The Twittersphere, talk radio and the Web is abuzz with a recent comment from President Obama about Kanye West. During an "off the record" part of a CNBC interview, a reporter asked President Obama what he thought about Kanye. Obama called him a jackass.
Now based on a poll on TMZ.com, about 98% of the American public agrees with him. (And I do as well), but it also means that for a few seconds, President Obama forgot rule #1 of media training.
Or to paraphrase Jack Palance in City Slickers "The secret of media training is one thing."
Nothing is off the record.
Rule #2 is a variation on the theme - Don't say or write anything you do not want to see in print.
PR professionals remind our clients about this regularly. And yes, there are times you need to make judgments and share confidential information when speaking to analysts and reporters who agree not to use something or get deep background.
But as I remind my clients, even then, even if you have an NDA, there is still a chance it can and will get out. So be careful what you say.
My favorite example of violating rule #1 occurred about 10 years ago.
A senior executive at one of my clients was being interviewed by a major national magazine for a standalone profile. The interview went great, the key messages were clearly communicated, things were looking great. The reporter closed his notebook, put it in his pocket and as they were walking out the door the reporter asked the client "You know, it seems like you really have fun here and enjoy your work."
A nice, innocuous question.
My client, thinking the 90-minute interview was over (despite our earlier prep) told the reporter. "Yes. It's so much fun here it's like I am smoking pot all day."
Now I fully admit, I did not say "Don't make illegal drug references" as part of media training, but after this was said, all I could see was a pull quote in 36 point type. Luckily, we managed to kill it, but that one, post "formal interview" comment could have had a very negative impact on the entire story.
As for rule #2 - I remember one executive who was a thought leader on financial services and technology. He was regularly quoted in the top trades and national media. During one interview he was commenting negatively on another executive and how he managed to take a top company and ruin it. The comment made great copy and was prominently displayed. But what the executive didn't know was that another division of his company was working on a deal with the company he just insulted. Needless to say, things went poorly.
Which brings me to media training rule #3 - Always think before you speak. Every executive needs to remember and follow those three rules.
Posted by Mark McClennan on September 16, 2009 at 8:56 AM