Be True to Yourself

Candor is one of the C’s of Communication preached at READY FOR MEDIA, along with Credibility, Compassion and Charisma. All were at play when Ellen DeGeneres was true to herself in responding (below) to an article written by a pastor accusing the TV host of promoting a ‘Gay Agenda’ on her show and  influencing her young, female viewers to turn towards her sexual preference.

Photo courtesy of blogdailyherald.com

Photo courtesy of blogdailyherald.com

Effective communication and branding skills are crucial in disproving and putting a negative story in context with facts and reason, rather than rage or emotion. Rather than fanning the flames with a juicy argument or enraged comment, Ellen’s humor took the sting out of his mean-spirited criticism.

Ellen quickly addressed the accusation directly in both a funny, yet serious and effective way. She calmly and professionally rejected his claims and encouraged every viewer to “be true to yourself.”  Ellen employed a speech communication strategy which allowed for both sincere conversation on the topic, as well as entertaining television.

Spinning the story away from the negative accusation into a positive media message was a smart decision by the savvy TV host. It is a technique emphasized at READY FOR MEDIA where clients are encouraged to control an interview by addressing questions as topics rather than dutifully answering every question put to them.

Sensitivity Training

When a British retailer featured a greeting card with, “don’t get mad, take lithium” (an obvious reference to the medication for bipolar disorder,) customers didn’t just get mad — they got even, with posts such as “I will no longer be shopping with you” on the company’s Facebook page.

The stage was set when another offended customer (@poeticfeminist) tweeted, “do you realise that this card is very offensive to people with bipolar disorder?” Rather than immediately neutralizing the situation with a sincere, social media apology, JOY (@joythestore) tweeted the response: “Then if you know anyone with bipolar disorder, don’t buy it (the card) for them. PROBLEM SOLVED.”

 

Twitter / mirror.co.uk

Twitter / mirror.co.uk

 

From her/his response, it was obvious that JOY’s Twitter representative lacked proper media training. It would have given this individual the skill set to empathize with the customer’s frustration from the start, as opposed to fueling the conflict with a defensive statement. After JOY’s initial response, @poeticfeminist then inquired about individuals with bipolar disorder who may come across this card in the store. JOY @joythestore again showed insensitivity and a blatant disregard for loyal customer concerns, mocking those who suffer mental illness with another sarcastic tweet: “They’ll like it one minute and hate it the next!”

Even in the smallest of social media crises, the principles remain the same. The steps below are crucial in practicing effective communication skills:

1. Acknowledge compassion (JOY appreciates the the World Health Organization’s findings that, “Bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.”)

2. Give bottom-line soundbite (“We at JOY like to start conversations and create dialogue, we try to be irreverent, but sometimes we get it wrong. Please accept  our apologies.”) – which @thejoystore finally did, some 20 hours later!

3. Offer appropriate history (perhaps the card was written by a bipolar disorder sufferer who finds humor the best way to deal with his/her illness)

4. Repeat soundbite (“Although we at JOY like to start conversations with irreverent dialogue, we sometimes get it wrong. Please accept  our apologies.”)

5. Suggest the next steps (i.e. “The card will be removed from JOY stores, and a contribution will be made to the National Charity for Bipolar Disorder in the UK.”)

Though the company describes itself as “quietly eccentric,” JOY’s tweets came off as inappropriate and insulting. As a result, JOY has now lost some of its most faithful customers. What began as a simple concern soon escalated into an offensive assail and loss of profit—a situation that could have been altogether avoided with proper communication skills. In today’s online world, the potential to offend a consumer is just a post, click or keystroke away.

Before you tweet, remember that sensitivity is key!

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

In their classic hit, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Simon and Garfunkel offer a message to Cameron Diaz: Take the high road, not the bait!

Acknowledge the interview question then bridge to the answer you’ve come to give.

Anyone can fall prey to media mistakes if she hasn’t had media coaching, and the typically well-mannered romcom actress, Cameron Diaz, is no exception. Making the rounds to promote her new movie, Sony Pictures’ Sex Tape, the A-list star recently called into the popular Australian radio talk show, hosted by Kyle and Jackie O.

 

Cameron Diaz

But when Kyle made a snide comment about Drew Barrymore, the actress’ best friend, Ms. Diaz lost sight of her goal. Kyle said, “Let’s hope she (Ms. Diaz’s daughter in the movie) misses out on the Drew Barrymore drug years, because those were a great thing to watch, but not so good to be in, I’d imagine.” Instead of acknowledging the comment with a simple, “I’d imagine” and bridging back to her movie, Ms. Diaz reacted and replied defensively, “I’m sure, Kyle, you’ve never been through a drug phase, have you? Or alcoholism or anything like that? Pretty clean; always did it right? Congratulations.”

When Kyle went on to say, “But I’m friends with Benji,” referring to Benji Madden, the rumored boyfriend of the notoriously-private Ms. Diaz, she decided to cut the radio interview short, hanging up on the broadcasters and their listeners.

With expert media training, stars and executives alike discover the answers to bridge to and practice bridging. Letting the cheeky interviewer bait her to anger, became the story instead of the movie, which was Ms. Diaz’s purpose in accepting the promotional media opportunity.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Everyone needs media coaching once in a while, including Pope Francis. The Vatican has been recently involved in embarrassing situations due to poor media preparation. Time after time, Vatican spokesmen have been forced to release awkward clarifications after failed media opportunities. And more often than not, these clarifications cause more confusion. Pope Francis’ latest interview with 90-year old journalist Eugenio Scalfari was no exception. His interview published in the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica,” caused a messy aftermath that raised eyebrows and provoked debates due to the pope’s comments regarding pedophilia.

Pope Francis 2

Pope Francis’ was quoted as saying, “many of my advisers who are fighting pedophile priests with me are giving me reliable data that estimates pedophilia inside the church at a level of 2 percent.” Then he added, “Among the 2 percent who are pedophiles are priests, and even bishops and cardinals.” It is important to note that La Repubblica’s journalist has a reputation of choosing not to record or take notes during his interviews. But, regardless of what was exactly said, it is clear that the essence of the conversation revolved around a problem and not a solution. According to Phil Lawler, a writer for the Catholic Culture website, Pope Francis tends to speak off the cuff and does not usually rely on competent staff members who can brief him about any potential difficulties before he speaks to journalists.

Our Ready advice to Pope Francis and his communications team is to plan ahead. The Vatican press office should study the media outlet they will be dealing with and discuss any possible pitfalls that may arise during the conversation. Additionally, they should create message points that promote the Catholic Church’s cause in a positive way. This would allow Pope Francis to bridge his responses to those messages when facing difficult and controversial questions. In spite of Pope Francis’ intentions of speaking from his heart, he has to be aware that he is an influential figure. And as he most certainly found out, what he says to the media may have unexpected consequences.

The Best Defense

During a recent conversation with The Guardian, pop singing sensation Lana del Rey experienced a media disaster by steering the interview in the wrong direction.  According to Tim Jonze, Lana’s interviewer, she repeatedly expressed discontent with her life and said, “I wish I was dead already.” Reflecting the title of  her debut album “Born to Die,” she mentioned several of her idols and pointed out they had all died young. Personalities like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix were on her list

Lana del Rey

In our media trainings, we coach clients for follow-up questions, and advise them to choose answers which will take the interview in a direction they want to go.  This training is something Lana del Rey could have used as she attempted to promote  her newest album. When Ms. del Rey was asked about the title of her debut album “Born to Die,” she answered that she sees a certain “glamour” in dying young.

It was obvious that her dark-themed responses would lead her interviewer to ask further questions; probing the singer to divulge more information. It was then that Ms. del Rey mistakenly confessed that she finds the premature deaths of Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain to be glamorous and reiterated her desire to die, “I do, yeah, I do, I, you know, I don’t want to have to, like, keep doing this. You know, but I am.” She continued to disclose disturbing responses that left many of her fans shocked.

Ms. del Rey could have chosen to focus on facts that portrayed her success. For instance, she could have mentioned how her new album sold 880,000 copies in its first week worldwide. Instead, without an agenda of her own, Ms. Del Rey was at the mercy of the questioning.  Had she been more proactive and chosen to develop or sharpen her interview skills in a Los Angeles media training setting, she would have been more successful.  Instead, she now has to deal with the backlash that comes from negative media attention. A media interview is an opportunity to take the offense and accomplish what you will. Lana Del Rey wasted this opportunity.

Heat’s on!

In the aftermath of the NBA playoffs, one would imagine that the most talked about rivalry was between the Miami Heat and the victorious San Antonio Spurs! However, when a broken air conditioning system resulted in Game #1 taking place during 90-plus degree temperatures, it caused Basketball star Lebron James’ leg to cramp. That is when an unexpected battle between well-known energy drink rivals Gatorade and Powerade emerged!

lebron james

After Mr. James had to be carried off the court, tweeters all over the country who were watching the game saw an opportunity to mock Gatorade, which is the NBA’s official drink. But Gatorade had a lot to say about the situation too. Tweeters for the company made it very clear that they did not sponsor Lebron James and assured followers that drinking Gatorade would have certainly prevented Lebron’s cramp. Comments like, “The person cramping wasn’t our client. Our athletes can take the heat” and “We’ve been hydrating all day. We never cramp” were made on Twitter by Gatorade in response to fans’ accusations. And other Gatorade remarks made fun of Mr. James, the Powerade endorser.

Cooler heads at Gatorade later apologized claiming they “got caught up in the heat of the battle” and stated,“ as a longtime partner of the Miami Heat, we support the entire team.”

READY FOR MEDIA is not here to take sides, but to emphasize the power of social media. Our question is, who is tweeting for your company? In many cases, the wrong employees have posted the wrong things creating many problems for their companies. Social media is a big part of business today. Used incorrectly, it can cause severe damage to a reputation. Therefore, our Ready advice to companies is to spend some time and resources to provide employees with social media training for the proper etiquette of live coverage tweeting.

The Anatomy of a Good Apology

It seems like the past week has been one full of guilt and regrets. Pop-star Justin Bieber and Wolf of Wall Street star Jonah Hill found themselves in two different, yet very similar sticky situations. On the one hand we have Mr. Hill, who after being followed by paparazzi all day, finally snapped and said a “disgusting and hurtful” homophobic slur as he later explained to radio host, Howard Stern. On the other hand we have Mr. Bieber who also sought the public’s forgiveness for something that he did, not recently, but five years ago! After TMZ released a video of a then 15-year-old Justin Bieber telling a racist joke to his friends.

bieber_hill

What is worth noting is that these two celebrities share a gracious and successful manner in which they handled their mistakes. As far as prepared apologies go, the anatomy of their apologies were nearly perfect. You can find in Off the Cuff/What to Say at a Moment’s Notice authored by our CEO Anne Ready for Career Press, that both apologies hit all the right notes. Mr. Hill and Mr. Bieber both acknowledged their wrongdoing and took full responsibility for their actions. “What I said in that moment was disgusting and I shouldn’t have said it,” Johan Hill stated. Both celebrities apologized briefly and sincerely, reiterated how they may have hurt others, as well as portraying how they feel about it:  “This is a heartbreaking situation for me, because from the day I was born, and publicly, I’ve been a gay rights activist,” Jonah Hill said to his fans.

One key ingredient is the promise to correct the wrong and make amends; a step that both Mr. Hill and Mr. Bieber addressed, “I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again,” Justin Bieber stated.

Having a good PR team backing you and having appropriate media training for these types of circumstances can go a long way. We can all learn a thing or two from Jonah Hill and Justin Bieber on how to handle apologies. They took all the right steps, they made no excuses and took full responsibility for their actions.

T.M.I. (Too Much Information)

Probably every poor reader and/or contact wearer in the audience of Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas felt vindicated when TV reality star and aspiring model Kendall Jenner fumbled her teleprompter introduction of Australia’s boy band, “5 Seconds of Summer.”  She said, “And now we welcome, One…” before stopping abruptly. Everyone, including 5SOS’s British rival “One Direction,” assumed that she had started to name them instead!

Realizing her gaffe, Ms. Jenner laughed it off, but then made the media mistake of self-consciously volunteering T.M.I. by saying, “You guys, I’m a terrible reader,” which didn’t help. It would have been better to just smile, laugh and correctly introduce “5 Seconds of Summer,” rather than trying to explain it all away.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 4.42.09 PM

By trying to justify her error, Ms. Jenner dug herself into a deeper hole and subsequently opened herself up to more public scrutiny and social media mockery.

Apology Not Accepted

As a follow up to his racist ramblings, Donald Sterling appeared in an exclusive interview with journalist Anderson Cooper on CNN to “apologize.” During the interview, Mr. Sterling once again made general remarks about African Americans and even added Jews to his diatribe. He assured viewers that he is not a racist, but was rather tricked by his ex-girlfriend and a technology that men his age do not understand.

Additionally, he attacked Magic Johnson once more arguing that the sports legend is a terrible example to children for “making love to every girl in every city in America” and catching AIDS.

The Clippers owner ruined an excellent media opportunity to mend fences and begin regaining public support. Instead, he managed to dig a deeper hole for himself by reinforcing his beliefs with confusing responses.

Perhaps most surprising to journalist Anderson Cooper and us was that Mr. Sterling did not have a P.R. team with him during the interview nor did he exhibit any proper media training or messaging. As Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann commented, “it’s stunning that Sterling’s lawyers and public relations advisers would green light this interview; this was not a man who seemed ‘coached’ by his handlers at all.”

And as Mr. Sterling will clearly come to realize, his apology was not accepted.

A Rose By Any Other Name

 

bach

ABC’s newest Bachelor,  Juan Pablo Galavis seemed to be homophobic with his remark that gay people are more “pervert in a sense.” And ABC did not give a rose to Mr. Galavis for his comment. Instead they stated that his,

comments were careless, thoughtless and insensitive, and in no way reflect the views of the network, the show’s producers or studio.”

During the interview, Bachelor Galavis said in response to there being a gay bachelor,

“I don’t think it is a good example for kids to watch that on TV. It would be too hard for TV.”

Since then,  Mr. Galavis has apologized on his own Facebook page saying that it was an issue of  the language barrier, that “pervert” was not the word that he meant to use. He also was in touch with a gay rights organization, GLAAD, where he expressed:

“I have heard from many gay Latinos today who are hurt because of what I said and I apologize. I know gay parents and I support them and their families. They are good parents and loving families. I am a father and I know the feel of being a father, why wouldn’t I want my gay friends to also be happy parents?

I also want gay and lesbian youth to know that it is fine to be who you are. Gay or straight, Black or White, Latin or American, what matters here is to respect who we are.

Gay and lesbian people, and the children they are raising, wrongfully face discrimination and I want them to know that I’m on their side.”

Although Mr. Galavis  blames his vocabulary and language barrier, his portrayal in the limelight could have been saved with a few media interview techniques. His struggle for a response shows he also did not receive media coaching in either English or Spanish in order to understand what he should or should not say.

In the media, as in sports, the best defense is a good offense. Having Ready answers to bridge to when the media blindsides you with difficult questions is the answer!