Media Training Archive

We’re Crossing Our Fingers, Lance…

January 20th, 2011

Lance Armstrong‘s beating cancer to become a cycling great is the stuff of legend, there certainly is no quarrel with that.  Still, the ongoing whispers and allegations about doping continue to take their toll, and have suddenly become that much more real.

As crisis PR experts, all we have to say at this point is that it’s wise for the LIVESTRONG to run a crisis management playbook.  That means preparing holding statements, talking points, prepping leadership on media Q&A, and media training for the cameras and mics.  LIVESTRONG can’t say that Lance Armstrong isn’t part of the organization, and hence that his private concerns do not matter to the organization — both the man and the organization are brands, and they are one and the same in the public eye.

If the authorities do pursue the criminal investigation into Armstrong, it’s best for LIVESTRONG to not get caught flat-footed when the US Attorney’s shoe drops.  Good luck, Lance

US Airways Still Hasn’t Checked in on Tech Trends

December 28th, 2010

At the Blog Aesthetic, our articles are inspired by current events, public affairs, the latest celeb flubs, or anything else with an interesting PR twist.  And, sometimes, serendipity is our muse.

Today’s topic evolved from real-life travel events, namely in trying to check-in via mobile phone for a US Airways flight.  You’d think that mobile check-in capability would be standard for major airlines today.  Indeed, American, Delta, Continental, United, JetBlue, and Southwest all offer this feature to travelers.

As for US Airways… unless you fly out of Las Vegas (see below), you’re out of luck.

This is sad for several reasons.  First, one of the earliest and prominent mentions of this technology was a USA Today article … in 2007! Right now we’re only three days away from 2011, and US Airways remains firmly grounded on integrating mobile check-in technology.

Second, every single major competitor offers this service, so it should be safe to rule out technological hurdles.  In seeking good PR, businesses must promote a characteristic that positively distinguishes them from the competition.  For US Airways, this is hard negative distinction that no company should tolerate.

Third, if an airline can’t keep up with simple tech trends like this, what does that communicate about their brand and corporate ethos?

Fourth, steer your eyes back to the image.  Tech-savvy folks will notice an iPhone 3 is the example phone, a product that is already behind the iPhone 4.  This glitch adds more momentum to the idea of US Airways being out-of-touch on tech trends.

And lastly, it’s one thing for a company to acknowledge a deficiency and take steps to correct it.  It’s another for the company to peddle a “nothing to see here” attitude, or exaggerate the truth.  For US Airways, take a gander at their Twitter feed, where a recent status update exclaims they have “mobile tools for boarding passes” – which we now know is a fib unless, of course, you are in Las Vegas.  And only flying out of Las Vegas.  Too bad the airline is rolling the dice on staying in touch.

Brand Sleight of Hand, Brought to You by Toyota

August 26th, 2010

Another day, another Toyota recall.  In theory, any other brand that might have shouldered the weight of so much negative press would have collapsed.

When your brand faces a torrent of constant criticism like Toyota, the go-to PR tactic is to respond with positive messaging, namely in the form of ads – that’s the platform that gives you supreme control over the message and narrative.

But please – when considering such an approach, you must avoid over-the-top, absurd spin.

You may have seen Toyota’s recent commercials about how they’re spending $1 million an hour on improving their fleet’s safety.  As the New York Times points out, that adds up to nearly $9 billion a year.

Now that seems like quite a bit of loose change to spend exclusively on safety improvements, but as the Times explains, the devil’s in the video details.  The actual script of the ad says that “at Toyota, we care about your safety. That’s why we’re investing one million dollars every hour to improve our technology and your safety.”

That last sentence, if diced carefully, says that the money is being spent on technology improvement alone.  Yet during that specific narration, the words “INVESTING IN YOUR SAFETY” float on the screen (yes, the words are in all-caps in the commercial).

Nice subliminal trick Toyota, but when mainstream outlets devote their time to parsing the meaning behind your ads – and potential duplicity – all your company does is fuel the lingering mistrust on your brand’s safety record.  Not the wisest PR tactic we’ve seen.

The Science of Media Training Explains Climategate

July 16th, 2010

In today’s media and public relations landscape, it is important to remember that facts and truth rarely are enough to settle the discussion.  This is an acute problem for the scientific and research community – especially when they attempt to publicize new findings. Fundamentally, scientists and researchers need media training to guide them through media and political minefields.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the poster child for this problem.  Since Charles Darwin penned The Origin of Species, there hasn’t been a scientific theory more attacked, ridiculed, even hated than that of climate change.  In this case, a group of thousands of the world’s most respected scientists and experts issue recommendations to the world to try and mitigate climate change.  While that may seem benign, the IPCC has been under a withering assault from a well-funded opposition.

You may have heard of “climategate” (note: after nearly 40 years, perhaps we can find another way to refer to scandals, alleged or real, than -gate suffixes?).  Some internal IPCC emails were leaked to climate skeptics.  The emails contained standard scientific equivocation; taken out of context and plugged into an anti-climate change campaign, some seemed to indicate that the science was inaccurate.

All hell broke loose.  The IPCC was called in for review, climate skeptics scored a major PR victory, and climate science was “in question” again.  Snake-bitten by climategate, the IPCC made matters exponentially worse by issuing a letter to its scientists warning them about engaging the media.  Of course, the letter was leaked.

While climategate continues as a worldwide narrative, the recent story of the IPCC’s total exoneration was much less publicized.  This is a standard media conundrum.  The initial “scandal,” true or not, always saturates the media.  The resulting vindication does not.  That means right at the outset you must be ready to defend everything and be well armed with compelling talking points to support your cause.  If you let the discussion get framed without you, then you are playing defense rather than publicizing your findings.

Scientists, NGOs, and think tanks would do well to receive media training and seek the counsel of an experienced PR firm to help with the launch of a new initiative or report.  This is especially true if your research is on a controversial topic.  You may think your research will speak for itself.  It won’t.  It can be twisted, taken out of context, and publicly thrown back at you.  Without a decisive and coherent response, the public backlash can be brutal and your research will be of little value.

Four Steps to Getting the Media Story You Want

June 3rd, 2010

Waiting, in most instances, is excruciating – for kids during the night before Christmas, for patients in a doctor’s office, for anything and everything at the DMV.

Publicists and their clients sometimes get a similar sense of dread after a reporter completes a news interview.  The client’s been media trained, the reporter is all smiles, the Q&A goes well, and yet the next day’s headline crushes your client’s image and reputation.  Complaining about “gotcha” journalism and unfair questions is a useless exercise, because once the story is published or run, you can’t take it back.

A reporter’s job is to be tough and demanding, and let’s face it – a bunch of softball questions only leads to weak, fluffy content suitable for predictable feel-good stories.  That’s why most reporters rightfully work hard and push the boundaries, because they are good journalists and are inspired to deliver thoughtful content.

Still, as an interview subject, how can you handle the occasional unscrupulous reporter so your responses aren’t twisted responses out of context?  By understanding a simple principle – the intent of the interview is to build a story, and a story is assembled part by part.  As the interviewee, apply the following “quality control” steps, and you’ll be in pretty good shape.

• Script out how your ideal story will read.  Think about how a news anchor introduces a story with a lead-in: “Coming up next, in the words of [interview subject], it was an ‘amazing experience, blah blah blah….’”  That’s why it’s important to give a strong answer at the outset that helps guide the rest of the narrative.  Such an answer frames the story on your own terms, and that momentum will carry through all the way to publication or broadcast.

• Make sure you rebut critics.  You already know what your critics are saying.  Accusations about your business, political or personal activities are out in the open. When that’s the case, a news story about you will likely include comment from critics, so don’t forget to address — and rebut — their points preemptively. Otherwise you leave a big gap of story content that can be used against you.

Be positive.  Resist the urge to bad-mouth anyone.  Not only is it bad manners, but anything negative you say can easily eclipse all the positive points you make, and serves for ready-made headline material.

Stay on message. Don’t get off-track — if the interview is about your company’s new product, don’t discuss your carpool schedule, church picnic or the latest celebrity gossip. Just as your time is precious, so is the reporter’s, so don’t waste it! Plus, by staying on point, you reduce the risk of foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Now go get that headline!

PR Holding Statements: Walk Before You Run … Into the Crisis!

May 24th, 2010

If you’re reading this, and happen to own or operate a small business or large corporation, we’re willing to bet you’re curious about media holding statement 101.

No business is immune to the need for smart public relations crisis management.  If you sell food, assume your customers might get sick.  If you sell cars, assume the brakes will fail.  If you house sensitive financial information, assume it will be compromised.  If you sell medicine, assume it may have unanticipated side-effects.

The permutations are endless, but the sure-fire way to escalate your business’s crisis situation is to be caught flat-footed — or, in a PR crisis, with both feet in your mouth.

In other words, no matter how many weeks you’ve spent analyzing the weak points in your supply chain, setting up a war room to monitor media fallout, preparing for reporters through media training, or anticipating how critics and competitors will leverage a crisis against you, all your efforts are wasted without a proper holding statement ready for release.

Each holding statement is unique for a particular business, but the basic principles are the same.  The holding statement must address the crisis head on and without any doublespeak, acknowledge that something wrong is going on, offer immediate information, and resolve to address the media and public again once all the facts have been collected.   And, most importantly, you must show sincerity, genuine concern and appreciation for the crisis situation.

Apply this general approach when your business needs to speak, and you will buy the precious time necessary for a more coordinated, concentrated response to any problem factors that may arise.

Spirit Airlines, Gut-Checked by the Big Kids, Must Shake Baggage Fee Sticker Shock

April 18th, 2010

Today, thankfully, five major airlines announced they will not introduce the same lame-brain carry-on baggage fees that Spirit Airlines, in its infinite wisdom, will be doing later this summer.  At a time when corporate malfeasance continues running rampant, no doubt the vast majority of travelers will be pleased that in one fleeting instance, they won’t be nickel-and-dimed by big business yet again.

That being said, Spirit Airlines is still insistent that its new extortion customer-appreciation policy is good business.  CEO Ben Baldanza clearly thinks that puppies can meow, and that “on balance [the new fee is] one that our customers will buy into.” Literally, Mr. Baldanza.

In a recent post, the Blog Aesthetic analyzed how Mr. Baldanza should have handled his company’s public relations roll-out for the new fee, arguing that that slap-across-the-face isn’t the best strategy in these situations.  But now the company faces a different issue.  No doubt Spirit Airlines was banking (again with the puns) on the idea that other airlines would play copy-cat, adopt similar fees and deflect attention from one company being the sole bogeyman.  With this key link in the chain is broken, it’s entirely possible Spirit Airlines may shelve the policy at some point.  When your company screws up in such epic ways and needs to do a hard 180, here are some key principles to keep in mind:

Self-deprecation = PR gold.  By simply saying “look, we screwed up on this one, and I hope we haven’t lost our customers confidence,” Mr. Baldanza can easily undo half the damage wrought by the fees.  People love it when nasty CEOs are willing to admit mistakes, and this situation is no exception.

If you take from your customers, then give back in equal – or better – measure.  Just saying you’re sorry is ok, but try to go (fly?) the extra mile.  Spirit Airlines could pick one day a week to waive all baggage fees.  Turn it into a promotion, like “Bag Free Monday.”  Even if it isn’t a high-traffic day, customers will appreciate being cut some slack.  Communicating true contrition requires action, not just words.

Déjà-vu all over again.  If your company comes to its senses and ditches a controversial policy, then don’t try to breathe life into it again.  No matter how you spin it, your customers will see through your corporate nonsense and be doubly angered.  This time you’ll lose them for good, so play on the straight and narrow.

The Blog Aesthetic just gave you thousands of dollars of free advice, Mr. Baldanza.  Maybe we’re just happy it’s spring, but either way, enjoy it while it lasts – so get to work!

DC PR Firm Dispatch: DC Metro Escalators Need a 12 Step Program

March 19th, 2010

As the Washington Post reports today, the reliability of the region’s Metro subway system escalators has been dropping steadily over the past three years.  If you live and commute in the area, you know how far and deep these escalators run, and how frustrating it is to arrive at a Metro station only to see all escalators out of service.

The system’s governors have tripped over themselves for years to explain away similar problems, including fatal crashes, frequent derailments, growing ridership and demand, failure to communicate rider notifications properly, failure to handle emergency situations, and so forth.

Back to the escalators.  The Post attempted to talk with the top Metro official in charge of escalator repairs, David Lacosse.  Unfortunately Lacosse couldn’t be bothered to comment for the story.  In fact, he apparently has so much contempt for the press and Metro riders that he offered his spokesperson to say the following: “He has made it clear to us that he has no interest in being interviewed.”

This is what you can call a massive, massive PR FAIL.  Metro, your support amongst the community, elected leaders, federal officials and other stakeholders is collapsing, just like the mechanical stairs at each station.  Time for Mr. Lacosse to get some media training.

DC PR FIRM Dispatch: The Most Important Rule for Any Media Interview

March 3rd, 2010

This post is all about keeping it simple, so here goes: NEVER, EVER repeat the reporter’s negative.  If you take one thing away from media training, it should be this hard and fast rule.

In each “wrong” answer below, note the italicized text – inevitably, this will generate the soundbite you’re trying to avoid.

REPORTER: “So, your competitors claim your quarterly earnings show a company in distress, correct?”

WRONG ANSWER: “Our earnings may have been off, but we’re going to turn things around next quarter.”

RIGHT ANSWER: “Our company is well positioned to have positive growth in the coming fiscal quarter.”

REPORTER: “Your COO has left to start her own rival business, do you have a loyalty problem in the ranks?”

WRONG ANSWER: “We don’t think her departure means that people don’t like to work at our company.”

RIGHT ANSWER: “This is a highly competitive industry, and our talent is united and focused on going forward and leveraging all new business opportunities.”

REPORTER: “Your government’s been criticized for not negotiating fairly on the bilateral trade deal – why are your ministers so stubborn?”

WRONG ANSWER: “Our negotiators are stubborn because we have a firm set of fair principles we want honored in the trade deal.”

RIGHT ANSWER: “We believe our negotiators are helping move the deal along the right path, and that all parties will ultimately be satisfied with the outcome.”

Remember, the purpose of any interview is, to some degree, to make the reporter’s job easier by providing the content to make the story interesting.  This cuts both ways, so always state your points in a positive way.

Crisis Corner: What a Small Business Can Learn From Toyota

February 24th, 2010

Toyota’s predicament speaks for itself, but what would your small business do if it faced a raft of angry or injured customers?  Crisis management principles are often the same regardless of the scale of your business – it’s not just mega corporations that risk dealing with angry, hurt or confused customers.

In preparing for incidents of blowback with their goods or services, here are some questions any small business marketing or communications professional must ask:

Have you accepted the possibility of a mistake? The first step is always the hardest.  In small business communications, it’s important to accept that something in your supply chain can (and will) go wrong.  Define the potential problem before you start crafting messages to respond.

Do you have a crisis response plan in place? You must determine what you’ll say depending on who are the key stakeholders – customers, business partners, regulators, and so forth.

Have you designated a spokesperson for media inquiries, and have they undergone media training? Don’t just assume that your spokesperson will do great on camera.  Media training is a serious discipline and absolutely necessary if you’re going to survive tough interviews.

Do you have a media list of reporters and media outlets who would cover your crisis? You know your industry, trade and community better than anyone else.  Identify the key media outlets, trade publications and other interested journalists and bloggers who will take interest in your business’s response to any situation.

Can you update your website’s home page quickly to ensure your response is easily visible? Your site designers should have built the site’s architecture in a way that allows a prominent update to appear on your homepage.  And on that end, do you have a process in place for Facebook and Twitter updates?  You do have Facebook and Twitter pages for your small businessright?

If the answer to any of these questions are “no” you should let us know