Three Strikes … You’re Out

In mid September, New York TIMES reporter Kenneth Vogel sat down at a Washington D.C. restaurant, BLT Steak, expecting a routine lunch meeting. However, a media mistake of not so rare proportions was about to fall in his lap.

Ty Cobb. Photo Courtesy of the Denver Post

Over a salad of tuna nicoise and iced tea, he overheard a public conversation between Ty Cobb, who is overseeing the White House response to the Russian probe and John Dowd, President Trump’s lead personal lawyer for the Russian investigation.

They thought their conversation was private because they were focused on each other, not the crowded restaurant around them. Mr. Cobb further forgot that his distinctive appearance shouted to everyone who he is, which of course is his purpose, but not this time. He and Mr. Dowd proceeded to discuss highly sensitive subjects regarding the investigation. In addition, the two blatantly expressed tensions within the legal team and production of documents. According to Reporter Vogel, they also discussed presidential privilege and their colleagues. Mr. Cobb suggested that White House counsel Don McGahn “has a couple documents locked in a safe” and one colleague who is not on the president’s good side. But, he added, “I’m trying to get the president not pick a fight with her.”

Their actions raise the question: how can these esteemed men who have become known in the realm of politics display such hubris and lack such basic common sense?

Interestingly, this is not the first media mistake for Mr. Cobb. As the Washington Post presents it, Mr. Cobb’s errors rival those of his distant relative, “the original Ty Cobb,” former major league baseball player who still has the title for the highest career batting average. But less well known, he also holds the record for most career errors by an American League outfielder.

Apparently, errors are common for the Cobbs. Luckily for America, the errors made on the baseball field don’t pose threats to national security.

Consistent Messaging Not a Slam Dunk

Consistent messaging is one of READY FOR MEDIA’s 12 C’s of communication, and one of the most important. If you cannot effectively communicate with members of your own team, how can you expect to communicate with the public? In a recent playoff game, the Cleveland Cavaliers undermined their own emphasis against domestic violence with a video broadcast depicting a woman violently thrown down to the ground by her partner.

In a modern trend by professional sports teams to quell the rampant domestic abuse and violence that has plagued professional athletes for decades, the Cavaliers showed this clip during a game against the Chicago Bulls demonstrating the exact violence the team, as well as league and players, are trying to diminish.

In the video, a Cleveland fan and his female partner (stereotypically shown in an apron in the kitchen) are recreating a famous scene from the film, Dirty Dancing. In the clip, once the man realizes she is a Chicago Bulls fan, he throws her to the floor, injuring her. This blatant use of violence falls short of the humor it was supposed to show and instead is a perfect example of the irony between NBA’s voiced stance on domestic violence, and its actions.

The inability to be consistent in messaging, especially one as important and universal as domestic abuse, should be corrected by professional media strategy and communications coaching.

Minding Your Own Business

Practicing what you preach is good advice. But even those who are accustomed to helping others can themselves mishandle the media. Edelman Public Relations, the largest independent public relations firm in the world by revenue, specializes in crisis control. However, Edelman has run into a few media predicaments of their own lately.

The Guardian recently reported on a survey by the Climate Investigations Center (C.I.C.) regarding those clients who do not believe in climate change. Edelman made the statement that they “do not explicitly rule out taking on climate change deniers as clients.”

The first mistake came when their initial response to the C.I.C. inadvertently included an internal email from Edelman’s U.S. president and chief executive, Mark Hass. It read, “I don’t believe we are obligated in any way to respond. There are only wrong answers for this guy.”

Oooops!

Mr. Hass has since stepped down from his position, and while this mistake was damaging, the real media mishap came next.

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In an article for Vice Magazine’s Motherboard, reporter Brian Merchant recapped a follow-up phone call with Edelman president and chief executive, Richard Edelman. Presumably intending to do damage control, Mr. Edelman merely added fuel to the controversy. According to Motherboard, Mr. Edelman stated that the company has “fired” Mr. Hass, “the ham-head who filled out the questionnaire, in part because of that stupid note he wrote.”

The editor-in-chief of PR Weekly, Steve Barrett, said of Mr. Edelman’s comments, “It certainly wouldn’t be in line with the media training they give their clients.”

In light of this controversy, most recently escalated to the New York TIMES, Edelman has implemented a global-wide strategy for dealing with internal issues. Hopefully, their global-wide strategy will include what we teach at READY FOR MEDIA. Every issue needs its own 1/2 day  to day-long media coaching session, complete with messaging and soundbites that work for, not against, the company.

 

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Racist Rambling

Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, is subject to a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine for racist remarks. The decision was applauded by NBA players, owners and others connected to the league. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also said that he would do everything in his power to force the sale of the team.

The scandal stems from the release of an audio tape that recorded Mr. Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano. Mr. Sterling was scolding Ms. Stiviano for posting pictures of herself with black people to her Instagram account. He said that Ms. Stiviano can do whatever she wants in private, including have sex with black men, but she should not post photos of them to the internet or bring them to Clipper’s games.

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President Obama also responded to the controversy:

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here.”

Mr. Sterling’s reputation is tarnished for his private comments made public. But in this electronic age, no one can afford to say what they should not. The audience is always listening!

Travoltifying!

More than pizza or a selfie, what deterred and distracted from the 86th annual Academy Awards was a Media Mistake heard round the world. John Travolta introduced Idina Menzel by the wrong name, Adele Dezeem!

Ms. Menzel, who played Maureen Johnson in Rent both onstage and on screen and Elphaba in Wicked, seemed unperturbed by the flub as she sang out Let It Go, from the animated film, Frozen.

But an estimated 43 million people who were watching did not let it go and have mocked Mr. Travolta relentlessly on social media. Taking on a life of its own, a new @handle was created for the faux-name: @AdeleDezeem. And an online tool was born so that others could find out how John Travolta would “travoltify” peoples’ names when introducing them.

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Although Mr. Travolta accredited her “wicked” talent, he rushed his introduction and slurred her name.

Best known for his roles as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever and Danny Zuko in Grease, Mr. Travolta did not publicly apologize to Ms. Menzel for the mistake he made. Instead, he joked that she would say, as she sang, “Let it go, let it go.”

At READY FOR MEDIA, he would have learned presentation skills by acknowledging the media mistake with an apology and bridging to a soundbite that the media could take away. This media training three-step process is short, sweet and will keep you in the right light in the media.

A Rose By Any Other Name

 

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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!