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.

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.

Don’t Repeat Negative Language

July 29, 2014

by Dan Ward

One rule of media training that we stress time and again in our Message Matrix® program is “don’t repeat negative language, even to deny it.”

The reason for that rule was illustrated today by President Obama’s answer to a question about our relationship with Russia. When asked “is this a new Cold War?” after announcing new economic sanctions, Obama responded, “No, it’s not a new Cold War. It’s a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to let Ukraine seek its own path.”

So what were the immediate headlines and tweets?


When you repeat negative language, you give media the headlines THEY want, rather than headlines that convey a message you want to communicate.

The President had a lot of important things to say today, but many people will only hear two words.

Words Matter

February 24, 2012

by Kim Taylor

How much thought do you give to the words you select?

There is no commodity more valuable to a communicator than the words they choose to craft their message. Public relations practitioners are often accused of being “spin doctors,” but perhaps that “spin” is simply more thoughtful and deliberate selection of the same words to create a more powerful message.

To illustrate this point, picture the woman in this video as a seasoned PR pro.

Now, how much do you think words matter?

NPR Owns Up to a Major Error

January 12, 2011

by Dan Ward

We have all seen how the rush to publish can sometimes lead to errors in news reporting.  Kudos to NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard for providing a detailed, step-by-step explanation for one such mistake made by her organization this weekend.

Soon after breaking the story of the rampage shooting in Tucson, NPR unfortunately followed up on its “scoop” by mistakenly reporting that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died.

While defending her organization for being transparent and apologizing for its mistakes, Shepard spares few punches in explaining how those mistakes were made, and how they could have easily been avoided.

Her closing comment, “many people will remember the mistake and not the correction,” is one that virtually all PR people have voiced themselves at one time or another, after fighting for a tiny correction on A2 after some news outlet published incorrect information.

Competition to be first is resulting in more and more mistakes.  And the instant-sharing capabilities of Twitter mean those mistakes are seen by more eyes.  That’s why we advise clients in our Message Matrix® training sessions that monitoring what is being said about you and your organization is now a round-the-clock responsibility.

Waiting for a correction is a thing of the past.  When a news story mistakenly starts a wildfire, it’s YOUR job to put it out

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