Ad Agencies: Media Training Can Help Your Clients Avoid Blunders

A few days ago Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee in California’s Senate race, got caught in one of the oldest media tricks around: an open microphone. While waiting for a CNN interview she got a bit too chatty, questioning why another Republican candidate would choose to appear on Sean Hannity’s program. Then, she took a swipe at her opponent’s hairstyle as “Sooooooooooooo yesterday.” Of course, she had no idea everything she said was being recorded.

The gaff has made the rounds on the Internet, and while some are describing the incident as simply a mistake by a novice candidate, she should have known better. One would hope this sort of thing would have been covered in her media training sessions (she did have media training before running for office, didn’t she?). Perhaps she had been warned about being on guard at all times, including before and after an interview, and just got careless.

We all make mistakes, but some are more costly than others. Fortunately for Ms. Fiorina, this incident is merely embarrassing. It certainly could have been worse.

Ad agencies that advise and prepare clients for media interviews should not take for granted that their clients will automatically remember to be vigilant around reporters, especially if they begin to feel comfortable in their surrounds. A safe assumption is that everything is on the record and may be used. It’s something that can’t be said too often.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

Ad Agencies Should Never Deny the Obvious

Early in my PR career, one of my mentors made that simply yet profound statement.  It sounds, well, obvious, not to deny the obvious.  Yet, how many times have you seen or heard someone caught in the act of wrongdoing and then turn around and deny it?

 One of my favorite examples, which I use in my media training seminars, is an AP photo of Padres pitcher Chris Young taking a swing at the Cubs’ Derrick Lee.  With his fist just inches away from the Lee’s face, the caption ends with “Young says he wasn’t trying to hit Lee.”

There’s a saying that credibility is gained in inches but lost in miles.

 Whether dealing with your client or a reporter, honesty is the best policy.  Tell the truth—but don’t necessarily tell everything you know.  In other words, don’t answer questions that aren’t being asked.  Some people use a media interview to confess all sorts of things best left unsaid.  Barbara Walters has built her career around extracting embarrassing information.

But, if you get caught in a photo about to punch someone’s lights out or something equally obvious, don’t deny it.  Instead, acknowledge that you were really upset and acted inappropriately, and then apologize without making excuses.  You and your agency will regain some lost respect and the matter will go away much more quickly.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.


12 Keys to a Successful Media Interview for Ad Agencies

  1. Keep your messages clear, concise and consistent (the 3C’s).
  2. Know your audience, and focus on what’s important to them rather than what’s important to your agency or client.
  3. Use questions as a springboard to get to what you want to talk about. In other words, if you don’t like the question, make up your own and answer it. Politicians are great at this.
  4. Look for opportunities to use transition phrases, such as “The real issue is…” or “What I can tell you about XYZ is . . .” or “What I’m here to discuss today is…” or “What’s important to know about XYZ is…”
  5. When responding to questions, you don’t necessarily need to tell everything you know a particular matter.
  6. Answer only within the scope of your authority and responsibility.  If you don’t know something, say so—and then offer to get back to the reporter later with an answer.
  7. Look for ways to turn negatives into positives. For example, in a layoff situation, stress how many jobs were saved by taking this action.
  8. Remember to smile often, and to have energy during the interview.  Your body language often will speak louder than your words, especially on TV.
  9. If you’re on camera, look at the person conducting the interview, not into the camera (unless you are specifically asked to do so).
  10. Avoid industry jargon, being critical or loosing your temper.
  11. Never say “no comment,” which equals guilt in most people’s minds.  If you can’t discuss something, explain why. Examples: Confidentiality, Proprietary information, Pending litigation, Timing (gathering all the facts)
  12. When you’ve made your point, stop talking.

 The last point may be the most important one of all, because more times than not people make their best points in the first sentence or two they utter in response to a question.

When people elaborate too much and get “off message,” they typically end up in the swamp and say something they later regret.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.