked. A bumbled response to a softball question can be quite damaging. See Ted Kennedy: Why do you want to be President?

3. Know your audience (and be sensitive). Always remember who your audience is and what you want them to think about you. Don’t, for example, gather a room full of kids to watch you in a live primetime TV special break the hearts of an entire city by declaring “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” The decision to sign with Miami was a business decision that LeBron James made in order to align himself with a team that he believed gave him the best chance of winning a championship (and he was right). However, instead of using the announcement to explain his decision, thank the City of Cleveland for its support and fire up Heat fans, James’ delivery callously rubbed salt in the wound he was inflicting on Cleveland fans and brought him universal criticism and resentment that remains today.

Another classic example of a CEO lacking sensitivity to a viewing audience is, of course, Tony Hayward lamenting that dealing with the aftermath of the BP oil spill made him want his life back.

4. Don’t agree to an interview if you’re not willing to answer any questions. If you have been involved in a controversy or scandal, you cannot expect to make an appearance on television and not be asked about it. That does not mean you have to answer any and all questions about it. But if you are not willing to make a statement to the first question and move on, don’t go on TV. I’m sorry Martha, you can’t expect to just focus on your salad.

5. Assume the tape is always rolling. Whether you are in a media interview, on a panel or speaking to a community group, you have to assume anything you say could end up on the front page. Right Mitt Romney?

Have a favorite head-slapping “I can’t believe he/she just said that” moment? Share it in the comments below or tweet us @himlerapp.

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