Media Interview Tips in a Citizen Journalism World
It only took 30 seconds of listening to NPR yesterday morning for me to hear Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" off-microphone gaffe at a private fund-raising event. It's one of those remarks that takes on a life of its own and spreads wildly. What the candidate said and meant is not the issue I want to address here. As a PR professional, I immediately recognized that he broke one of the cardinal rules of public figures in a 24/7 world of citizen journalists:
Everything you Say is On the Record to be Captured and Recorded
First of all, there is no such thing as an off-the-cuff remark when you are a public figure vying for President of the United States. And there always, always, always will be someone with a smartphone equipped with video capability ready to capture the most random statements and push them out to the world to make tomorrow's headlines. Romney isn't the first victim of this classic spokesperson mistake. One of my public company CEOs many years ago gave the juiciest part of his interview with a business press reporter on the way to the elevator. He didn't mean to do that. He thought that once the journalist put away her pen and pad, the formal interview was over and anything else he said informally would not count. Wishful thinking, Mr. CEO.
Interestingly, the king of spokesperson gaffes, Vice President Joe Biden, decided to not address the Romney mistake during a swing through Iowa, wisely following another spokesperson rule:
Don't Pile on a Negative Story if There is Any Risk It Can Ricochet Back at You
Given his tendencies to make mistakes, Biden may have been advised by his own PR team to let others comment instead of him. After all, a Biden misstatement could have quickly replaced the Romney coverage in the blogosphere. Or perhaps Biden was just thinking, "there but for the grace of God go I."
And speaking of letting others do the commenting, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton clearly is following the age-old wronged spokesperson rule:
Let Your PR Team Fight the Battle For You
She and Prince William successfully won an injunction against the French Magazine that had published the topless photos of Kate. She had stood back quietly and let the team of PR professionals for the Royal Family express outrage while their legal eagles worked to stop the further spread of the photos. It was a smart spokesperson move by Middleton, whom one writer noted, was probably not expecting to face this kind of problem after a childhood filled with films about Disney princesses' happily ever after. But then again, the princesses riding off with their princes on white horses were not being chased by camera-carrying fans and paparazzi.
My colleague Mike Sullivan recently did a great post addressing the constant PR struggles of Boston Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine, so I won't "pile on" too much (another spokesperson tip). I can only add some sage advice that would serve Mr. Valentine well until the end of this season or, frankly, any season in a high visibility role:
Learn From the Best Spokespeople
Valentine has a great role model right here in Boston in New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Instead of tripping over himself with constant contradictions and sarcasm that backfires and keeps him in the headlines, in a bad way, Belichick completely controls the message at all times -- in what he says and in what his staff and team members say in response to any questions. Just read the transcript of his press conference after his team's loss this past Sunday to see what I mean. He follows one of my favorite rules for writing and for spokespeople:
Less is More