By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to help you deal more effectively with the media. Reading time: 2:56
The newly appointed vice president got caught with his foot in his mouth during a media interview. All the TV cameras and radio microphones were gone. Only one reporter in the room was left. He closed his notebook and began to exit.
But just then the reporter pulled a Lieutenant Columbo tactic – “just one more thing he said.” And the vice president took the bait and subsequently hung himself out to dry.
The press can be tough. Wielding microphones like guns and firing off questions in a barrage, reporters can behave much like detectives. At least that’s the way the then four year old daughter of golf legend Arnold Palmer saw it when her dad was besieged with a mob of reporters. The littler girl wondered to her mother: “Why does daddy have all those detectives asking him questions?”
Every CEO can relate to that onslaught. Sometimes the spotlight that comes with a leadership role can seemingly blind a newly-minted CEO and even burn a frustrated CEO out of a job. Even Mother Teresa once observed that facing the press was more difficult than bathing a leper.
Indeed the echoes of those nattering nabobs of negativism are still ringing in our ears more than 40 years after a vice president of the United States scolded the media with that phrase. The dictionary says – nattering – means chattering and –nabobs– means a person of great wealth or prominence. So Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, called the media rich chatter boxes of negative thinking.
No wonder that when most people talk to the media, their bodily functions seem to malfunction. What is normally dry on the body (arm pits) gets wet and what is normally wet on the body (tongue) gets dry.
In fact Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary in the White House, said that every morning he faced the Washington Press corp as if they were like so many hungry lions that had to be fed everyday or else they would bite your hand off.
Here are three rules the most effective leaders follow in remaining cool, calm and confident in feeding the lions of the media without getting your hand bitten off or your words twisted around your neck when you least expect it.
1. Don’t Deny
Do not repeat the accusation. Or you’ll look and sound guilty as charged. “I am not a crook,” said President Richard Nixon. Media relish inflammatory language especially when it is self-inflicted. No matter how the media phrase the question (Are you a crook?) resist the temptation to defend yourself. Instead promote yourself with a new concept on integrity that answers the question on your terms.
2. Don’t Defy
Do not try to explain past infractions. “We are no longer polluting the environment as much as before.” Ooops. Better to focus on what you are doing to improve the situation no matter how critically the question is posed. Try to compare your publicly available pollution figures to the state average or industry average to put your raw figures into some more meaningful perspective.
3. Don’t Decry
Don’t complain about regulatory rules etc. Beware of media questions that try to pull away from your message. Instead use the phrase –“The issue is…” to get the interview back on the topics you want to discuss. That’s why it is imperative to prepare in advance some keen one-liners (aka sound bites) that are very quotable for both print and electronic media and succinctly and memorably share your message. And of course an interview is never over until the reporter is out of your eyesight and out of your building.
You’ll feed these hungry lions safely if you practice three three rules of media interviews: Don’t Deny. Don’t Defy. Don’t Decry. And be wary of answering hypothetical questions posed or ancillary subjects introduced no matter how innocently posed.
Prep for media interviews to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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