“Token Fluzzies” Unite

Communication and presentation skills combined with appropriate branding can create the message desired, but not always the message received. The right message delivered by the wrong person is damaging and can both offend and distract from the issue or position.

The qualities of a media spokesperson must include charisma, relevance, credibility and above all, one who is appropriate and WANTED by the industry. The latter was not the case for self-appointed spokesman for women’s equality in technology, Vivek Wadhwa. A member of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley and Stanford University think tank, Mr. Wadhwa is being criticized as an un-appointed spokesman for women. According to the Executive Director of Double Union, a women’s studio for creativity in San Francisco,  ” Mr. Wadhwa has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.”

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Mr. Wadhwa. Photo courtesy of New York Times

Women have criticized Mr. Wadhwa for, “clumsily articulating our cause.” Using quotes like, “token fluzzies” to describe them, many women take offense to this man being seen as their representative, harming the brand of women in technology and the identity of women executives throughout Silicon Valley. Blaming his poor English for many of his harmful quotes, Mr. Wadhwa is adamant that he only wishes to help women succeed. However, several women who know and have worked with him, including Sarah Szalavitz, the Chief Executive of 7 Robot, feel that while “his intentions are good, his message and his voice are actually damaging women.”

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Ms. Sandberg.Photo courtesy of Yahoo News

By contrast, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg has recently launched a new campaign, based on her book of the same title, “Lean In,” promoting gender equality in ads with NBA and WNBA players. As a woman with an executive position in technology, Ms. Sandberg has all the qualities desired for a good spokesperson on this issue. According to Ms. Sandberg, “Lean In,  is focused on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do.”

Even before the media training begins to craft the messages and coach the personality, the chosen spokesperson must be compatible with the issue. Spokespeople are not only important in branding the issue, but must be engaging and credible in the eyes of both the public and the sector they represent.

Caution and appropriateness are advised in all forms of media appearances, especially in ones as personal as spokespersoning.

Fact or Fiction

Whether you have decades of media experience or are just starting out, honesty and integrity are key. With the Internet looming overhead, any misstated facts or exaggerated truths may be discovered and broadcast. TV veteran news anchor, Brian Williams learned this lesson after an apparent attempt to be part of the story, rather than simply reporting it. Williams was outed by the military magazine, Stars and Stripes, for lying about his experience in a military helicopter in Iraq, over a decade ago.

williamsblog(photo courtesy for NBC.com)

In what he claims was an attempt to thank a specific military veteran, Mr. Williams falsely stated on David Letterman and several other occasions that he was in a helicopter hit by RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) fire while on assignment in Northern Iraq. His helicopter was in fact behind those that were hit. Williams has since recanted and apologized on air.

But NBC responded by suspending the anchor for six months without pay, citing that Williams’ behavior was “completely inappropriate.” According to network executives, “by his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

Credibility, or lack therof, is the moral of this message. Since this story broke, every other news assignment undertaken by Mr. Williams is now facing scrutiny, including his coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where he claimed to see bodies floating outside his hotel. Upon further investigation, Mr. Williams’ hotel, the Ritz Carlton, was not located in a flooded area of the city.

His on-air exaggerations may be the undoing of a career of credible news reporting with a few moments of excited storytelling. The Media Mistake Not to Make is … never mislead, lie or try to bluff.







Politically Incorrect

Scolding and shushing an interviewer is not the way to win the media game. Media coverage is a privilege and responsibility granted to those worthy of public interest. It requires effective communication, presentation skills and media training. Here, the Republican Junior Senator from Kentucky, Dr. Rand Paul, proved himself less than worthy.

The potential 2016 presidential candidate patronized, accused, demeaned and belittled the knowledgeable, young, female financial news reporter, CNBC’s Kelly Evans, who kept her cool when asking him to clarify past statements. He also criticized all media with statements like: “this is what’s wrong with TV”, “twisted”, “slanted and full of distortions” and “you need to try a little more objectivity going into the interview.”

By scolding, repeating hearsay (“I’ve heard of cases”), being defensive, blustering, talking over her, shushing her with his finger to his lips, waving his hands at her, interrupting, arguing, threatening (“if we do this again”) and condemning, Dr. Paul lost his opportunity to brand himself and his perspective on issues to his best advantage. His testiness became the story, not his political message because of his failure to present himself in a professional and presidential manner.

Additionally, the split screen format can be confusing. Each participant, situated across town or across the world, faces a camera and speaks to the other, hearing the questions and answers through their earpieces, sometimes with a delay. Practice and satellite media coaching can make a satellite appearance more familiar. But it’s often been said, which tends to be even more obvious in a satellite interview, the camera doesn’t lie, nor does it blink.

The audience is always listening and watching.