crisis communications

Don't Repeat. I Repeat: Don't Repeat.

repeat

 

By Susan Tomai

Too many unflattering sound bites are the result of an interviewee repeating the questioner’s words. This is understandable - repeating is what we do in everyday conversation. We grow up being taught that repeating another’s words shows that we're listening - and care enough to show it. But a media interview is not everyday conversation.

In an interview, the objective is to use your own words, not the reporter’s, to deliver key messages. Let’s say you’re trying to bring attention to an effort to help parents learn about social media. If the reporter says something like “Social media is bad for kids, isn’t it?”,  you don’t want to say “No, social media isn’t bad for kids.” The reason for this is that even though you’re shooting down an assertion that you don’t like, you’re still saying the words, and those words can become the chosen sound bite.

The better course is to simply go to one of your messages. You might say “With proper supervision by parents, social media can be a great way for kids to communicate.” Remember, you can’t control what the reporter says, but you can and must control what you choose to say.  It takes discipline not to repeat questions, or deny accusations, but it’s a necessary discipline for any spokesperson.

 

Rand Paul: Know Your Audience

randhoward.banner.rbloom Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul paid a visit this week to what is probably America’s best-known historically black college, Howard University in Washington, D.C. – and it didn’t go so well.

Along with the rest of the Republican Party, Paul is trying to win more African-American votes.  So he gave a speech at Howard arguing that smaller government and other Republican values should appeal to the black community. But he got himself in trouble when he clumsily tried to bluff his way through making a point without realizing that the audience knew more than he did.

He said Republicans had always supported civil rights, and to prove it, he pointed out that one of the first African-American U.S. Senators was a Republican. Too bad he couldn’t remember the Senator’s name.

“Uh, I’m blanking on his name,” he said, “from Massachusetts.”

A number of students in the audience quickly said “Edward Brooke!” and proceed to laugh when Paul then “repeated” the name, misstating it as “Edwin Brooks.”

It got worse when Paul then asked the audience if they realized that the founders of the NAACP were all Republicans.  Several people said “yes,” and one woman said “of course.” To which Paul said “I don’t know what you know.”

But he should have known, and that’s the point. Know your audience: it’s one of the cardinal rules of media training. As a high-profile U.S. Senator, Paul certainly has the resources to do some basic research on the knowledge level of his audience. Did he really think that a roomful of African-American college kids wouldn’t know that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans? Come on.

Not knowing that made him look clueless and condescending at the same time. And I’m guessing he didn’t score a lot of points for his team.