It’s Not What You Say…

Communications coaching is a two-way street, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly should be advised. What you say and How you say it.

John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, and communications coaching

Photo Courtesy of

Seems Mr. Kelly coached President Trump on what to say to the grieving widow of a fallen soldier.  A 4-Star general and a father who’d lost his soldier son in Afghanistan expressed in somber words and tone, “your husband was where he wanted to be, he knew what he signed up for.” It was a far cry from the cold, dispassionate, insensitive, “joking” President Trump’s uttering of the same words: he knew what he signed up for!

To the press, Mr. Kelly attempted to explain the President’s style, “In his way, he tried to express the opinion that Sergeant Johnson was ‘a brave man, a fallen hero, doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into, what the possibilities were, because we’re at war.’ Mr. Kelly said. ‘And when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.’ That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.”

That might have been more comforting to Sergeant Johnson’s wife and mother.

As Los Angeles-based media coaches for over 35 years, we’ve learned that audiences consider the source of the message and listen to how it’s presented.

The ensuing criticism is a case of shooting the messenger and the coach, who failed to consider the spokesperson and his personal style.

John Kelly should make the calls.

Not what you say, but how you say it!

“It’s often not what you say, but how you say it.” Look for yourself. The words in this PSA were reflective and respectful, but Johnny Depp’s and actress wife, Amber Heard’s deadpan delivery was not. In it, they used the medium to show true disdain for Australians and their laws.

Video Courtesy The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

The  “apology” video is part of a plea bargain after charges for illegally importing their Yorkshire terriers into Australia in April 2015. In it, the couple are acting more like hostages or prisoners of war  than offering a genuine apology on the issue of  biosecurity. The script was thoughtful and well-written, but overshadowed by the stiff and insincere tone of the couple.

“Australia is a wonderful island, with a treasure trove of unique plants, animals and people. It has to be protected. Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are commonplace around the world. That is why Australia has to have such strong biosecurity laws.  Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct. When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly. I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared. Protecting Australia is important. Declare everything when you enter Australia.”

But at the Venice Film Festival last September, Mr. Depp quipped: “I killed my dogs and ate them under direct orders from some kind of, I don’t know, sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia,” presumably in reference to Australian Minister of Agriculture Barnaby Joyce. The following week on Jimmy Kimmel, he threatened an “assault” on Mr. Joyce  if the Australian government tried to jail his wife.

After threats of dog euthanasia and 10 years jail time, Ms. Heard, an up-and-coming actress with recent roles in Magic Mike XXL and The Danish Girl, was sentenced to a one-month good behavior bond and a fine of $767.

Mr. Joyce mocked the video, remarking that it should be remade with “a little gusto,” but he is happy with the viral status it has attained.

At the end of it, we’ve got a message that is going all around the world right now. It’s going off like a frog in a sock (which Wikipedia defines as being excellent) telling people that if you come into this nation and you don’t obey our laws, you’re in trouble. That’s what this is about.”

He believes, however, that Mr. Depp will “not get an Academy Award for his performance.

When the Media Makes the Mistakes

Recently, the magazine publications of Adweek and Glamour used the power of the press without permission. Adweek featured actress Kerry Washington on its April 2016 cover with her skin lightened and her face photo-shopped. Glamour implied that comedian Amy Schumer is plus size by including her name with actress Melissa McCarthy, singer Adele, and plus-size model Ashley Graham on its “Chic at Any Size” special issue.

The two women objected on social media, taking to their Instagram accounts to address the situations. As a matter of principle, each took a risk by confronting the medias’ mistakes. But both were courteous and polite in their responses, stressing appreciation and positivity above all.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy












Ms. Washington wrote:

“I love ADWEEK. It’s a publication I appreciate. And learn from[. . .] I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it’s a valuable conversation. Yesterday, however, I just felt weary. It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It’s an unfortunate feeling. That being said. You all have been very kind and supportive. Also, as I’ve said, I’m very proud of the article[. . .] Grab this week’s ADWEEK. Read it. I hope you enjoy it. And thank you for being patient with me while I figured out how to post this in a way that felt both celebratory and honest.”

Adweek editorial director James Cooper replied, calling Ms. Washington “a class act” and clarifying, “We meant no disrespect, quite the opposite. We are glad she is enthusiastic about the piece and appreciate her honest comments.”

Ms. Schumer also posted to Instagram, remarking that her permission was never sought and that plus size in America is considered to be size 16, while she goes between sizes 6 and 8. Glamour’s editor-in-chief, Cindi Leive quickly responded in a series of Tweets:

“…her longtime message of body positivity—& talking back to body haters—IS inspiring. (To me, too!) To be clear, size 6-8 is not plus. (Even size 12—frequent size of “plus” models—is smaller than average American woman!)… But women of all sizes can be inspired by one another’s words. So sorry if implication was otherwise, Amy.”

The two women navigated the media mistakes in such a positive, yet honest manner that everyone seemed satisfied; their messages were heard, and they received the apologies they deserved.

A painful Holiday commercial

In the Hippocratic Oath, doctors promise to first “do no harm.” Advertisers should give their brands and consumers the same care.

In last season’s holiday commercial, Coca-Cola insensitively and inadvertently harmed their brand.  Opening with a bucolic view of the indigenous community of Totontepec in Oaxaca, Mexico; the Spanish text proclaimed that 81.6% of Mexico’s indigenous people feel marginalized because Spanish is not their primary language, accompanied by closeups of their desolate faces. The commercial, distributed by Coca-Cola Mexico, attempted to doctor the situation and cheer up the community with a group of hip, young Caucasions cutting 2 x 4’s, painting them in Coke’s classic red and building a giant, lighted Christmas tree of wood and red plastic bottle caps. Ending with the group of urban youths passing out bottles of Coca-Cola, a final text appears encouraging viewers to  “break down prejudice and share” using the hashtag handle #AbreTuCorazon, or #”Open Your Heart.”

The backlash was immediate.

The TeleSUR website described it as “a painful metaphor of ongoing colonialism in the country as white kids storm the Mixe indigenous community, as if a crusade, distributing bottles of Coke and constructing a giant Coca-Cola Christmas tree for all to idolize.” A lawyer for the indigenous and indigent, Elvira Pablo, describes this type of advertising “as an act of discrimination and racism by imposing a consumer culture alien to this community.”

After the commercial was banned in Mexico and a request made for the government to sanction the soft drink giant, Coca-Cola took it off the air and apologized for offending. But to quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” YouTube users continue to post the video with sarcastic titles such as “The White Savior Ad.”

When branding, it is crucial to be considerate and careful of the message within the message and diagnose how the target audience will be affected. In this case, Coca-Cola’s message hindered unity and reinforced prejudice.

Bottomline, don’t wound your audience in an effort to heal them.

Hot Under the Collar

In this election year, should Governor Rick Scott have electrified his voter base with a seven-minute stand on a non-issue? And why?

Before an October debate in Fort Lauderdale, incumbent Florida Governor Scott created a media disaster by delaying his appearance for seven minutes due to a cooling fan placed beneath the podium of his opponent, former Republican turned-Democrat gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.  According to CNN, Mr. Scott’s issue was that Mr. Crist’s cooling fan violated the debate rules against any electronics on stage. Within minutes of Governor Scott’s delayed appearance, Facebook and Twitter users were ridiculing Mr. Scott’s performance as a “#Fangate.”

Governor Rick Scott (courtesy of

Governor Rick Scott (courtesy of

As a public speaker, imagine yourself in the court of public opinion. Anything you say or do can be used against you.

In any war, it’s wise to pick your battles. Standing on principle for 7 minutes because of his opponent’s use of a fan at his feet, the governor seemed small-minded and petty.  Better for Mr. Scott to have used the situation to his advantage: “Unlike my opponent, I don’t need a fan to keep my cool in governing the great state of Florida.”

After finally renouncing his war on cooling devices, Governor Scott took the stage and was immediately asked, “Why the delay in coming out over a fan?”Apparently seven minutes wasn’t enough time to cool Governor Scott’s nerves. In what was described as nothing short of a nationally televised panic attack, his speech came out in fragmented sentences and jumbled words. The moral is: Stay focused on your message and deliver it with confidence. Those who have had proper media coaching know just how important it is to prevent small distractions from ruining the presentation, for both the audience and themselves .

"The Fearsome Fan" #Fangate (courtesy of CBS)

“The Fearsome Fan” #Fangate (courtesy of CBS)

At READY FOR MEDIA, we provide presentation skills training, backed by over 30 years of experience. As featured in CEO Anne Ready’s book Off the Cuff/What to Say at a Moment’s Notice, the C’s of Communication are a crucial part of successful presentation:

  1. Cogent: Defined by Webster as “forceful and to the point; compelling, and persuasive”—Instead of panicking, take a breath before you speak. Then, knowing what opinion you want changed or action you want taken, simply go for it!
  2. Convincing: Show respect for your audience with a logical presentation. Does it come to a reasonable conclusion? The most compelling speech is one that makes sense.
  3. Charistmatic: A special quality of leadership that captures the imagination and inspires trust.

Our Ready advice: In our modern age of multi-faceted media, nothing goes unnoticed. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and countless other social sites have become new mediums for communicating information faster than ever before. Those in the public eye are now being watched more closely, which gives Credibility to the need for the best media and presentation training possible.

Although losing this battle, Mr. Scott won the war on November 4 by the narrowest of margins, 48 to 47% to retain his governorship of Florida. Hopefully, he will stand and deliver more Confidently next time.

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 /

Twitter /


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!

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.

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.


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.