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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Video Blog on Christine O'Donnell's Media Interview by Andy Gilman

Answer the Damn Question, Please

Caveat:  This is an example of a politician not-answering a question and then walking off the set.  I'm not taking sides here, but using this as a teaching moment for others  who either coach spokespersons or want to be interviewed.

The blogs and internet are fired up because former Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell walked off the set of a Piers Morgan CNN interview.

O'Donnell candidly stated that she was on the show to promote her new book.  "Troublemaker. Let’s do what it takes to make America great again."

Sparks flew when Morgan asked O'Donnell about her views on gay marriage and O'Donnell said she came on the show to talk about other parts of the book. They went back and forth until O'Donnell finally took off her mic and walked off.  Interviewer Morgan missed the obvious retort: If you don’t want to answer questions about what is in the book, then don't go on the show.  That's what advertising and web sites and twitter feeds are for.  The unwritten rule about media interviews for book and movie promotion is that the entire work is fair game for the interviewer - not just the chapters you want to discuss.

So let me make a couple of points from the CommCore playbook for candidates, officials, authors and business people who seek to work with the news media.

  • Absent ground rules of what not to cover (a rarity), the entire book is fair game.  (Not prior books, but the one you are promoting, aka using the interview to get people to buy your book.)
  • Anticipate all the questions including the ones you hope won't be asked. Practice responding just in case they are. Be prepared.
  • Make it easy: think of the Media Training Bridging technique as A-B-C.  A stands for Answer or Address the issue.  A does not stand for Avoid.  Once you Answer or acknowledge, then you can Bridge to C, the point you want to Communicate.
  • All Ms. O'Donnell had to do was answer one of the questions somewhat like this:  "Piers, It's a fair question since it's in the book. So here's my response to the issue on gay marriage... However, what I would prefer to focus on are the other chapters..." Chances are Morgan would have gone across the bridge. 

Was Morgan being rude?   Should O'Donnell have walked off the set?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conference Call Coping

Words we don’t usually hear: "Oh, boy, I’ve got a conference call coming up."

OK, so perhaps it's a good news call because you landed a new client with a knock-your-socks-off proposal. Still, the generic "conference call"  a la Rodney "can't get no respect" Dangerfield has negative connotations: long, unnecessary, “who is speaking?”, boring, “why am I on this call?”

Blogger Laura Vanderkam came up with a list of amusing things to do while on a boring conference call. As communications specialists, we at CommCore relate to her gallows humor that is cloaked in a dose of reality. (We especially liked her suggestion of reading the online edition of a local newspaper in a town you have never visited while the call host drones on).

But it also got us thinking about what we tell our public presentation clients about the phone as a vehicle for communicating. (Let's clarify here: we’re talking about telephone conference calls only, not interactive online video chats, webcasts or webinars).

Good conference calls start with planning and agendas.  Send agendas and supporting documents in advance, and review the agenda for changes when you start.  Let 'em know how long you expect to be on, and stay on schedule. 

Here are some reminders: 
For the host:
• Sound animated and engaged.
• For longer calls consider standing up at your desk using a headset (not a speaker phone). You will have more energy and focus,
• If the call must originate from a conference room with other attendees, make sure the handset or microphones are placed close to the host and other speakers.
• Summarize action items, take-aways and responsibilities/next steps at the end.
For the attendees:
• If there are many participants, ask everyone on the call identify themselves before speaking.
• Ask callers dialing from a mobile phone in a noisy area to mute their phone until they need to speak.
• Pause regularly to inquire if anyone on the phone has a question or comment; that will reduce interruptions and also keep the remote attendees engaged.

What are some of your favorite (naughty) things to do when you are on a boring conference call?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

5 Ways to Listen Better

The TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) Conference is a series of well known meetings where leaders share ideas, concepts and discoveries.

If you haven't been invited to the California sessions or the offshoots around the globe, the next best thing are the TED videos.  Spend a few minutes once or twice a week watching a speaker and you'll come away with new ideas.

One of the more interesting talks we have watched  is titled “5 Ways to Listen Better,"  delivered by sound expert Julian Treasure.

Sales people say that if you speak less than 50% of the time, you’ll have better results. But that doesn’t mean a message or pitch is getting through; Treasure argues that we spend 65% of our day listening but retain less than 25% of what we hear.  At CommCore, we try to increase retention factors of listeners and have developed modules that focus on the relationship between listening and charisma.

Treasure's 5 Steps:
  1. Be silent (or at least quiet) 3 minutes a day 
  2. Develop your ability to divide cacophony into separate channels.  For example, at a baseball game, listen to the crowd, the vendors, the conversation just behind you, the noise of the bat hitting the ball.
  3. Savor an individual sound, whether it's a car engine starting up, or a bird chirping.
  4. Adapt different listening positions from active to passive.
  5. Learn the acronym RASA (it's also a Sanskrit word meaning juice or essence):
    • Receive
    • Appreciate
    • Summarize 
    • Ask
    What's your favorite TED talk?  Any great listening techniques to share?

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    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Humble, Open Leaders Leave Greatest Legacies

    In a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article authored by John Ryan, “Three Keys to a Great Leadership Legacy,” the author does a terrific job of explaining the roots of truly great and admirable legacies.

    There is no shortage of discussion on the legacy leaders leave behind. Most claim that all leaders are obsessed with his/her own legacy. Some say that self-promoters don’t care if the image left bears no resemblance to reality, as long as it serves a purpose, like making more money, sustaining a movement or retaining power and influence. Still others say that one should not be concerned with their legacy at all – that it is purely an exercise in hubris. But, surely a good, lasting example can be beneficial to those who leaders leave behind - colleagues, employees, friends, family and other constituents.

    Advice on how to create and maintain a lasting and positive legacy are just as diverse. Many believe it is an after-the-fact, public relations effort and that one can create whatever image they’d like provided you put enough effort (and perhaps money) behind it. We don’t. We believe that the greatest legacies start with the actions of the individual while he or she is grinding to goals and then are actually built on emulation.

    We would like to concentrate on Ryan’s third key in his article: “We all need critical mirrors.” It takes a humble leader open to criticism to really ever have the right mindset to continue to achieve rather than stagnate through the end of his/her career. He/she can only then positively impress those who surround him/her and leave a great legacy.

    A few additional thoughts about leaders seeking feedback:

    · Choose your advisors wisely: Those who can truly help will be trusted and candid friends, C-suite confidants, and skilled external and internal executive coaches.

    · Listen actively and deferentially: This is not a time to debate deficiencies or argue your case. Take your medicine.

    · Seek solutions: Feedback is only helpful if you are also gathering suggestions on behavioral change

    What do you think makes for a great legacy? Do you see a connection between humbly accepting feedback and an inspiring leader? If so, what examples do you have to share?

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    Monday, August 8, 2011

    CEO Achilles Heels: The Dare Devil


    Most people know intuitively that eating healthy food is a good thing; one generally doesn't associate a negative news headline associated with it.  But  at a time when the state of the economy has consumers tightening their family budgets, the questions is, at what price will they still opt for healthier fare?  

    Consider a recent Reuters story headlining a study proclaiming that eating healthy food costs consumers more money in the US. This is not the type of headline that enterprises associated with pricier healthy eating and food products – health food stores, organic and local farmers, high-end specialty grocers – would wish for in the current economic climate.

    The article quoted a survey in which the healthier items bought at a grocery store cost more than a less healthy diet higher in saturated fats and sugar – a somewhat obvious finding from a legitimate survey. But significantly, the article did note that the study concentrated only on grocery items and failed to include the cost of unhealthy fast-food in its cost matrix..a factor that likely would have mitigated the cost differential. Yet, that fact in the story didn’t soften the headline, or its potential lasting impact on casual reader/consumers.

    Which brings us to a media truth: news loves controversy, and will look for it whenever it can especially if it can be combined with a trend story, another news media staple.

    This story underscores the importance of ongoing proactive media relations and proper message development to respond to publicized facts or claims that damage a sector, enterprise, product or individual:

    ·         - If a media contact at an organization involved in advocated or producing healthy foods had been front-of-mind, perhaps the reporter would have reached out to him or her before publishing or posting the article. That, in turn, might have led to a softening of the headline.
    ·         - To be able to respond quickly, that media contact would have had to have sound bites and factoids ready in advance to counter immediately most potential challenges to the importance of a healthy diet. Assessing potential harmful challenges and preparing up-to-date responses in advance that are rooted in proper message development, pertinent data proofs, and supportive "visual" stories or analogies is crucial to such a scenario.
    ·        - Even if the reporter did NOT reach out prior to publication, a spokesperson should call them on it and supply them with information that might make them write a follow-up article, or include the organization’s view in another piece. A letter to the editor, online comment, or op-ed article would be another tactic.

    How would you advise your client to react to this story if they were in the healthy food business?

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    CEO Achilles Heels: The Father Figure

    Learning from the first crisis: Don’t make the same mistakes twice

    Virginia Tech's shooting massacre in 2007 changed the way universities and other public institutions respond to crises.  As a result of the slow, manual campus warning system in place on the day a deranged gunman killed 32 people, emergency and crisis response leaders more rapid alert protocols, adding blast texts and emails along with other traditional warnings.

    Yesterday, Virginia Tech had another scare; this time with a more rapid response.  In mid-morning, there were reports of an armed person walking around the campus.  Though a suspect had not yet been found, the campus authorities quickly implemented the revised emergency alert system.

    According to news reports, the first text went out 30 minutes after individuals first spotted a suspect.  Since there was no actual shooting incident and the authorities needed to verify the information, this appears to qualify as rapid response.  During this time law enforcement teams were converging on the campus.  According the Washington Post, more than 48,000 students and campus personnel received a text message alert and that an e-mail alert was sent to every student and school employee.  The local Virginia Pilot reported a few more details.  "The university sent out alerts via outdoor loudspeakers, text message, blast email, desktop alert, phone messages, the vt.edu homepage, Twitter, Facebook and electronic classroom signs."
    Larry Hincker, a university spokesman, told the Post: "We really need to communicate first and investigate later, and that's what we did."

    We wrote recently about another crisis involving Airbnb.com a vacation rental website which changed policies as a result of a crisis.

    We all know crises do occur. The question is what we learn from each one and how we improve for the next time. Virginia Tech appears to have made significant progress. Do you know of other universities or public institutions that have improved their warning systems?

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    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Crisis reporting: How to stay up to date?

    The media recently reported on an incident involving home/vacation rental website www.Airbnb.com.  It turns out that a "guest" at an Airbnb property in San Francisco vandalized the home of the lessor.  According to a number of reports and the company's own admission, Airbnb was a little slow and cavalier in its initial responses to what turned out to be a public relations crisis.

    Our concerns at CommCore are what a company can do when the first reports come out that are not as up to date as the crisis manager believes. The other concern is that once media reports with a provocative question, is there a responsibility to keep covering the story?

    The background: Airbnb is one of several travel marketplace sites - www.vrbo.com, www.homeaway.com  are others- for individuals to rent apartments, homes and even castles directly from owners. We first learned of the incident in a posting on PRNewsOnline. The headline questioned whether the company was getting its act together or still found itself in the midst of the crisis, although it did mention the company's new insurance policy for customers.  The article concluded with the question: "It will be interesting to follow what Airbnb does post-crisis to repair both its business model and its reputation." This is a valid question since many companies make promises that they don't keep.

    As it turns out the company CEO had sent out and posted its apology and corrective actions before this online piece hit our email box. The letter lists a number of actions the company has taken in order to repair its reputation and tighten its renting policies, including an insurance policy for all renters. As crisis counselors, we at CommCore believe these are strong corrective moves. But is it the responsibility of an article to parrot all of things the company claims it is doing?

    The PRNewsOnline piece was short and appropriately skeptical.  Airbnb is hopefully monitoring the internet for articles and can and should post a comment on PRNewsOnline.

    As former reporters, we know that a strong headline such as "Can Airbnb Recover from its own Housing Crisis?" surely grabs attention more than a more benign headline, e.g. "Airbnb recovering from its own Housing Crisis?" The question is what responsibility does any reporter, blogger or tweeter have to be current after raising an issue like this?  I believe that a follow-up is warranted when an item questions the company's actions.  What's your view?

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    CEO Achilles Heels: The Iconoclast

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    CEO Achilles Heels: The Cult

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Now That's Creative: The Facebook ® Cartoon Job Resume

    We all know how hard it is to stand out from the hordes when applying for a coveted job.
    Capitol Hill staffer Adrian Sferle is standing head and shoulders above others trying to get in to Facebook with a Facebook cartoon resume.  And the dude is going viral.

    I learned about this creative effort via a friend's Facebook posting. Now I'm letting my circle know.  Don't know yet what the FB folks are doing about this. Stay tuned.

    Which brings me to a few thoughts on how to stand out from the crowd when applying for a job.  I'll mix in a couple of standard ones with creative efforts we've seen.

    1. Do your homework on the company.  I'm always impressed when someone actually knows what we do.
    2. Don't LIE on your resume.  Someday, somehow the employer - or someone outside the company - will figure out either the truth or your level of competency
    3. Creativity does help.  If the FB cartoon isn't for you, how about a Flip camera message to the employer you really want to work with?
    4. Dress appropriately for the interview. We've traveled a long way from the dot.com days when wrinkled-out-of-the -pants shirts were "de rigeur."  It's a buyer's market these days, not a seller's. Be the best-dressed person in the room.
    5. Find a reference who will say something substantive. 
    6. Thank you notes and emails still make a difference.

    What's the most creative job applicant/resume you've seen?

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    CEO Achilles Heels: The Plain Vanilla