Avoid Damage Control, Stick To The Script

By | August 13, 2012

So, you don't think media training is necessary? Let me introduce you to Anne Torres and Andrea Saul.

Andrea saul wide shotOh, you may be familiar with Saul after having read about her in the news last week. She's Mitt Romney's spokesperson who tried to defend him following an advertisement that intimated the wife of an employee at a steel mill closed by Romney's company, Bain Capital, died of cancer because the family couldn't afford health care.

In defending the attack during an interview on FOX News, Saul said:

"To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care."

What seemed like an innocuous comment actually was a contradiction to what the campaign has been saying since the passage of "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Anne-torresjpg-bfaf0c45461a77f9Torres resigned from her job as communications director for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, after the Democrat said he was "nauseated" by a comment President Obama lodged against Romney. Torres fell on the sword for Booker following his appearance on "Meet the Press" in May, taking responsibility for not having prepped Booker properly before the interview.

In Saul's case she went "off script" from the point the campaign was trying to make through media interviews. In Torres' case, Booker went "off script" but as communications director it was up to her to guide the mayor during media interviews.

Both cases illustrate the importance of media training.

Some pundits are saying that Saul's gaffe may cost Romney his shot at the White House. In the high-stakes game of media relations, it is critical that CEOs, company presidents, CMOs, or any and all spokespeople stick to the messaging that has been crafted for them, which was prepared by a communications practitioner who has vetted the opportunity after focusing the reporter on a specific topic of conversation.

I witnessed a similar incident with a former client. Having scheduled an interview with an influential reporter at a tech site, messaging comments were prepared and passed on to the spokesperson with the direction to discuss a certain technology – and only that technology. On a prep call a few hours before the interview, the spokesperson suggested he'd introduce the reporter to an addition technology. I warned him against it, stating that it was not her area of expertise and he'd lose his audience and could very well jeopardize an opportunity to secure coverage for his company.

As sure as the sun was shining that afternoon, he went down the path I told him to steer clear of and dug a hole that he couldn't recover from. Noticing the reporter was lost, I tried to rescue the client and the opportunity, but the damage was done. The reporter walked away from the interview dazed and confused and wrote her story without a mention of my client's company, their solutions or even his thought-leadership, which had been spot on until he diverged from the conversation.

The lesson here, is when your PR agency crafts an executive communications plan for your interaction with the media, stick to the script it has provided. To stray from that path will result in incalcuable damage.

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