Citizen Journalists Are Always Ready – Are You?

May 5, 2017

by Dan Ward

In the aftermath of the United Airlines “re-accommodating” incident, we’ve seen more headlines about airlines acting badly, usually accompanied by grainy cellphone video shot by concerned passengers.

There’s blood in the water, and “citizen journalists” at airports around the country are at the ready to report on any misstep.

What happens when they leave the airport and point their cameras at your company?

Many organizations “media train” their corporate spokespersons and C-Suite executives (we prefer to call it message training, because the process works beyond the traditional media interview).  But how many are training their front-line staff, the people who interact with customers on a daily basis, and whose comments and actions will be recorded by citizen journalists as soon as anything goes wrong?

Front-line staff need to know that they work in an environment in which every action they take may be recorded and reported.  They need to understand how to communicate the company’s key message with every customer they meet, in the knowledge that their interactions may be published on a blog or podcast.  They need to understand that their actions and comments could mean the difference between a happy customer and a viral video that will cost revenue and jobs.

Are your employees ready?


Media Training 101: Do Your Homework

August 17, 2016

by Kim Stangle

When conducting our Message Matrix® training program with clients, we share a variety of practical tips to help navigate the sometimes-difficult landscape of media interviews.

One key tip is: always do your homework … anticipate all questions, especially the tough ones.

This advice would’ve been incredibly helpful to Seminole County Tax Collector Ray Valdes during an interview he granted recently with News 13’s Amanda McKenzie.  The elected official has been under fire for failing to disclose business dealings that many see as a conflict of interest.  And according to McKenzie’s news report, when probed about a tough question regarding those dealings Valdes stopped the interview, returned to his office and closed the door.

Valdes may get points for controlling the conversation, but abruptly ending an interview he granted does little to bolster his side of the story.

Moral of the story:  if you’re not prepared to answer even the toughest questions, don’t grant the interview.


Who Writes the Headline?

January 20, 2016

by Roger Pynn

As part of our Message Matrix® training program, we often tell clients who are preparing for media interviews to try to “write the headline.”

In other words, imagine what you would like – in your fondest dreams – to be the headline of a story about you or your organization or product, and then speak in terms of that dream.

I’ll give Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller a bit of the benefit of the language barrier, but I’m sure the last headline he wanted to see was “We are not a criminal brand” as appeared in USA Today after he appeared at an event in Detroit in conjunction with the Detroit Auto Show.

Here’s a tip:  assume that the meatiest thing you say will make the best headline and make sure it is well done.  If it is blood-dripping rare, you’ll hate the headline.


When Media Attack

October 30, 2015

by Dan Ward

Are you, your bosses or your clients prepared for the same kind of “attack questioning” faced by Republican candidates in the latest debate? You should be.

You may not be running for President, but if you’re granting an interview you’re running for something. You’re running to sell a product, to protect your reputation, to change minds, to influence behavior. But most reporters aren’t trying to help you. Like the CNBC “moderators,” they may actually try to hurt you, because controversy brings ratings.

So how do you respond? You can’t counterattack as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did effectively, because you’re NOT running for president and few will care that you fought the good fight.

Respond by being prepared. As we tell clients who participate in our Message Matrix® training program, preparation means ditching the Q&A in favor of the I&R.

At a time in which many reporters no longer care about Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, the Q&A is dead. How can you possibly develop Answers when you have no ability to predict the Questions?

Think I&R instead. Identify the Issues you’re prepared to discuss, and develop Responses based on those issues.

In an interview, you have no responsibility to a reporter, especially one who is attacking you, to dutifully answer questions. Instead, you have a responsibility to your companies, your customers and your communities to respond with a message that protects and enhances your brand.

Don’t engage in a debate with a reporter or attempt to answer, or even acknowledge, a negatively worded attack question. Connect every question to one of a small set of issues about your organization, and provide a response that speaks to that issue.

“Is your business plan torn from the pages of a comic book?”

  • Issue – Mission/Vision;
  • Response – “Our customers are loyal to our products because they understand and connect with our vision. We focus on three things …”

“Many shareholders say you’re rarely in the office. Shouldn’t you just resign?”

  • Issue – Performance;
  • Response – “Our shareholders demand performance, and by any measure we’re achieving great results. In the last quarter alone …”

Performance in an interview is all about preparation. If you’re attacked, will you be prepared?


Fahrvergnügen, Meet Iacocca

September 22, 2015

by Dan Ward

Volkswagen is rightfully facing criticism (and a plummeting stock price) after admitting to rigging potentially millions of cars to surpass pollution limits.

The company has admitted that software was installed that switches engines to cleaner mode during testing, but turns that software off again once testing is over. That results in more “driving enjoyment” – the English translation of the famous Fahrvergnügen tagline – but also a lot more pollution.

But the positive sign – at least for those of us who communicate for a living – is how Volkswagen is dealing with the news. Instead of defensive lawyer-speak, U.S. President and CEO Michael Horn used these words:  “Our company was dishonest … we have totally screwed up … We have to make things right.”

And this from the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers … To make it very clear: Manipulation at VW must never happen again.”

The VW response reminds me of a story we often share during our Message Matrix® training sessions regarding Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler when that company was found to be removing miles from odometers, selling slightly used cars as brand new.

His comments at the time were surprising, because they were so straightforward.  He said the practice “went beyond dumb and reached all the way to stupid,” adding “I’m damned sorry it happened, and you can bet that it won’t ever happen again.” That straight talk resonated with customers and with media, and is credited with saving his company.

Whether such straight talk will save VW remains to be seen. The company must back its words with action. But they’ve certainly taken the right initial steps to eventually regain their customers’ trust.


Is the President Christian?

February 25, 2015

by Dan Ward

Do you think President Obama is a Christian?

You’d be justified in asking why that question is being posed in a blog about strategic communication. But that misses the point.

Of course that question has nothing to do with the subject of our blog. It also has little or nothing to do with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s policies or record, but that didn’t stop Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Robert Costa from asking it of him.

Conservatives argue that the question was inappropriate and an example of media bias. Liberals question why he didn’t just answer, “of course.”

I argue that communications professionals better get ready.

Journalists know that successful politicians are well-trained to stay on message regarding their policies. That’s why they’ve taken to asking nonsense questions. Get someone off-script, and you have a good chance of creating controversy that drives click counts. That strategy of asking unimportant, irrelevant questions will soon find its way to interviews with business and civic leaders.

Communicators need to adapt. For instance, we no longer train spokespersons on how to answer specific questions, because the potential list of questions is now limitless. Instead, our Message Matrix® training program focuses on responses that are tied to issues rather than questions. No matter how nonsensical a question may be, you can always tie it back to a key issue and speak to that issue … responding to a question, rather than answering it.

Reporters may no longer want to ask questions of importance, so it’s our job to provide answers that matter.


Speak for Yourself (Not for Other Organizations)

February 10, 2014

kmartin by Kerry Martin

Either the communications team at Oklahoma State University (OSU) did a really good job of preparing the head men’s basketball coach or he has an innate understanding of how to respond to the media.

To address an incident where player Marcus Smart shoved a fan of the opposing team in the stands, the OSU athletics department held a press conference yesterday about the situation and Smart’s suspension.  Along with the apologies and acknowledgement of wrongdoing from all parties, what stood out to me was how head coach Travis Ford kept his composure while making his statements and taking questions from reporters.

When asked by a journalist what should be done to separate fans from crossing any boundaries and provoking players, Ford responded by refusing to say what “should be done” but instead that his priority was to focus on his team.

Whatever your viewpoint on how he handled the situation in the game, Ford was completely on target during the press conference by following one of the top interview rules that we’ve outlined in our Message Matrix Training Program:  Don’t speak for other people or organizations; only speak for yourself.


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