Friday, April 22, 2011

Thrive Live: 5 Tips to Crush a Live Interview

Few things inspire panic like the prospect of a live interview. I love them. There is no interaction with a journalist that offers the opportunity that comes with going live.

What a journalist offers with a live interview is unedited time between you and your audience. This is something that is very hard to pass up. If the opportunity to do a live interview comes your way, say “yes” and follow the five tips below to help you thrive live.

Use focus phrases to lead the audience
Focus phrases help direct the audience’s attention to a key point. For example, a focus phrase like “The most important thing I can say is...” or “Our primary concern is...” or “We are committed to...” can do wonders for making you a memorable guest. Those phrases can also help you focus on delivering the right message at the right time. Planning your focus phrases means you also have to plan your messages. Preparation is key to success. 

Give complete answers
Many interviewers ask yes or no questions. While you can respond that way if you choose, a better way to go is to answer on your terms. For example, you’re doing a quarterly earnings interview and you are asked, “Are you pleased with these results?” You could simply answer yes or no, but there’s not much in that for your audience, you or the interviewer. Some options to consider are: “What we’re pleased with is…” or “Yes, particularly in our tablet sales for the quarter…” or “We need to improve our performance to deliver better results and how we’re going to do that is…”

Answer or respond to every question
People assume that media training means teaching someone to dodge questions. Good trainers teach the exact opposite. Answer or respond to every question because that’s what you agreed to when you said “yes” to doing the interview. You do get to answer or respond to the questions on your terms. Even interviews on controversial topics go better if you are respectful enough to the interviewer to be responsive to their questions.

Don’t repeat the negative words
People instinctively "mirror" back words during conversation to signal their understanding of what has been asked. In a live interview, this natural instinct works against you. For example, an interviewer asks, “How dangerous is your chemical plant?” It’s instinctive to respond, “Our plant is not dangerous…” as you begin your answer. A negative word uttered by a reporter and mirrored back by you becomes your word. A better way to respond to the same question would be: “Our plant is safe…”
Use your time wisely
A typical live interview will last roughly two to five minutes. Keep your responses concise; about 30 to 45 seconds long. Responses that drone on will lose the audience and force the host to interrupt. This takes practice. Remember to prepare. 

Follow these tips and when the red light blinks to life, you have a much higher chance of connecting with the audiences that are important to you and your organization.

Bill Salvin

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Networking for Crisis Communicators

“When a crisis or misunderstanding occurs, it is too late to build a relationship. It must be cultivated beforehand over time, one conversation and one friendship at a time.”
-Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

When the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami slammed Japan on March 11, the US and more than 100 other countries jumped in to help. The US military was in a particularly good position to offer assistance. About 87,000 US Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are based in Japan. Within hours, the military was in action responding to the crisis. 

That response was more effective because of more than 60 years of relationship building between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the US military. We knew them and they knew us. (Disclosure: I'm a Navy Reserve PAO and I spent the last 30 days on the Crisis Action Team for the Joint Support Force that led US military efforts during the disaster.) Everyday networking paid off big in Japan.

Another example from last year was a gunman at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel. One of the lessons learned according to Discovery's Senior VP of Corporate Affairs and Communications Michelle Russo was to consult with other businesses in your community on your crisis plan. Discovery employees evacuated the building rapidly and left things like car keys, briefcases and purses in their offices. One nearby organization assigned two people to help get Discovery employees home. Seems simple, but knowing your neighbors helped Discovery ensure its people were taken care of. (Big hat tip to PR pro Aimee Stern. Check out her post on the Discovery Gunman, it's worth the read.) 

Why not invite your police department to participate in a drill on a Discovery Channel style scenario at one of your sites? Or, invite one of your competitors to sit in on a crisis exercise where you may need some of their resources to get through the day. Or, sit down with the spokesperson for the Mayor and find out how they will respond if there is a crisis at your facility. All it will cost you is some time and maybe the price of a cup of coffee, and you'll be better prepared.

If you're not great at networking, read Peter Shankman's blog. It's got plenty of tips for how to get connected with people and stay connected with them. 

All crises involve people. Take Admiral Mullen's advice and start building the relationships with people you'll need one conversation at a time. 

Bill Salvin

Thursday, April 7, 2011

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Reporter

I spent about a decade as a journalist. As much as social media allows for companies to tell their story their way, news media are still a powerful and credible pathway to get your story out to a broad audience. There are a lot of lists that tell people what to say to a reporter. I thought I would add my list of ten things you should never say to a reporter.

10) “This really isn’t newsworthy.” Not your call. Do you want a reporter telling you how to run your business? I'm guessing no. Offer  context so the reporter understands the story. Do it well and the reporter might decide that there is no story. But the decision regarding newsworthiness is the reporter’s, not yours.

9) “That last part was off the record.” People usually say this when they make a mistake or reveal too much during an interview. Off the record works only if both source and reporter agree ahead of time that a topic is off the record.

8) “Can you call me tomorrow?” Calling back tomorrow is usually not an option. Reporters are expected to report a story today. Add the speed at which business moves these days, and what’s to say tomorrow will be any more convenient than today? Plus, reporters may feel like you are blowing them off when you say that. What happens when a reporter agrees to call you tomorrow? They call someone else today and do the story. You're just not a part of it.

7) “You’re not going to interview me on camera, are you?” Most people ask this question because they uncomfortable on camera and fear they will look bad. A bit of advanced media training ahead can do wonders for people’s confidence. Get some.

6) “Why are you covering this story?” A derivative of number 10, this always piqued my curiosity when I was reporting. Why was the source trying to dissuade me from covering the story? You have a simple decision: to be part of the story or not. If the answer is yes, then plan what you want to say.

5) “That’s a dumb question.” To a reporter, there is no such a thing. There are dumb answers. Take every question as a chance to deliver your message and you will do better with the reporter and more importantly, your audience.

4) “I just told you that.” Reporters will often ask the same question several times in a number of ways. They are doing this to see if the answer changes. Make sure your answer the last time you answer a repetitive question is the same as it was the first time.

3) “Are you going to use my name?”  Probably. Unnamed sources, while common in political stories, are less so in business stories. Reporters talk to you because they need your expertise and information. Why would you talk to a reporter if you don't want your name used? Reporters need a very compelling reason to use your information, but not your name.

2) “I don’t really watch your station (or read your paper).” That may be the case, but do your customers read the paper or watch the station? I never understood why anyone would say that to me. I never much cared if someone watched my station. I had a job to do and by telling me this you just told me that you're going to make my job harder. Whether you watch, read or listen should be irrelevant to your decision to engage with media.

1) “No comment.” Sadly, decades after "no comment" became interchageable with "guilty as charged" people still say it. If you can't answer the question, tell the reporter why.

Bill Salvin

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Transparency and Technology: Are you ready to live-stream your crisis?

Transparency is a key tenet of crisis communications. Crisis PR experts advise companies to tell as much as possible as soon as possible in order to maintain credibility during bad times. Technology drives expectations. The public expects to be able to log in and see what’s happening in real time. In the last year we’ve had an epic example of the public’s demand to see a crisis as it unfolds: The BP Oil Spill.
At the height of the spill, BP had 16 remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) working 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to stop the leak. Thanks to some neat work by the oil field service company Oceaneering, all 16 cameras were able to stream live on BP’s public website. The function of the cameras was to give the ROV operators and engineers eyes on the well so they could stop the flow of oil. The communications/PR value was that the world could watch those efforts live. And watch they did.
This technology created challenges for the BP PR team (of which I was a member). The team was called upon to explain what people were seeing. BP’s press office in Houston and London took many phone calls from people wanting to know what a specific ROV was showing at a specific time. It is safe to say that the public watched those ROV feeds closer than the BP PR team. (This isn’t a slight; there were a thousand things to do every day during that crisis and BP’s communicators worked their tails off.)
NASA Mission commentator
Rob Navias at the console
There were even suggestions to have live commentary similar to what NASA provides during Space Shuttle launches. This isn’t something many corporate PR teams are capable of pulling off (we all can’t be Rob Navias).  
You could even make a case for (get ready to use the defibrillator on the lawyer …) having a communicator live blog during a crisis from the company crisis center (… CLEAR!).
Twitter and Facebook have already brought a lot of crisis communications into the realm of real-time. Most of this real-time coverage is being done by others instead of the companies involved. One of my mentors in this business says, “The story is always better with you than without you.”
I’m interested in your thoughts about how to pull this off. Let me know if you think this is a capability companies need to develop and how you think it can be done. 
Unless companies figure a way to adapt to and anticipate these changes, real-time crisis communications will leave businesses without a voice when they need it most.

Bill Salvin