Crisis PR Lesson: Why Lance Armstrong’s ‘Confession’ Left Us Cold


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Crisis PR is no walk in the park for any PR professional to manage – it is usually highly emotional, stressful for all involved and a lot is at stake. Families, careers, finances and more.

However, clients who walk the burning coals early in the piece, and admit to wrongoing and apologise, tend to come out better than those who sit on the fence or generate radio silence for months THAT turning point comes to light. Aka former sporting hero Lance Armstrong who has denied allegations of performance enhancing drug use for most of his career, this once revered, seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor and his PR team made many wrong decisions in my view.

The proof is in the plethora of public and media criticism that has come thick and fast in the wake in Armstrong anti-climactic interview with TV matriarch Oprah Winfrey this week.

There are several reasons why:
1. Sorry seemed to be the hardest word: Doing a pre-recorded interview is the easier format for anyone facing a hostile audience and could have been just the right format for Armstrong to win the public back to his side. Yet he failed to execute on the most critical part of a mea culpa: expressing genuine remorse and saying three little words: I am sorry. The New York Times wrote. “Armstrong failed to do the one thing many people had been waiting for: he to all the people who believed in him, all the cancer survivors and cycling fans who thought his fairy-tale story was true. Not once did he look into the camera and say, without qualification, ‘I’m sorry.’”
2. Come clean when people still care: In the tried and true cycle of the crisis PR process, I urge my clients to tell the truth: your job is to reveal what you can and in your own words, as much as legally feasible, Armstrong probably could have redeemed some more integrity had he not fought so many allegations against him for so long. Now most of us are beyond empathy for him – game over.
3. Timeliness: You need to take control early on when and how information comes out. And, before you decide how to be honest publicly, you need to be honest internally. This is not the time to lie to those who can help you at the time of a crisis. Armstrong seems to have deceived many of his peers and support networks. The ugly truth must be shared with and discussed by key firm stakeholders, including appropriate PR and marketing staff and consultants. Holding back at this stage will only cause problems down the road. Need I say more?
4. It was no D&M: The calculated language and lack of emotion that Armstrong showed in the Oprah interview was a misjudged use of a crisis PR-meets-public-comeback situation. I am not advocating crocodile tears but arrogance and a sense of disillusion was still an over-riding part of Armstrong’s underwhelming performance, so to speak.
Crisis PR done well helps process and manages how that story can be shared with the media, in a strategic way. This only is possible when the naked truth is allowed to be shared, warts and all. Only then can anyone be strategic about how to communicate the bad news. There are scores of fallen leaders that have made come backs of sorts in the public eye after facing the music: think Shane Warne or Bill Clinton.

Done right, most decent people will say: “You are human, you made mistakes but you were big enough to face them.” The rest is always unknown but you have done the only right thing to do to even rebuild a tainted reputation.

Lance Armstrong gets the Oprah treatment

Lance Armstrong gets the Oprah treatment

The biggest crisis PR lesson from Lance Armstrong was that being dishonest never works. The truth has a funny way of always getting out, no matter how rich, famous and powerful you once were.

Tuning in: mastering a TV interview


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Facing the camera need not be a scary thing

Devastating images of the wild bushfires that have raged across the country in recent days have provided plenty of captivating news fodder. The images of hectares of bush land in parts of NSW, QLD, SA and Tasmania burning away people’s homes and destroying wildlife never cease to be shocking and heart-wrenching for viewers at home watching these scenes on their TVs or smartphones. The interviews with firefighters, every day heroes and those who have been displaced keep us all on the edge of our seats.

It is also a reminder of what makes the TV media tick. How important visuals are to tell the story – even if your story is in the business arena. In my media training business, I engage experienced TV journalists to help fine-tune the art of delivering great live or pre-recorded interviews. Here are some tips to make your next TV interview memorable for all the right reasons:

1. Get to the point: The number one rule when being interviewed on TV is to be succinct. This medium is fast-paced so hit the ground running and practice what you want to get across before going on-air. You may have score air time of 30 to 60 seconds in a news piece. In-depth interviews are rare these days as audiences have an insatiable appetite for news that is easy to digest and they want more stories covered than ever.
2. Get your tool kit right: It also goes without saying that being well-spoken, expressing yourself clearly and looking the part helps, as TV is visual. Think about how to get people at home to take notice of what you are saying as they are getting ready for work or making the evening meal.
3. Be informed: Try to be flexible because in the business of broadcasting news, reporters may ask you questions not previously expected if it links in with a topic happening that day. This is a chance to shine and become an expert.
4. Be prepared: Having had a trial run a few times ahead of the interview is so important. Always best to rehearse what you want to get across ahead of the interview. If you can’t rehearse in front of a loved one in your living room you can’t expect to be confident in front of a TV camera. And bad interviews live in our viewer’s minds just as much as great ones.
5. Be pro-active: One of the biggest mistakes that interviewees make is walking away from a TV interview feeling they hardly got started on what they wanted to say. Don’t be afraid to answer the presenter’s question and add on your key message rather than just stop. While most programs do require you to be short and sharp in your responses, if you are engaging you may get more time on-air. Likewise, one-word replies and bland responses tend to lead to interviews being cut short.
6. Be visual: Being reliant on excellent and eye-catching footage, sadly lots of excellent story ideas pitched are just not suitable for TV. When pitching to a Chief of Staff always think about what suitable footage and talent you can offer the program. They rely on this to get a story up. Even sending a relevant YouTube interview with your CEO can spark interest. And think of sharing case studies or examples with simple, cut-through language – and avoid jargon.
7. Be marketing minded: Once you get TV coverage your business can reap the benefits of online promotion of the segment on their network’s site and go into social media feeds. Many reporters are encouraged to have Twitter accounts to upload their interviews to. Why not use that to your advantage and add it to your own social media alerts and of course do upload any interviews done onto your company web site?

Enjoy the process. In my view, TV is a wonderful medium for PR and despite the changes in technology is one to stay for awhile yet.

Festive reasons why PR campaigns never go on holiday


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The upcoming Christmas and New Year break spells the end of another busy business year, and if you are like me, you are relishing the prospect of some long lazy summer days away from your desk, spent with your family and friends.

However, while you are taking a well-earned mental break from the day to day grind, the media still operates its usual 24/7 cycle. It is true that many newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations operate with skeleton staff for a few weeks right after 24 December, this may well be the perfect chance to gain coverage on a slow news day or make the most of a seasonal trend that relates to your business. In fact, most of us have more time to read feature stories so I encourage you to think now about what story angles to pitch to journalists to help keep your company in the PR mindset raise your profile and even attract new clients.

Some of my biggest media coverage has happened during the January period, knowing full well time-poor journalists are hungry for news and customers have time to trawl the internet for a wider range of reading materials.

So here is what I believe every business owner and entrepreneur should add into their PR to do list before they sign off for the year.

Write an e-book: I confess, I have snuck this one in first because it is my own pet project for the summer holidays and I am pretty excited to have a chance to fulfill this goal of mine. E-books are a really cost-effective and easy way to raise your own expertise and build you a global profile when you share a niche area of professional knowledge. They don’t need to be long. In 2013 I predict having a credible PR campaign will include using tools like e-books and webinars more and more to engage your existing customers and engage new ones. Watch this space for the launch of my first e-book for small business in the first quarter of 2013.

Festive story angles: Just like we know that the New Year starts every 1st January without fail, most journalists are writing stories now on seasonally related topics. For example, if you are an accountancy practice you could offer commentary on cash flow for businesses over the holidays .

Feel-good stories: Around Christmas and the incoming year we all make New Year’s resolutions and plan ahead for what we hope the incoming 12 months will bring. So if you have a new fitness service or are in the business of helping mums and dads with financial planning after their silly season credit card splurges, you have a good chance of getting editorial coverage on such soft news topics.

Don’t give up: While they may well be done filing stories for the summer editions, many publications don’t shut down completely and do need to fill their February (and beyond) editions. With less PR people pitching angles at them over the next few weeks, many journalists are open to hearing fresh story ideas – and it makes their jobs easier. While the competition works on their tans, you can be freely building new connections.

Meet new journalists: The newsrooms will be filled with journalists covering the role of editors and senior producers. What a great way to make an in-road with reporters you don’t know and get your stories some fresh interest and keep the details on file for future pitching.

Hopefully that is inspiring you and your PR ideas to take action. What are your PR goals this Christmas?

What makes a sizzling speaker


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Ita Buttrose speaks from the heart

Having just heard the legendary Ita Buttrose address a crowd of 1,000 business women at a Sydney breakfast event, I walked away feeling nothing short of motivated, inspired and touched. The gift of public speaking is something pretty extraordinary.

It got me thinking, just what makes Ita one of that elite club? Her years pioneering away under the media spotlight have no doubt shown her the way. Addressing stuffy board meetings when she was the only female executive would sharpen your speaking acumen in heartbeat. Yet it her personal stories, laced with good humour, endless empathy and reality that really made her address today so memorable. From confrontations with the late Sir Frank Packer over whether an article on ‘what turns a man’ on can feature CLEO magazine to organising tins of Kraft single cheese to be posted to a group of nuns in Bangladesh, Ita shares her experiences with a sense of graciousness and goodwill few speakers every really muster. She is clearly a woman of many virtues but her speech proved she not afraid to have a giggle even at herself.

We can all learn how to get our ideas and experiences across with more of the X-factor.

Each year, I teach countless individuals from all kinds of enterprises and industries the art of being a desirable media spokesperson – the tools, the rules, the tricks, the do and don’ts to nail an interview every time.  Likewise, I work with CEOs and political spokespersons to fine tune their communications skills so they too confidently and appropriately get a message to an audience, sometimes a very hostile one at that.

How do you approach your speaking engagements? If you would love to get more confident, more polished and more on message certainly it takes hard work, focus and oodles of practice. Go for it.

New year, new you and other myths


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Diet books galore

So many diets, so little success long term

Come January, everywhere you turn there is a story about new year’s resolutions. Diet and detox fads, quit smoking ads, credit card offers, wardrobe makeover tips appear like clockwork, as we are all focused on making this year better than ever after the excesses of the silly season.

As much as I am a cheerleader for self improvement I find myself cynically scoffing at the “reality” of such sudden sweeping changes. Why? Simply put – nobody can expect old habits to die hard just because we said we would at the stroke of midnight on December 31.

A friend of mine reminded me of this truth a few weeks ago when she mentioned the “10,000 hour rule”. It takes that many hours to become really good at anything. Even The Beatles had to abide by the 10,000 hour rule before they could become the biggest band on the planet back in their heyday. There are no short cuts to lasting success. And let’s face it, who is after anything less?

I also learnt this lesson when I began a Foundations Pilates class two and a bit years ago. The very fit and strong teacher was very clear on day one at reminding us all we needed to do a new exercise literally thousands of times before it became habitual. That is a damn lot of pelvic floor lifts!

Instead of having January 1 be a time to reboot ourselves in a fit of remorse at what we should or could have done better all these months (or years) prior, we could just make small but meaningful and long term changes every single day. Whether it be to cut back on sugar, walk to work a day a week instead of driving or ensure we ALL sit down without gadgets every evening for a family dinner. It would be less drastic, less painful and hopefully less fleeting than dropping 5 kilos in five days.

Afterall, life is a long, beautiful and sometimes tricky journey so what’s the rush?

Media training is more than smoke, mirrors and robots


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Wading through the media sound bites that resonate across the airwaves, fill ours newspapers, and clog our in-boxes, it’s easy to think we are all just victims of the relentless public relations machine. As a media trainer, I am guilty of adding to the case but am here to argue the real damage is done when the talent is not trained at all.

Worthwhile some media training techniques maybe detectable to the lay person, in my experience a finely tuned response that is engaging and on the money will never detract away from the key message delivered. It takes a discipline and practice to ensure you make your point, back it up, wrap it up and simply shut up – all within the limited time given for that 10-second grab or one liner that makes a story memorable.

Most PR professionals will attest to sleepless nights worrying how their client will deliver the goods on a TV, radio or print interview. And it is not about your strategy or the client’s knowledge. The CEO or whoever is worthy of a journalist’s attention generally knows their company or the issues they face inside out. What they may struggle with is the delivery when the heat is on.

Our media coaching clients love what we do and even the most reluctant participants by the end of a training day fess up that media training has added value to their brand, their company, and their careers. It’s about the confidence to be interviewed by a reporter and walk away happy with the outcome no matter the questions posed.

As a former news journalist, I know that the most memorable, even award-winning reporting comes from interviewees who make a shock confession in an “off the record” chat or make a gaff that gets them on Youtube for all the wrong reasons. Forever.

‘Bland and safe’ one print journalist told me when asked what comes to mind when dealing with media trained talent.

“The general perception is that you are not always getting the real person or their real views – just a fabricated response that is designed to be bland and safe,” he stated.

It is fair to say that media training rarely registers on a journalist’s radar when they’re interviewing someone – although that is changing thanks to auto-pilot politicians and self-styled celebrities who are so obviously trained to repeat key messages ad-nauseum in a robotic fashion.

For media training to work best for all parties, the end game is that a journalist should walk away with a newsworthy story. The resulting interview should be smooth, the content kept varied and answers must be devoid of phrases that sound inauthentic. Appropriate tone of voice and convincing body language is also vital for visual mediums.

After some heated debate, a few journalist friends did admit that the best media training delivers something newsworthy with crisp quotes and tangible examples. This folks is what matters for your clients and audience.

Think of media training as bullet proofing your PR campaign, your board presentation, your professional life. In constant ebb and flow of the 24/7 news cycle, the stakes are higher than ever so why just “wing it”?

Blogging is the New Black


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Most business owners have heard by now how blogging can be good for their business. But like many, I have wondered how to really know if I am blogging the right way and to be honest, what is the fuss about? Time poorness aside, I have been concerned that I will somehow have nothing interesting enough to say or be unpopular in what I do write. I launched a personal ‘mummy blog’ when my son was born in 2009 but that even lost MY interest after a few weeks.

After watching others blog and blog well, I am no longer the business owner remaining anxious about diving into the world of blogging. If like me until now, you haven’t brought your business into the blogosphere yet, you just need to follow a few simple rules because I now have seen my clients and peers get really great success from marketing their skills and businesses via blogs. Success like new business leads or public speaking opportunities or even media interviews.

There are some ground rules so drum roll please

1.   You have to start somewhere

When you first start your blog, don’t worry if you have an audience of zero. Don’t check your website visits every day to see if anyone other than your mother is reading your posts. Just blog for you. Think of it as therapy. When you are starting out, you simply want to get into the habit of blogging. Get used thinking of ideas and writing about them. You want to get into a groove so that creating content for your blog becomes a natural part of your schedule.

You also want to get into a rhythm so that your eventual readers will get used to the idea that you will have fresh content on your blog on a regular basis. After all, it’s not a good look if potential customers visit your blog and find that your last post was in 2010.

2. Become an expert but keep it real

Once you get used to blogging, you need to start pointing people towards your blog posts. Feature your blog URL on your email signature, Tweet your followers when a new post is online, feature your posts on Facebook, and include links to your post in your newsletter if you have one. Importantly, make sure your blog can be easily navigated to from your website.

This is vital because your blog is essentially your mouthpiece. It’s a vehicle to showcase your expertise. Your main website acts as a relatively static ‘shopfront’, which contains key information about yourself or your products/services. However, your blog is what brings your business to life and positions you as a leader in your field. This is where you can educate readers about your industry, and write your opinions on trends and other issues that will be relevant to your prospects.

Your prospects aren’t mind readers so they simply don’t know how experienced you are in your field, unless you showcase this expertise in some way. Your blog is the ideal place to do this.

3.   Conversations are the key

Ideally, you want your blog to generate a conversation among readers. The more eager readers will comment on your blog or even ask a question and, if they do, you should reply. If they’ve taken the time to interact with you as a result of your post, do them the courtesy of responding.

Of course, if you get to the stage where there are hundreds of comments on your blog, this might not be practical. However, most small business blogs generally have a handful of comments and it’s easy to manage this kind of volume. Having said that, don’t fret if you have no comments. While it may seem like you’re not exactly winning hearts,the success of your blog is NOT a function of the volume of comments. Your prospects may simply not be the commenting type but if they read it, that is what you need.

At the end of the day, you need to determine whether you find blogging a worthwhile investment of your time. If your experience is like so many I know, your efforts will pay off in spades. But like most marketing initiatives, it’s a case of doing it frequently and doing it right if you want results.

The time is now.