We focus on the 15-Seconds Blog greatest hits about media misses for 2011.
Here’s our list of our favorite interview crack ups of 2011. This list is not necessarily the biggest or most dramatic media mangles of the year — but rather items from which we think our friends, colleagues and clients can draw some important lessons. (The full blog item on each entry is linked from the item title.)
A very media savvy Secretary of State Clinton was traveling to Europe with her usual press contingent. During a mid-flight briefing and she got a question about U.S. aid to Egypt during the “Arab spring.” The briefing transcript shows her asking the reporters to “turn their little machines off” so she could answer off-the-record. While the stenographers didn’t transcribe her answer — if any of the reporters present wrote about that subject in the coming days — it would be pretty clear that their answers were informed by “off-the-record” comments aloft.
Normally we recommend to people who get in trouble to make their case to the media. But there are exceptions. Exhibit one: Duane Starkenburg, a Seattle man arrested for allegedly molesting women joggers met with reporters. While declaring his innocence, he tells reports that he likes watching women joggers because they “run around half-naked.” His unhelpful interview is below:
In late October we took note of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s interview with Parade Magazine in which he dredged up (without apparent forethought) President Obama’s birth certificate issue. The Presidential candidate spent the next few days back pedaling from his off-the-cuff comments and going so far as telling the St Pete Times that he was “only kidding.” Our point was the Perry didn’t seem very prepared for his interview. That observation was driven home in spades about ten days later when Perry came up with his 53-second brain freeze during a Presidential debate in which he couldn’t remember one of his own major campaign positions. As Perry would say: Oops!
It is important in interview situations to speak clearly. And speaking colorfully can ensure your stuff gets used. In November, Major General Peter Fuller gave us an example of what happens when you go too far. The General, who was stationed in Afghanistan, called that country’s president “erratic” and went on to object to some recent comments by Karzai saying:
“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me … I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care’?
Fuller no doubt was right. But as a result of his un-diplomatic language he is now a FORMER senior official in Afghanistan and is not in a position to help make things in that troubled country better.
Presidential candidate Herman Cain provided a mother-lode of examples of bad communications practices. None, perhaps, more telling that the day he appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s program and tried to preempt a story about to break from a woman who claimed to have had a 13-year long affair with him. But at the same moment that Cain was on live TV saying there were no truth to the allegations which had not yet been publicized — his lawyer was issuing a written statement saying it was a private matter and said Cain had “…no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so.”
There was no good strategy for Cain to deal with the mess on his hands — but the single worst strategy was to adopt two polar opposite paths and employ them both at the same time. No surprise he effectively dropped out of the race shortly thereafter.
In an item we titled: “Ex-Witch Walks Off Piers” we described how former Senatorial candidate (and rumored former witch) Christine O’Donnell walked out in the middle of an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. No one makes people agree to do interviews. But once you are on the air…it almost never helps your image to walk out in a huff. O’Donnell did nothing to lessen her image as a flake when she pulled her disappearing act on CNN.
No matter how uncomfortable the questioning might be — you need to know how to defend yourself and avoid running away.
4. Invention:Mother of Unnecessary Interview Trouble
Being creative can have its rewards — but you should never make stuff up in an interview situation hoping it turns out to be true. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis provides illustration. At a press event she got what appeared to be a soft-ball question about why she got rid of her big limo and was driving around in a Chevy Equinox.
The Secretary cited the car’s fuel efficiency and said she also wanted to: “send a signal that we are for supporting our American workers, (and) American made products.” Unfortunately, the Equinox is assembled in Canada. Maybe she meant to say she wanted to support NORTH American workers.
There are times when the whole world thinks you are an evil bastard — that the best thing to do is to keep quiet rather than to provide them with proof they are right. Accused Penn State pedophile Jerry Sandusky mysteriously keeps doing media interviews which serve only to foster the impression that he is one warped dude.
It would be bad enough that Sandusky is such an unsympathetic character. But his lawyer also seems to reveling in the limelight despite the damage he appears to be doing to his client.
2. Getting Feisty With Media: Rarely A Good Idea.
(Former) Congressman Anthony Weiner provided a cornucopia of good examples of bad media relations this year. Trying to hide his very damaging personal circumstances, Weiner seemed to do everything possible to ensure he could not politically survive. As bad as the reports were — Weiner got cranky with reporters — going from interview to interview providing lies that were fairly easily discoverable. You would think that someone who had been publicly humiliated could (at least fake) being humbled — but Weiner proved to just be a dork.
Media trainers around the world owe so much to former British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward. He has single-handedly provide the rationale for many government and corporate executives to decide they should invest in some training.
Although BP’s oil spill was on 2010…Hayward continued to work on our behalf this year too. In June he made a speech to some British PR execs about the lessons learned from his mis-adventures in the Gulf.
Hayward described the media coverage of the spill as “vicious” and said his company was “at war with the media every day.”
Hayward said he wished he had had a more senior team in charge of responding to the media – a recommendation that we, as very senior media relations, consultants heartily endorse.
Tony also suggested that corporations should test their crisis plans regularly and admitted that BP wasn’t ready for what hit them.
People like Hayward need lots of practice on shaping the tone, content and delivery of their message. In-house PR shops are often ill-equipped to tell the boss that he is sounding arrogant, heartless, or oblivious — but someone needs to be brought in with the clout to save them from themselves.
Hayward is right about crises situations can lead to war-like situation with the media. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld — you go to war with the leaders you have. It is clear that BP was not battle ready.
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We wish our reader’s a happy and prosperous new year in which you all are prepared to make the most of your time in the media spotlight.
Bill & Fred