Give Your Prose a Hug to Squeeze Out Wasted Words

 Be a lover of words to become a more effective communicator. Don’t be afraid of hugging your prose to squeeze out wasted words that gum up what you are trying to say.

Be a lover of words to become a more effective communicator. Don’t be afraid of hugging your prose to squeeze out wasted words that gum up what you are trying to say.

Competition for eyeballs and shrinking attention spans make it imperative to write to the point.

Extraneous words, convoluted sentences and meandering thoughts confuse your audience and cause them to click somewhere else. “Extraneous words gum up our prose,” writes Philip Corbett in The New York Times “After Deadline” blog. “Many padded expressions are weak, flabby and ineffective.“

Bright, straightforward writing is the secret to keeping your audience’s attention. Bright writing means telling your story by selecting only the best details and describing them in vivid word pictures. Straightforward writing involves using a garden hoe to remove words, phrases and thoughts you don’t need to tell your story.

You can search online for extensive lists of wasted words. Candidates for the compost bin include:

  • Moreover
  • Currently
  • In order to
  • Presently
  • Basically
  • Essentially
  • Actually
  • Obviously
  • Literally

Simplifying sentences is another vital verbal gardening chore.  Corbett offered a simple example: Instead of “The answer is a simple one,” (six words) why not just “The answer is simple” (four words).

Corbett offered a more typical example (this one from The New York Times) of how to get rid of wasted words:

Replace: “His method was a laborious one that involved crushing the peppers with a potato masher and mixing them with rock salt from the island’s own salt mines, then aging the mash twice, adding vinegar in between.”  With: “His laborious method involved using a potato masher to crush peppers, then mixing them with indigenous rock salt and aging them twice while adding vinegar.” Editing reduced a 36-word sentence to a streamlined 25 words without sacrificing meaning or detail.

If you could trim an average of 10 words per sentence, you could shorten and add punch to marketing content, information posts and explanations of complex subjects. The space you save from fewer words would allow you to enlarge an image, highlight a key quote or insert an infographic.

Being kind to your readers, viewers and listeners requires mastery of your subject matter and a commitment to economical expression. Say what you need to say. Say it as straightforwardly as you can. Choose the best words to convey your meaning. Delete unnecessary and lazy words. Polish your sentences until they sparkle.

Unless you are a playwright or novelist writing dialogue, your written words don’t need to echo how you speak. Ironically, if you become a master editor of your own prose, it will leak over to how you speak.

Clear expression is never out of style, and these days it certainly is in high demand. Be a lover of language, treat words with respect and give your sentences frequent hugs.

[CFM can turn you into a word lover with training and assistance to tell your story through economical and bright writing.]

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

There Are No Throwaway Questions in Interviews

 The last question in a media interview could be the most important. It certainly isn’t a throwaway question. It might be an ambush.

The last question in a media interview could be the most important. It certainly isn’t a throwaway question. It might be an ambush.

Wary reporters have taken to a tactic of asking an out-of-the-blue question at the end of what otherwise might be a routine interview. Whatever the purpose, such questions can send well-rehearsed spokespeople skidding off script, blurring their key message and making the wrong kind of “news.”

For that reason, media training these days includes “ambush interview” techniques and how to combat them.

Ambushing spokespeople is one way reporters are responding to rote, opaque or superficial statements. Those of us who coach spokespeople are responding by adding training to address what can be a very disorienting – and potentially disheartening – end to an interview.

It is important for spokespeople to remember there are no throwaway questions in an interview. Each question is a live-stakes interaction and should be treated with respect – and awareness.

Ambush questions tend to occur when entities or spokespeople are evasive, non-responsive or arrogant. It is a reporter’s way to get-even or level the playing field. Instead of regarding ambush questions as impertinent or a trap, spokespeople should view them as reporters trying to do their job.

The best way to avoid being ambushed is to say something when being interviewed. A well-prepared spokesperson should have a key message centered on action, not evasion. Reporters may still push for more detail or question the motivation for action, but that’s where solid preparation comes into play. A spokesperson should have practiced to parry with a reporter or a press conference full of reporters.

Former President Bill Clinton, no stranger to high-pressure interviews and ambush questions, stumbled over NBC correspondent Craig Melvin’s direct question about whether he personally apologized to Monica Lewinsky. While his interview with Melvin was nominally about the new book the former President has co-written with James Patterson, Clinton should not have been surprised about Lewinsky questions. In the shadow of the #MeToo movement, he absolutely should have anticipated a question about whether and how he apologized to Lewinsky.

In reality, Clinton ambushed himself by failing to prepare or not preparing well enough. It is a common mistake that can keep a crisis grinding on for another news cycle or rekindle an old ember into a fresh fire.

Whether it is the first question or the last question, each question can have a purpose – and maybe an underlying motivation. Spokespeople need to protect themselves and the organization they speak for by:

  • Knowing their subject
  • Mastering their key message
  • Anticipating questions
  • Preparing for obvious and not-so-obvious questions
  • Practicing

You are less likely to be surprised if you go into a media interview with something newsworthy to say – and say it in a clear, plainspoken way. The trickier you try to be, the more you invite in-kind behavior from reporters. If you try to brush them off, don’t be surprised if they try to ambush you.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

How Instruction Manuals Can be Instructive

 Instruction manuals have evolved into online documents, videos and infomercials, but the evolutionary process has underscored some basic communications principles, such as Kodak’s Brownie camera instructions on how to load the film – and to shoot great pictures

Instruction manuals have evolved into online documents, videos and infomercials, but the evolutionary process has underscored some basic communications principles, such as Kodak’s Brownie camera instructions on how to load the film – and to shoot great pictures

Instruction manuals are supposed to explain how something works or how to assemble something. The thought of an instruction manual induces dread in many people, but their evolution offers useful clues for today’s challenge of showing people what you mean.

 Inventor James Watt paved the way for modern instruction manuals – and communications – by gluing simple, sequential instructions on his ingenious document copier. Simple, clear and accessible remains as byways to effective communications.

Inventor James Watt paved the way for modern instruction manuals – and communications – by gluing simple, sequential instructions on his ingenious document copier. Simple, clear and accessible remains as byways to effective communications.

According to Helene Schumacher, writing for the BBC, the first instruction manual was created by inventor James Watt, who advanced steam engine technology in the 1800s. Watt’s instruction “manual” was for his early, but effective document copier. His instructions were simple steps – take a sheet of paper with damp ink, put it on top of a blank sheet of paper, wrap it in a blanket and push it through the rollers. Watt glued the instructions to his copier.

Simple and easy to find – characteristics that still hold true for visual communications today.

Instruction manuals have proliferated in direct proportion to the number of new machines for industry and gadgets for households. Some are very technical and some are meant to make technical information easy to understand by non-technical people. Eventually, we evolved to instruction manuals explaining all the technology on our cars and how to assemble Swedish-made furniture.

People with some gray in their hair remember when instruction manuals were mostly all text. Often gobs and pages of text. Over time, instructions come as a set of sequential illustrations and, more recently, as videos. Even when there is text, it is written to be understood and not like a test question for an engineering student.

Printed instruction manuals have given way to online versions. Many instructions now follow Watt’s example of being integrated into a product so you can see them as you work.

Instead of being technical or procedural, instructions are often combined with recommendations for how to use a product. In her article, Schumacher cites the instructions that accompanied Kodak’s Brownie camera. It explained how to load film in the camera as well as hared tips on how to take a great picture.

You could view Kodak’s instruction as a form of branding. For years, Apple’s advertising for its Mac computers, iPhones and iPads have featured what you can do with their devices more than showcase their features. Interestingly, Apple doesn’t provide instruction manuals because it doesn’t want you fooling around with what it makes.

More complicated devices have led to more complicated instructions. However, product developers have taken steps to reduce the complications through design, which requires less complicated instructions.

Making instructions more user friendly is not just related to customer satisfaction; it also has become part of the consumer journey to buy products. People go online to check out a product before they purchase it.

Technology advances are influencing instruction manuals. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are coming into use in ways that meld instruction with initial experience of a product. QR codes are being integrated with instruction manuals so you can quickly find the information you need without thumbing through pages or scrolling online.

Just about every instruction manual innovation mirrors communications best practices – simplified design, relevant information, visual explanations, online versatility, technologically savvy, customer friendly.

Who would have thought instruction manuals could reveal the qualities of effective communications.

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Digital Media’s Impact on Crisis Response

 If someone asked how has digital media affected crisis response, the answer is simple: Crisis response must be immediate and center on action, not words. The only way that’s possible is to anticipate likely crisis scenarios and be prepared to respond.

If someone asked how has digital media affected crisis response, the answer is simple: Crisis response must be immediate and center on action, not words. The only way that’s possible is to anticipate likely crisis scenarios and be prepared to respond.

Digital media has disrupted traditional communications, including crisis response. The immediacy of digital media demands urgent response. The visual intimacy of digital media requires demonstrable response.

Speed and substance are the traits of an effective crisis response in the digital era. You don’t have time to dawdle and you can’t equivocate over meaningful action to address the crisis.

Before digital media, organizations had time to contemplate how to respond to a crisis, what to say and whether to engage with reporters and editors covering the crisis. Now, news of a crisis can rip across the internet before you know what to do or say or any reporter or editor writes a story. That’s why a speedy and action-centered response is imperative in the digital age.

Responding quickly is not the same as responding impulsively. Quick response is rooted in solid preparation – anticipating crisis scenarios, thinking in advance what resources would be needed in the vortex of a crisis and role-playing how you would actually respond. Good crisis plans have updated call-down lists, an identified crisis team leader and a ghost website with useful information that can be activated during a crisis.

Don’t waste time dreaming up platitudes posing as “placeholder” statements to plump up your crisis plan. Words matter much less than actions. Realistic crisis scenarios should be the foundation of a crisis plan – and, when appropriate, inspire management actions to lessen the likelihood or even prevent a crisis scenario from occurring.

As digital media has stolen the luxury of time and stripped value from words, it also has raised awareness that a crisis can befall anyone, anywhere, any time. Thanks to digital media, you may not find out about the crisis from a phone call or a dutiful coworker, but from monitoring social media after someone posts explosive video shot on a smartphone.

The evolution of digital media should send everyone scurrying to the file cabinet where their crisis plan is locked away. Pull it out, dust it off and make sure it meets the unforgiving demands of digital media. If you don’t have a crisis plan, there is no better time than now to prepare one, taking into account digital media and its implications.

For CEOs who still feel invincible and pooh-pooh crisis planning, put together a clip of corporate crises compounded by tardy and scattershot responses. That should disabuse him or her of any thought that a crisis can’t implode a reputation or sink a bottom line in the bat of an eye in digital media’s unrelenting 24/7 news cycle.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Let Your Ghost Website Prep for a Scary Crisis

 Ghost websites don’t have to hide in the closet. They can be catalysts to update your crisis plan, test your crisis readiness and double-check your third-party validation. Ghost content might even turn out to be clever, shareable marketing material.

Ghost websites don’t have to hide in the closet. They can be catalysts to update your crisis plan, test your crisis readiness and double-check your third-party validation. Ghost content might even turn out to be clever, shareable marketing material.

Ghost websites are essential hardware for your crisis communication plan. They contain content you store away for a scary crisis.

Ghost content can be as basic as B-roll that you can feed TV reporters for use as “wild footage” in their crisis coverage. Content can be more advanced such as videos that show processes or safety features. There can be backgrounders, animations, frequently asked questions and answers, media clips and infographics.

Good crisis plans call for creation of ghost websites as a cupboard of content to draw upon when crisis hits. But ghost websites also can play valuable roles in crisis preparation itself.

The best crisis plans contain sound advice for how to respond to a crisis, not just what to say. Brainstorming for content to place on a ghost website should center on what you may need to describe, explain or demonstrate – and how best to show it. What you may need to describe, explain or demonstrate should lead you to go-to people and resources that can provide answers. Reaching out to go-to resources for ghost website content is like a dress rehearsal for a crisis, when getting and verifying information in real time is at a premium.

Restocking ghost website content presents a perfect opportunity for reviewing the overall crisis plan. Looking to see if you are missing useful B-roll footage or whether you should update an infographic are cues to make the same assessment of a crisis plan’s call-down phone list or the crisis scenarios that anchor your plan.

 Ghost website content doesn’t need to be stored away in the closet. Its creation can be a catalyst for sharper thinking, improved validation and even clever marketing tools

Ghost website content doesn’t need to be stored away in the closet. Its creation can be a catalyst for sharper thinking, improved validation and even clever marketing tools

Some of the most important ghost content you can develop is third-party validation of your products, product claims or safety processes. This validation should be checked routinely and updated as necessary. The review should trigger a wider reflection on additional ways to validate claims or emerging best practices, which in turn can alter approaches to a crisis or point to smart management actions.

Crisis scenarios can be very different and require significantly different kinds of crisis content. Ghost website content is a simple way to hammer home that point to a crisis team, as well as prepare for a crisis. Ghost content to deal with an environmental spill (showing your environmental stewardship) is not the same as what is needed to deal with financial fraud (showing your financial safeguards).

Reviewing ghost website content scenario by scenario can reveal pockets of knowledge you need to fill in or expose actions you should take to prevent or reduce the likelihood of a crisis.

In a crisis test drill, activating and pushing out appropriate ghost content can measure how well your social media platforms are positioned for crisis response.

A crisis manager could recruit a group of print and electronic editors to discuss the kind of validated content they would value in a crisis situation. The discussion could include a show-and-tell of ghost content. Their comments and insights could be useful in grooming or adding to a crisis plan’s ghost content.

Since a goal for effective crisis response is to preserve and even enhance a reputation, invite marketing staff to riff on ghost content ideas, which might double as marketing content. There is nothing wrong with repurposing ghost content for current usage, making it familiar when it returns as part of a crisis response.

Employing ghost website content as a catalyst in the crisis preparation process can sharpen the resulting crisis plan. It also will strengthen the ghost content you have created for that scary day.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

‘Seeing with the Same Eyes in Different Heads’

 Political polarization in America has reached levels not seen since the Civil War tore the country apart. Because that polarization is unlikely to dissipate any time soon, public affairs managers working on major projects, policy issues or ballot measure campaigns need to take it into account by intensifying engagement efforts with those most directly affected. [Photo Credit: Illustration/Brian Stauffer/USC Dornsife Magazine]

Political polarization in America has reached levels not seen since the Civil War tore the country apart. Because that polarization is unlikely to dissipate any time soon, public affairs managers working on major projects, policy issues or ballot measure campaigns need to take it into account by intensifying engagement efforts with those most directly affected. [Photo Credit: Illustration/Brian Stauffer/USC Dornsife Magazine]

Angry voters inhabit both sides of the political aisle, resulting in what perhaps should be the called bipolarization of the American electorate.

Pollster Frank Luntz interviewed 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats, with nearly two-thirds admitting they have stopped speaking with a friend or family member following the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. Republican-leaning participants said it was exhausting trying to defend their vote for Trump. Democrats said they couldn’t fathom why anyone would vote for Trump.

The only unifying theme was a shared bipartisan anger at lobbyists, special interests and elected officials in Washington, DC. Even then, they didn’t agree on why they were angry.

The GOP-backed tax plan provided the perfect backdrop for exposing polarization. Republicans called it “well-deserved,” “great” and “excellent for economic growth.” Democrats called it a “lie,” “confusing” and “supporting the rich.”

Participants grew especially testy on the issue of racism. Republicans bristled at the charge they are racist or enable racism. Democrats blamed Trump for fanning the flames of “us-against-them.”

 Social media has played a role in amplifying frustration, disagreement and anger. A social media strategy is critical to any effective public affairs plan.

Social media has played a role in amplifying frustration, disagreement and anger. A social media strategy is critical to any effective public affairs plan.

One of Luntz’ objectives was to see whether dialogue and consensus are still possible in our current political climate. Nearly all of the participants said it may be time to look beyond our current two-party systems to find common ground. Most also agreed to continue the Luntz-moderated conversations, even if discussion is difficult.

The tribalism reflected in the Luntz interviews isn’t limited to views about Trump, Congress and political correctness. The deep divisions his participants reflect can seep into everyday life and be a buried obstacle in the path of a major local project or consensus on a policy direction. Anger and polarization are hardly the bunkmates of consensus and compromise. Without question, many Americans are very angry, deeply frustrated and in a polarized frame of mind.

In the public affairs sphere, this reality means care should be taken to avoid letting an issue or project fall prey to political bipolarization. Complex projects have enough built-in challenges without inheriting or inviting existential ones.

There is no secret sauce to avoid polarized neighborhoods, communities or electorates. But it certainly helps if you start projects or campaigns with genuine engagement with people involved or interested in what you are proposing. Listen and respond to concerns, including on social media. Focus your comments on community benefits, and validate those benefits. Don’t let your allies become bogeymen for your opponents. Be firm in confronting misstatements and lies, but refrain from personal attacks.

One of the best lines to emerge from April as National Poetry Month is: “See through the same eyes in different heads.” A remarkable phrase that should be the North Star for public affairs efforts. Help people see a project, policy or innovation with the same eyes. Opinions can differ, but the basic facts will be clear and not in dispute. Clarity is more important than unanimity. Transparency can reduce skepticism and at least create firmament for compromise, if not consensus.

We may deplore the polarization inflicting America, but for now we need to learn to live with it.  They may mean finding new and better ways to conduct business and engage publics. They may mean conceding and respecting differences of opinion. We don’t all have to think alike to make progress.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Merit of Collaboration as a Winning Strategy

 Collaboration is often a goal, but seldom thought of as a strategy, even though collaboration is the quintessential win-win solution that can involve alliances, partnerships, shared resources and a coordinated chorus of voices.

Collaboration is often a goal, but seldom thought of as a strategy, even though collaboration is the quintessential win-win solution that can involve alliances, partnerships, shared resources and a coordinated chorus of voices.

Collaboration is a common goal, but it also can be a compelling strategy. In fact, collaboration may one of the few strategies with an upside of achieving success.

Strategic collaboration can take the form of alliances, partnerships and shared resources to move legislation, undertake an enterprise or stretch scarce finances. They are the quintessential win-win solutions.

As appealing as collaboration sounds, it can be enormously hard to pull off in reality. Success requires a collaborative spirit, a willingness to be partners and an openness to share – attributes that aren’t always evident or even possible.

To avoid flailing around, Arizona State University’s Center for Urban Innovation has created an assessment tool to test whether ground is fertile for collaboration. The tool is aimed chiefly for government-to-government collaboration, but could be adapted to other arrangements between public agencies, nonprofits and businesses.

One example of a government-nonprofit collaboration cited by ASU’s David Swindell is a shared investment by the Nevada Humane Society and the cities of Reno and Sparks to build a new facility near the publicly owned animal shelter. The tandem facilities enable collaboration to extend public dollars by having a partner focused on finding forever homes for rescued pets, as well as offer low-cost spay and neutering services.

“This is a good example of where a county is working in collaboration with a nonprofit agency to absorb costs and share benefits in a true partnership,” says Swindell. A clear, but hard to quantify value is reduced stress on animal shelter staff who feel they are doing everything possible to prevent euthanizing unwanted animals.

In the public affairs realm, collaboration is an effective strategy to harness collective support. Collaboration might include formation of a multi-agency advisory group, a list of diverse supporters, grassroots mobilization and group lobbying.

A show of strength through collaboration can make a strong impression on policymakers and play well in media coverage. A chorus of coordinated voices can ripple through social media. A grassroots army can march the message of a campaign to constituencies and corners of a state that otherwise would be unreachable.

Like any other strategy, collaboration is only as valuable as its contributions. To continue contributing, you need to ensure the wheels of collaboration keep rolling, which requires engagement and attention to detail. Swindell says it also demands measurement to quantify movement.

Collaboration can be a testing ground for innovation in cost reduction, service delivery or constituent satisfaction. As an alternative to going-it-alone, collaboration can be a strategy to attract public support to accomplish something that otherwise appears impossible.

Collaboration is not limited by geography. It can occur on a local or global scale. One constant is the need to define the “win” for all of the collaborative partners. Organizations, like most people, act out of self-interest. Collaboration is one way to make everyone a winner.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Practice = Secret to Making the Winning Shot

 Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale knocked down two last-second, game-winning shots in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four over the weekend and told reporters afterward she practices those shots everyday.  Speakers and presenters who want to make a hit should take note. (Photo Credit: Tony Dejak/AP)

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale knocked down two last-second, game-winning shots in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four over the weekend and told reporters afterward she practices those shots everyday.  Speakers and presenters who want to make a hit should take note. (Photo Credit: Tony Dejak/AP)

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale lived every athlete’s dream when she drained a last-second shot to win a national championship. It was the second Final Four game in a row in which Ogunbowale made a clutch, game-winning shot. When asked about her heroics, Ogunbowale said she expected her shots to go in because she practices them everyday.

In contrast, Geno Auriemma, the Hall of Fame coach for the University of Connecticut Huskies, said his number-one seeded and undefeated team that lost to Notre Dame and Ogunbowale in the semifinals took it easy too often during practice. Team members knew they were good, he explained, and assumed they would win.

That, in a nutshell, describes the prevalent attitudes about practice by public speakers and presenters. Some speakers and presenters practice to gain confidence. Others are self-confident – to a fault.

The old phrase “practice makes perfect” may be a hyperbole, but practice is absolutely the path toward perfection. And the stakes keep getting higher for more perfect communications with dwindling attention spans and growing competition for people’s attention.

Customized media training is never out of style – or unneeded, even for experienced speakers and presenters. Here are three reasons why:

Delivering a crisp, clear key message

As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is discovering on a daily basis, crisp, clear key messages don’t just roll off the tongue. They need to be crafted carefully, tested to see if they work as intended and practiced so they appear to roll off the tongue.

Depending on the circumstances, key messages must reflect more than what you want to say; they also need to deliver something your audience needs to hear or finds of value. Key messages must be in language that audiences will understand and delivered through a channel where they are listening or watching.

Speakers should strive to leave their audiences with something to remember. It can be a clever phrase or a memorable story, but it is almost never an off-the-cuff comment. There is little accidental success in speaking and presenting. If you want to hit the game-winning shot, you need to practice making the shot.

Reinforcing your point through your posture

Body language for speakers and presenters communicates more to audiences than the words they utter. If you look nervous, uncertain or unprepared, the audience will see it. They also will see the distracting physical tick or the inappropriate smirk.

Good posture can convey confidence, which gives audiences reason to have trust in what you’re saying. If you stumble through your remarks or look befuddled, audiences will consciously or subconsciously wonder if you know what are talking about. Certain postures, body language and facial expressions can come across as over-confident or defensive.

Practice, whether it’s in front of a mirror or on video as part of a simulated interview, can reveal how you look when you speak, what ticks you might have and whether your facial expressions match the message. Nobody likes to see someone smiling when they are announcing layoffs. With some coaching and lots of practice, you can improve your posture, pacing and breathing, which will boost your confidence and your audience’s confidence in you.

Making your message entertaining

Few people naturally speak in sound bites. But sound bites are an effective way to engage your audience or a reporter, so are worth the time and sweat it takes to develop them.

Presentations need pep, too, which can be provided with eye-catching graphics that reinforce key points or video clips that show what you are talking about.

Audiences are accustomed to a higher level of presentation value and polish. It takes forethought, hard work and practice to come up with those presentation values and achieve polish.

Stand-up comics make their money by delivering funny punchlines. They spend a lot of time writing their jokes and concentrating on timing so their punchline draws a laugh. The craft of stand-u comics should be an example to every speaker or presenter.

And if you really want to impress your audience, follow the example of Arike Ogunbowale and practice your game-winning lines everyday.

For more about media training, check out these previous CFM blogs:

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   Gary Conkling  is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at    garyc@cfmpdx.com    and you can follow him on Twitter at    @GaryConkling   .

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Two Contrasting Examples of Saying Something Stupid

 Retiring radio legend Don Imus tells Anthony Mason of CBS that he regrets his flip, bigoted remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which cost him his job at the time. He also recalled meeting privately with team members and their parents, apologizing to them and promising never to repeat his mistake.

Retiring radio legend Don Imus tells Anthony Mason of CBS that he regrets his flip, bigoted remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which cost him his job at the time. He also recalled meeting privately with team members and their parents, apologizing to them and promising never to repeat his mistake.

All of us have said something stupid or insensitive. Most of us don’t do it on purpose or practice it as our key message.  Most of us are not Rick Santorum.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” the day after thousands of young people took to the streets to demand an end to gun violence, the former GOP senator and presidential aspirant from Pennsylvania said student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School should learn CPR instead of protesting. Santorum said the students were pushing for “phony gun laws” that wouldn’t stop school shootings.

Regardless of your point of view, it would be hard to imagine a more tone-deaf or badly timed comment in the wake of massive nation-wide student-led protests. Recognizing the significance of what was happening, the National Rifle Association turned off its propaganda engines for the weekend. President Trump praised the students for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Santorum was part of a panel discussing the student protests, so perhaps he thought it was his job to lob a grenade into the conversation. Whatever his motivation, he sounded like a nincompoop.

 Former GOP Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said student survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting would be better served by learning CPR instead of protesting.

Former GOP Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said student survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting would be better served by learning CPR instead of protesting.

Coincidentally, Santorum’s comment came the same day as an interview aired on “CBS Sunday Morning” with outspoken radio legend Don Imus. At age 78, Imus is ending his 50-year career on radio and fighting a battle with emphysema.

During the interview, he unhesitatingly answered a question about his flip and bigoted remark in 2007 about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The remark cost him his job. It also caused him to reflect on such remarks.

"It did change my feeling about making fun of some people who didn't deserve to be made fun of, and didn't have a mechanism to defend themselves," he told CBS’ Anthony Mason. "I'm not full of sh*t. If I've done it, I'll own up to it. And then I have some sorta weird relationship with the audience. I think they saved me most of the time."

Later in the interview, Imus recalled how he met in person with the Rutgers team and their parents and apologized. “I sat and listened for four or five hours. And there was nothing I could say other than, 'I'm sorry,' and promise them that I would never give them a reason in their lifetime to be sorry that they forgave me. And I haven't."

The contrast between Santorum and Imus couldn’t be starker. Imus said something stupid and hateful, paid a price for it, owned it and sought redemption. He said he regretted ever saying what he said, adding “[be]cause I knew better.”

Santorum apparently felt it was his duty to say something stupid and dismissive in defense of his point of view. It seems unlikely Santorum will seek out student survivors of the Parkland school shooting and apologize, or even regret what he said because he knew better.

All of us say stupid things. What matters is what happens after you say something stupid.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Uber Fatality Shows a Crisis Can Travel Far and Fast

 The first recorded fatality resulting from a driverless vehicle reinforced the reality that technology has the potential of turning a communications crisis into a family affair, complicating how and when to respond.

The first recorded fatality resulting from a driverless vehicle reinforced the reality that technology has the potential of turning a communications crisis into a family affair, complicating how and when to respond.

Managing a communications crisis in the age of technology has the quality of managing the branches of a family crisis, as evidenced by the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona involving an Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode. It may be the first recorded fatality involving a driverless car.

The pedestrian fatality ensnared Uber (which was testing the driverless vehicle), Volvo (the manufacturer of the vehicle), an unidentified software developer and other automakers working on autonomous vehicles. For its part, Uber expressed condolences to the victim’s family, suspended its driverless vehicle testing program and said it was cooperating with local police.

Preliminary indications suggest the accident, which involved a woman and her bike emerging from a shadowy area where there wasn’t a crosswalk, may have been unavoidable with or without a driver. However, that finding is unlikely to quell concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles nor the communications crisis surrounding the incident.

Some critics have jumped on news that the Uber driver was a felon. More thoughtful critics have wondered how the software controlling the vehicle was written, and what priority it gave to avoiding a pedestrian, even one that may have been hard to spot with a human eye. Broader criticism has centered on how rapidly driverless cars have been advanced and whether the transformation should be slowed or even scrapped.

Automakers with autonomous vehicles on the cusp hustled to lament the fatality, but defend the project. Software developers may be squirming to find out how to avoid becoming scapegoats.

Construction accidents, environmental spills and financial embezzlements spill over to multiple parties, usually resulting in finger-pointing. But technology-centered crises are even more borderless. People harbor skepticism about technology. Ride-hailing Uber may be the most distrusted technology company, even among people who rely on it to get home safely from a night on the town.

Managing a crisis has always been a fluid, ill-structured exercise. When a crisis goes 3-D, it takes a special kind of communicator binoculars to track. Adding to the fun are the ever-changing outlets for crisis exposure. More angles, more players, more outlets make for more headaches.

Perhaps the most telling lesson from the Uber fatality is the crisis trail it creates for uninvolved parties. Even though a Volvo was involved in the accident, Mercedes felt compelled to comment since it has signed up to provide Uber driverless. Toyota commented because it is exploring driverless cars. The police made a point to note it was investigating the fatal accident just like any other fatal accident.

Responding to a crisis is hard and it is getting harder. More vulnerabilities. More “reporters” with smartphones. More “news” outlets. And now more players. If you thought you could skate by or play it by ear, your odds continue to plummet. You never know when a crisis can occur, and you can’t really guess how, who or where it will affect your business or reputation.

Crisis preparation may be harder than denial, but is a lot more useful and constructive. The Uber fatality should be a loud horn honk that crisis prep is a basic accessory to any successful business.

 

Combatting Online Fake News That Travels Faster Than Truth

 New research shows fake news travels farther, faster and deeper on Twitter than the truth, creating a nightmare for reputation managers who face a daunting challenge in fighting back. [Photo credit: Reuters]

New research shows fake news travels farther, faster and deeper on Twitter than the truth, creating a nightmare for reputation managers who face a daunting challenge in fighting back. [Photo credit: Reuters]

This is real news that should send shivers down the backs of anyone concerned about their reputation – false news moves through Twitter “farther, faster, deeper and more broadly” than the truth.

The disquieting finding by a team of researchers at MIT and published in Science is based on tracking the online life of “news” trafficked on Twitter. Real news and false news were judged by a collection of online fact-checkers that included Snopes.com and Politifact.com. The study authors found a false rumor is retweeted and spreads 70 percent more than a true story.

To put that into context, a true story may reach 1,000 people while a false rumor could gain an audience of up to 100,000 Twitter users.

While experts speculate on what propels falsehoods to travel faster online than the truth, reputation managers should worry about how to counter a campaign based on fast-moving, unverified fake news. Especially as technology “improves” to automate mass dissemination of fake news, turning a cascade from a single tweet into a volcanic eruption.

The Washington Post story on the MIT findings recalled a 2013 incident when someone hacked into the Associated Press Twitter account and “reported” explosions in the White House injuring President Obama. The report was untrue, but before anyone knew the truth, the Dow Jones index dropped 100 points – in just two minutes.

  Fake News Case Study   The New York Times provides an example of how a 35-year-old Austin, Texas man with only 40 Twitter followers unlashed a viral cascade of false news, which wound up being promoted by President Trump.  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html    

Fake News Case Study

The New York Times provides an example of how a 35-year-old Austin, Texas man with only 40 Twitter followers unlashed a viral cascade of false news, which wound up being promoted by President Trump. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html

 

MIT researchers discovered that false news isn’t just spread by usual suspect bots. Some of the most viral contagions of fake news start as retweets from random individuals, which means the job of “monitoring the web” is pretty close to impossible.

Twitter collaborated with the researchers, which is itself a rarity, allowing them to trace the online lineage of 126,000 tweet cascades, spread by 3 million Twitter users.

Skeptics can question the sample and the differentiation between true and false stories. But the underlying fact remains that clicky false stories seem to have more online appeal and, therefore, represent a reputation-busting tool in the hands of unscrupulous or alienated people. It is a reputation manager’s worst nightmare. Someone tells a falsehood about you or your organization, you respond with verifiable facts, but the false narrative still dominates.

As noted in a previous Managing Issues blog, falsehoods that rise to the level of defamation can be dealt with by demanding that a social media platform removes the offending tweet. Many damaging falsehoods aren’t necessarily defamatory. They misstate facts or tell only part of the story. Debates over environmental issues and climate change are a great example of false or misleading narratives that come from either side of the debate.

Big lies by big actors usually get fact-checked. Big lies by lower profile actors seldom get fact-checked, which means the maligned party has the burden of trying to clean up the mess. Even lies exposed by credible fact-checkers can get shifted to their respective political lane of media outlets and never be seen by the other side of a polarized citizenry.

As social media moguls explore how to limit fake news, one tool reputation managers should consider when faced with a cascade of false news is to fight back on Twitter using promoted tweets. You would be, in effect, marketing your truth.

Use tools like video that attract the most attention on social media, including Twitter. Don’t whine. Find credible third parties who can verify your facts and attest to your veracity. Punch back hard, but fairly. Tell viewers the stakes. When appropriate, include a call to action such as shaming the person or organization responsible for the fake news – and those who help promote it, either unintentionally or on purpose.

Don’t be afraid to cross news channels to tell your story. Seek earned media coverage from print and TV outlets by stressing you are doing the only thing possible to combat the spread of false stories.

The worst thing to do is nothing. If you don’t defend your reputation, don’t expect anyone else to defend it. Purveyors of falsehoods may seem to have the upper hand in an online gunfight, but if you wage an honorable defense, you might receive more help than you expected.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Be Prepared Before Your Chickens Come Home to Roost

 KFC was embarrassed when its UK and Irish fast food restaurants ran out of chicken and were forced to close. Good reminder to imagine what could go wrong and prepare before your chickens come home to roost

KFC was embarrassed when its UK and Irish fast food restaurants ran out of chicken and were forced to close. Good reminder to imagine what could go wrong and prepare before your chickens come home to roost

If you run short of chicken at a home barbecue, it can be embarrassing. But it is far more than embarrassing if the world’s largest fried chicken fast food restaurant runs out of chicken.

KFC found out how embarrassing when it closed more than 800 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland because of a chicken shortage resulting from a clumsy switch in UK distributors. In a full-page advertisement, the fast food giant deadpanned, “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.” The company with a Kentucky colonel as its mascot offered an apology, reported progress on getting its chicken supply in order and mocked itself by re-ordering its famous three-letter name to a cheeky “FCK.”

One wag mocked the chicken chain by noting, “Now we know why the chicken crossed the road. KFC was closed.”

As disasters go, a few days in Britain without KFC is not a huge loss, except perhaps for the employees who presumably lost wages. But the chicken-free episode serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take a parking lot shooting, food spoilage or a flash mob to put your operation in the news in a bad light. Sloppy logistics can do the job, too.

In truth, you can be under a dark cloud without ever doing anything wrong. How you respond determines whether your reputation will be darkened.

Food supply and food security issues aren’t strangers to restaurant operators. They are calamities that occur often enough so they can be anticipated. That includes having some prepared responses in the freezer, both in terms of operations and communications. With advance planning, you can do better than say “FCK.” For example, you might have a video on ice that shows where you source your food supply and how you check to make sure no adulterated food enters through your restaurant receiving door.

We call this crisis preparation, but you could call it thinking ahead. Imagine what could go wrong that disrupts your daily routine – or your business future. Some of the potential disruptions can be avoided through proactive steps, such as installing stronger food inspection procedures and requiring a higher degree of food preparation hygiene. Other disruptions may be unavoidable and require contingency planning, which includes how to manage crisis news coverage or a social media frenzy.

In the digital age, you can have a crisis on your hands without a TV station film crew at your door. A customer with a smartphone can turn your place of business into a live streaming broadcasting studio. Nobody has to wait until the 5 pm newscast or tomorrow morning’s newspaper. They can see what’s happening on their laptops and mobile devices almost immediately. That’s what happened when KFC store operators posted signs in their windows explaining they were closed because they ran out of chicken.

Most crises are not fatal. KFC will round up enough chickens to reopen its UK and Irish restaurants and straighten out its distribution glitch. But reputations can suffer if a crisis is mishandled. KFC blended an explanation with humor and probably skated by any long-term damage, except for some ribbing from competitors and an occasional reference in chicken-crossing-the-road jokes.

Chances are pretty good no one higher-up the pecking order at KFC thought the chain would run out of chicken. That’s why an issue audit is so important because it gets more than the roosters around a table to imagine what could go wrong.

As Murphy’s law notes, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” The law draws its name from Captain Edward A. Murphy, an engineer on an Air Force research project to test the amount of deceleration a person could endure in a crash. Adherence to Murphy’s Law led to a relentless search for mistakes and resulted in a spotless project safety record.

Human aptitude has a cousin – human ineptitude. It’s just the way we are. The best we to overcome ineptitude is to show an aptitude for preparing for the worst. You never know when your chickens will come home to roost.

 

Addressing the Onset of Online Defamation

 Internet defamation is on the rise and corporations, nonprofits and individuals should be on alert that if it occurs there are steps to take to remove offensive material and ways to suppress the residue of negative coverage that can tarnish a reputation.

Internet defamation is on the rise and corporations, nonprofits and individuals should be on alert that if it occurs there are steps to take to remove offensive material and ways to suppress the residue of negative coverage that can tarnish a reputation.

 

Online defamation involving false and malicious claims is a growing concern for companies, nonprofits and individuals. It is a good time to learn some karate moves to fight back.

“In the age of digital Darwinism, we are now guilty until proven innocent,” warns Sameer Somal of Blue Ocean Global Technology, who offers online reputation management advice to attorneys and corporate clients. “Internet defamation lawsuits are on the rise.  Even if someone is innocent, they still may appear guilty online. If negative results appear for an attorney or client, their online reputation can quickly damage their offline reputation – and affect their life.”

Social media is a breeding ground for inflammatory statements, often made in the heat of the moment. Some of those statements could equate to online defamation, regardless how the claim is couched. For example, saying “I believe” in front of a statement that someone embezzled money from a company or a man abused a coworker is not a defense if the claim is unfounded.

Media outlets or channels could be on the hook if they fail to remove defamatory statements in the comment threads of their stories. You may intentionally or unintentionally defame someone or some organization in comments you make on social media.

Somal advises that everyone needs to be alert to online defamation, whether it is directed at you or comes from you.

  Sameer Somal  is the Chief Financial Officer at  Blue Ocean Global Technology  and  Blue Ocean Global Wealth . He is a CFA Charterholder, a CFP® professional, a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst and an internet defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors and delivers CLE programs on reputation management, search engine optimization and ethics across legal communities nationally.

Sameer Somal is the Chief Financial Officer at Blue Ocean Global Technology and Blue Ocean Global Wealth. He is a CFA Charterholder, a CFP® professional, a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst and an internet defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors and delivers CLE programs on reputation management, search engine optimization and ethics across legal communities nationally.

Online reputation management is a process involving monitoringbuilding and repairing digital content, Somal explains. “The most agile firms are listening closer, making better resource allocations and investing in stronger relationships with strategic partners and clients.”

Businesses, nonprofits and public agencies should routinely monitor what’s being said about them online – in social media, consumer reviews and news stories. Material inaccuracies, false claims, offensive images and fake reviews should be addressed. The best approach, Somal says, is a direct approach – contact the source of the material and ask to correct or to remove the offending content. Be prepared to show why the content is inaccurate, false or defamatory.

Not everything bad said about you online constitutes defamation. Each case is fact-specific. Failing to respond to negative comments, especially if the comments are erroneous, misleading or defamatory, encourages others to further support or confirm the negative reputation, Somal says. Search engine algorithms, he adds, tend to favor negative reviews and unflattering commentary. Increasingly, snarky articles are promoted by their publishers on social media platforms and aimed at target audiences.

Before declaring content defamatory, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney familiar with libel and slander statutes, which can vary from state to state. If content rises to the level of defamation, you – or your attorney – can threaten to sue, which can be powerful motivation to withdraw online material.

Legal coverage can involve inflammatory statements in filings and courtroom testimony. News reporters are likely to include them in their stories. In this situation, you need to make sure reporters provide balanced coverage and include your side of the story, which requires talking to them to reinforce your own story.

On legal matters that attract continuous news coverage or attention on social media, you should consider a strategy of suppressing negative coverage in Google searches by publishing other, more reputation-friendly stories. Fluff won’t do the trick, but stories about philanthropy, new investments or innovations can earn positive coverage that can fill up the first page or two of Google searches. The content that you hoped would disappear remains buried on subsequent Google search results pages. Critics can still find it and persistent trolls can continue to take their shots, but you are proactively improving your reputation.

Changing the narrative isn’t the same as erasing all memory of an embarrassing incident or awkward legal case. One powerful way to change the narrative is to address head-on the source of controversy and protracted negative commentary. Change the headline by changing the story. Admit wrongdoing. Settle a legal matter. Take responsibility for an incident, even if it isn’t your fault. This form of reputation repair is not always comfortable, but it can yield longer-term relief from the constant headache of criticism.

 

Gold Medalist Shaun White Misses Mountainous Opportunity

 Shaun White soared in the Olympic snowboard halfpipe event, winning his third Gold Medal and solidifying his legacy as one of America’s greatest Olympians. His handling of a sexual misconduct allegation was less soaring.

Shaun White soared in the Olympic snowboard halfpipe event, winning his third Gold Medal and solidifying his legacy as one of America’s greatest Olympians. His handling of a sexual misconduct allegation was less soaring.

Shaun White thrilled his countrymen, including me, with a sparkling final run to win his third Olympic gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe. Unfortunately, he also disappointed many of his countrymen by failing to own responsibility for his sexual misconduct as alleged in 2016 by a female member of his band.

Few American athletes, and certainly even fewer winter Olympians, have scaled as high of a mountain of success and acclaim as White. He is credited with putting skateboarding on the athletic map and turning his particular event into a breathtaking spectacle of big air and jaw-dropping spins.

In the gleaming light of his success on the halfpipe, White shone less brightly in his post-event interview at which he dismissed the sexual misconduct allegations as “gossip.”

Still basking in the limelight, White had a mulligan to get it right the next morning when he was interviewed on NBC’s Today show by Savannah Guthrie. He didn’t get out of the rough. Guthrie gave him a wide lane by asking if he had anything further to say about the allegation. White expressed regret for his “gossip” comment, in what appeared to be a scripted moment. Guthrie pressed him ever so gently to say something about the sexual misconduct allegation itself. All White could muster was that he has changed. No mention of the woman he allegedly harassed.

White undoubtedly had been prepped by his legal counsel. He should have sought advice from a reputation counselor. White will never have a grander moment to apologize. That would have made him not only king of the hill, but also a man willing to admit his fault, even as he is celebrated for his greatness.

You could call it a mountainous missed opportunity.

Unquestionably White’s legacy as an Olympic great will remain. But his reputation as a man could have soared along with that legacy if he bucked the trend of other accused men and owned his misconduct. If White had, the issue would have faded into the shadows instead of continuing to dog him as he contemplates participating in newly authorized 2020 Summer Olympic skateboarding and possibly yet another winter Olympic try in 2022. He apparently failed to call upon any female reporters at his post-victory press conference, which will be hard to sustain going forward.

Preserving a reputation has an Olympic quality of requiring discipline and courage. If it was easy, no one would have a bad reputation, unless like Charlie Sheen you cultivated one. White passed the test of athletic discipline and courage with literally flying colors. Too bad, he crash-landed on a test of his maturity and manhood. White is great. He could have been even greater.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach about Managing Issues

 Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of  Deadpool 2  during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of Deadpool 2 during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Issue managers are often late to the party on how to use social media to explain a complex issue or contend with a contentious opponent. Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel has some tips based on this year’s Super Bowl ads.

 Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, listening and viewing habits have changed, especially among younger adults. Just as important, tactics have evolved to capture people’s wayward attention. In a recent blog for PR Daily, Winchel cites four clever tactics that brands used to capture eyeballs during the Super Bowl. They offer insight into how issue managers might spruce up their communications.

  1. Winchel’s first suggestion is to use Twitter. Unlike other film and TV show producers, 20th Century Fox chose to sit out the Super Bowl commercial game and instead promoted Deadpool 2 with tweets by the franchise’s main character that portrayed the studio as too cheap to buy an ad. It was basically newsjacking on steroids or, in this case, “wrist-deep in cocoa butter.”

    Most issue managers don’t have budgets for ad campaigns, but they can think creatively about filling a niche through social media, and particularly via Twitter through the use of hashtags. Depending on the audience you need to reach, Twitter or Instagram can be perfect channel choices to squeeze out a message in keeping with your brand personality or the context of an issue.

    Humor can be an effective, albeit sometimes dangerous weapon. But audiences like to be entertained, so don’t overlook how humor and wit can play a role in your narrative.
     
  2. Citing Diet Coke’s ad featuring actress Hayley Magnus, Winchel encourages the use of spontaneity. Magnus shot what was intended to be a six-second video, but her infectious dance and narration after taking a sip convinced the soda’s brand managers to convert it into a full-fledged ad. It was captured in one take with mostly impromptu comments.

    Unscripted moments aren’t always the best moments to dramatize an issue, but straight-laced, dull commentaries may not grab anyone’s attention. It never hurts to be spontaneous – or allow yourself to recognize a meaningful, useful impromptu moment. Impromptu is hard to stage, but don’t be blind when you see such a moment that can convey your story.
     
  3. Winchel says early promotion can result in a big payoff. Doritos and Amazon set up audiences for their Super Bowl commercials by providing sneak peaks on social media and even on traditional news media before the game’s first kickoff. Winchel says the “Doritos Blaze vs. Mtn Dew Ice” ad accumulated almost 29 million views before game time.

    Teasing out commercials is akin to leaking tidbits of information. The idea is to generate buzz. The default position for many issue managers is to wait as long as possible to announce a potential project or initiative. That is sound thinking, but there can be exceptions when a slow drip announcement can create interest and enthusiasm, without spilling the beans too soon.
     
  4. Winchel’s last piece of advice should be music to the ears of issue managers. Quoting Mad Men’s Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” Winchel says that’s what the Tide commercial accomplished by spoofing other brand commercials. In four spots that ran in each quarter, Tide ad narrator David Harbour basically says if you saw people in other ads, they were really Tide ads because everyone’s clothes were clean.

    The Tide ads have a humorous tone and reference familiar ad memes. They naturally pulled conversation in their direction. Switching the narrative on a serious issue isn’t easy, but Winchel’s advice is a good reminder that it can be done. If issue managers don’t explore this option, they may be overlooking an avenue to pursue for proactive, positive conversation.

Super Bowl ads produced another valuable lesson – think twice before you step across a cultural boundary. Dodge and Ram trucks faced a fury of feedback from their well-intentioned, but short-sighted ad about the benefits of service. The ad is graced with a Martin Luther King voice-over excerpted, with permission, from one of his speeches. Critics questioned the appropriateness of using King’s voice, especially since in another part of his speech he condemned commercial exploitation in advertising.

This is just the latest example of stumbling into a culture war. The use of King’s voice probably was sold by an ad agency as a masterstroke. In reality, it was an unforced error. For example, there are many country music artists who have established foundations to provide disaster relief, care for foster children and housing for families with children battling cancer. Any one of them would have been inspirational and a better match for the occasion – and the demographic of who buys Ram trucks.

 

Think More, Talk Less to Be Heard

 Overwhelming an audience or a reporter with too much talk can drown out your key message and cause those listening to you to reach for their smartphones. Better advice: think more about how to simplify what you want to say so you talk less and are heard better.

Overwhelming an audience or a reporter with too much talk can drown out your key message and cause those listening to you to reach for their smartphones. Better advice: think more about how to simplify what you want to say so you talk less and are heard better.

In communication, less is usually more than enough. Brevity is the soul of wit – and quite possibly the only way to get your point across to audiences addicted to mobile devices and plagued by shrinking attention spans.

Executive coach Greg Salciccioli instructs presenters to deliver “clear, concise and compelling content.” His advice applies to any form of communication, especially media interviews.

A client asked me why a TV reporter totally missed his key message after he gave an in-person interview. I told him he drowned out his message by offering too much information. The reporter needed something quotable; he gave a lecture.

In a LinkedIn blog post, Salciccioli cited research by David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, that indicates full-time workers focus on their jobs for only six hours a week – or roughly 15 percent of their time at work. He also notes a 2016 Nielsen report that says US adults spend more than 10 hours per day interacting with electronic media. These two data points are not unrelated. Statistics like that underscore why simplicity and scintillating content are necessary to grab attention.

Simplifying what you say is not the same as dumbing down what you say. Simplification means conveying what you want to say in as few words as possible. Or as Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, advises: “Think and speak in headlines.”

Headlines are basically the same as sound bites – short, catchy phrases that convey a lot of meaning in a few words. Presenters and spokespersons may balk at reducing their brilliance to sound bites, but they do so at the peril of their key messages, like my client. If you want to be heard, you have to do what’s necessary to be heard.

Catering to your audience isn’t an act of surrender. If people are interested in a subject, they will ask for more information. However, pepper-spraying an audience – or a reporter – with a lot of information all at once only serves to push them away. That TV reporter interviewing my client couldn’t wait to beat a hasty retreat.

Contemporary audiences don’t view long orations or debates as entertainment. Abraham Lincoln, who participated in seven 3-hour debates with Stephen Douglas, gave his most inspirational and enduring speech at Gettysburg. It lasted only three minutes and consisted of just 272 words, punctuated by the riveting line, “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s memorable remarks followed a 2-hour “keynote” speech that has been largely forgotten.

People with a lot to say tend to put up the most stubborn resistance to brevity. But their vanity can’t overcome – and might actually contribute to – the lethargy and apathy of an audience. As humbling as it might be, people listening to a speech or media interview will remember more of what they see than what they hear. How you look and present yourself can make up 80 percent of an audience impression. All the more reason to choose your words carefully to maximize that other 20 percent of retention.

Speaking effectively and efficiently, as Salciccioli recommends, can earn you credibility with an audience or a reporter. Your preparation, organization and succinct delivery makes listening easier. Audience members don’t need to struggle to figure out what you mean to say. A reporter doesn’t have to scramble to find 12 usable seconds of tape, the average length of a quote in TV stories.

Salciccioli titled his LinkedIn blog, “The Power of Getting to the Point.” He is absolutely right that straightforward, brightly expressed commentary puts you in the driver’s seat because you are commanding the narrative. When you wander around and drone on, you muddy and bury the story you mean to tell. You leave it to the audience or a reporter to decipher what you said.

My baffled client told me proudly he gave the TV reporter enough material to fill 30 minutes of air time. Sadly, the reporter only needed 12 seconds of good sound for her story. The 12 seconds she chose wasn’t his key message, which we had worked on for two hours before the interview. My client blamed the reporter. In reality, he had no one to blame but himself.

If you want to make your point, take the time to chisel it into a phrase or sentence that people can hear, comprehend and remember. Think more and talk less.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Protecting a Reputation and the Walk to Redemption

 Taylor Swift’s aptly named new album “Reputation” offers insight into how to respond when you do something bad.

Taylor Swift’s aptly named new album “Reputation” offers insight into how to respond when you do something bad.

Most people concerned about their reputation don’t follow Taylor Swift’s example and write songs with titles like “I Did Something Bad.” Instead, most people try to figure out how to scrub social media sites and influence Google searches.

Whitewashing an online reputation has both physical and ethical limitations. Addressing a reputational issue head-on has a more durable and dependable life cycle. You are basically telling your own story, as Ms. Swift has done on her latest studio album titled, appropriately, “Reputation.”

Facing a rumor, allegation or documented exposé may be uncomfortable, but could be more rewarding than wishing the comments and innuendos would go away, which they won’t, even under an online pile of “good” news. A healthier and more reputation-friendly approach is to take charge of your own story.

This is a case of when a bold offense is the best defense. You can let a story drip you to death through court filings or information leaks. Or you can disrupt your opposition’s narrative with proactive communication.

Going on offense doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. Bold offense is a strategic, not impulsive move that requires careful coordination with legal, financial or other key advisers. You may have to admit where you were wrong, insensitive, negligent or slow to act. 

Owning your mistake could be a small price to pay to earn the chance to tell your side of the story, earn some credibility and preserve a reputation. The admissions you make may be ones that you will make sooner or later in court or in a regulatory settlement. Waiting does little for your credibility and may further tarnish your reputation.

Telling your story doesn’t get you off the hook. But it will affect the arc of the conversation. You may introduce new facts or perspectives. Your admission may disarm critics. You may recommend something that takes the wind out of the sails of opponents. What’s important is that you make the conversation change course.

Reputation management isn’t a science or, for that matter, an art. Reputation management involves a candid analysis of a situation and identifying a proactive response. In an increasingly cynical and polarized world, protecting your reputation may take a really bold move.

Predictable or expected responses may tone down chirping, but not stop it. Hiding behind old, stale arguments – however justified those arguments may be – just perpetuates the critical chirping you want to escape. Ignoring the chirping is like throwing your hands up in the air. Trying to drown it out with louder chirping is like throwing a Hail Mary pass.

Protecting your reputation takes more than wearing a bullet-proof vest or trying to wave a wand to make bad news go poof. It usually requires a savvy, bold move that seizes the narrative from critics or pundits. Or as Ms. Swift expressed it in her song:

They never see it comin'
What I do next
This is how the world works

Reputations are precious, vulnerable things. People judge, but they also forgive. What they are less likely to do is forget a cover-up or a snow job.

When you do something bad, look for a path to redemption, not a secret passageway. Walking the path of redemption could be the best exercise for your reputation.

Time to Dust Off and Update Your Crisis Plan

 If your organization has a crisis communications plan, this is a good time to review and update it. If you don’t have a crisis plan, don’t wait to start preparing one because crises have a bad habit of occurring when you least expect them.

If your organization has a crisis communications plan, this is a good time to review and update it. If you don’t have a crisis plan, don’t wait to start preparing one because crises have a bad habit of occurring when you least expect them.

The start of a new year is a perfect moment to dust off your crisis communications plan – or get busy preparing one.

The essence of a crisis communications plan is to anticipate the unexpected. When a crisis occurs, your ability to control events will go out the window. Your time frame for responding will shrivel. Your judgment will be tested.

One of the most underrated benefits of a crisis communications plan exercise is to identify vulnerabilities that you can eliminate or at least mitigate through proactive steps.

Here are our tips on reviewing your crisis communications plan:

  • Check your contact lists to update current phone numbers and email addresses and add or subtract people.
  • Review your potential crisis scenarios to see if any modifications are needed or new scenarios added because of an emerging vulnerability.
  • Don’t overlook competitive threats as the source of a potential crisis.
  • Ensure designated crisis team leaders, spokespersons and go-to fact-finders are still in place and prepared.
  • Consider a crisis drill to test your organization’s preparedness and revive awareness of the need for a crisis plan.
  • Suggest spokespersons undergo a media training refresher course – or receive media training – to sharpen their key message delivery skills under pressure.
  • Double-check your media monitoring key words and assess whether you are listening in all the right places.
  • Freshen or enhance the content stored away on your ghost website.
  • Search your Twitter followers to ensure you have the media and community contacts you would need in the event of a crisis.

For organizations without a crisis communications plan, our best advice is to put one in place as quickly as you can. Get professional help if possible, but don’t procrastinate. Crises have a bad habit of happening without warning and when you least expect them.

Useful crisis plans start with a candid assessment – what we call an issue audit – of all of the potential vulnerabilities facing an organization. Think about what could happen, what might trigger it and how it might affect your organization. That explanation will be the basis for a crisis scenario.

The next step in crisis plan development is to assess the probability and consequence of various scenarios. A crisis scenario that is highly likely to occur and could pose devastating consequences deserves more attention than an unlikely crisis with inconsequential impact.

The crisis plan is built around those higher probability-consequential crisis scenarios. The plan will have elements that apply to all or most scenarios, such as a crisis team leader, an identified situation room and a rapid decision-making crisis team. Each scenario will identify elements that apply specifically to that crisis such as the go-to fact-finder, background information and community contacts.

A crisis involving financial misconduct should trigger different internal resources and external contacts than an environmental spill that threatens a nearby water source or residential neighborhood.

Grabbing a crisis plan template off the internet can give you a picture of how to structure your crisis plan, but don’t use it as basis framework of your plan because it is too generic and lacks the specificity of real scenarios.

We advise skipping the wordsmithing exercise of holding statements. Unless you are clairvoyant, you won’t know exactly how or where a crisis will break. Anything you could dream up to say in advance will probably be off point or so general as to be useless when an actual crisis occurs. A better approach is get your ducks in a row on how you will field calls, how quickly you can get the facts on what happened and get timely management sign-off on how to address the crisis.

In a crisis, actions speak louder than words. A crisis plan should be built on how to respond, not just on what to say.

One final bit of advice. The guiding star for any crisis plan should be an organization’s mission and values. If you say you put customers or patients first, then let that pledge inform and guide your actions. Protecting your reputation in a crisis depends on the actions you take that reflect the reputation you want to maintain.

Silverman Shows Friendliness Is No Joke

 Comedian Sarah Silverman is known for her bawdy, no-holds-barred humor, but how she handled a slur by a Twitter troll is turning heads and reminding us of the disarming power of friendliness.

Comedian Sarah Silverman is known for her bawdy, no-holds-barred humor, but how she handled a slur by a Twitter troll is turning heads and reminding us of the disarming power of friendliness.

Unexpected friendliness can be disarming, even for someone who called you a name we can’t print.

Comedian Sarah Silverman, who is known for her bawdy humor, surprised her followers by how she responded to a man’s unprintable one-word tweet. Instead of ripping him in kind, Silverman responded with a friendly, empathetic tweet.

“I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back … sux too. See what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.”

The unexpected sympathy offensive started an exchange that wound up with the man apologizing for his crude comment, confessing he is actually a fan and agreeing to seek out a support group. The man launched a GoFundMe campaign, Silverman encouraged her Twitter followers to contribute and he quickly raised $1,774.

After Silverman offered to pay for his medical treatment, the man said he would dedicate the money he raised for charity. Pretty sweet outcome for an encounter that began with a slur.

Scathing online comments have become an irresistible and possibly irreversible norm. When attacked, we attack back. We dehumanize our critics so we can do our best to humiliate them. We are treated to daily insults from a tweetstorm master who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Based on her style of humor, Silverman is an unlikely disciple of friendly, sympathetic rejoinders. But her actions and continuing engagement with someone who she easily could have dismissed as a sexist troll shows the astonishing power of friendliness.

Silverman took a moment to look beyond a slur to the person’s motivation – and his pain. She displayed empathy after she took the time to scan his online record. She offered encouragement instead of invective. She provided an example more of us should follow.

Issue managers should expand their playbook to consider Silverman’s approach. Getting in shouting matches is never a good strategy, so why not explore how to disarm critics with a little sympathetic listening and a dose of empathy.

If the attacker still foams venom, your calm, mature demeanor can win respect for onlookers. More likely, your genuine effort to understand the source of anger and opposition can convert a heated moment into serious and maybe constructive conversation. Beyond coming across as caring, you might learn something valuable that you can apply to a project and mitigate concerns.

The subtler lesson taught by Silverman is the context for your listening. She capitalized on surprise to change the trajectory of the exchange. Whatever prompted the man’s tweet, Silverman’s response surely took him aback. He probably expected a sharp response, but instead got a sympathetic ear.

Silverman proves that conversations, even on Twitter, don’t have to be vicious and dehumanizing. Before hitting “send,” take a Silverman moment and ask if there isn’t another response. Instead of treating critics as enemies, try listening to them. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results. No joke.

 

Apple Offers Model Response to Aging Battery Crisis

 In response to consumer concerns about slowed iPhone performance, Apple gave a model crisis response with a sincere apology, a clear explanation of what it did to extend again battery life, a consumer pledge and an offer to buy replacement batteries at a much cheaper price.

In response to consumer concerns about slowed iPhone performance, Apple gave a model crisis response with a sincere apology, a clear explanation of what it did to extend again battery life, a consumer pledge and an offer to buy replacement batteries at a much cheaper price.

Bad apologies dominated 2017, but near year end Apple provided a better example of a sincere apology accompanied by a clear explanation and a meaningful act of contrition.

When consumer suspicions were confirmed that older iPhones intentionally slowed down, Apple issued a statement on its website confirming the suspicions were true. After apologizing for a lack of transparency, Apple explained the slowdown was designed to extend the battery life of older iPhones, not prod users to buy a new one. And, it said it would reduce the cost of replacement batteries from $79 to $29.

The company’s statement is straightforward, clear and informative. It is a mature response to consumer concerns and a good model for how to respond to a crisis.

Far too many apologies in 2017, especially ones associated with sexual misconduct, were feeble and inadequate. Some were quasi-apologies. Others were defensive or defiant. They contributed to further decay of the reputations of the would-be apologists.

Sincere apologies don’t come easy. They can be uncomfortable. The temptation is to trim the truth. That’s why Apple’s face-the-music statement stands out from the pack.

“We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize.”

The statement acknowledges the problem, owns it and apologizes. Then comes an explanation that is neither defensive or fuzzy:

“About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone SE. With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.

“Customer response to iOS 10.2.1 was positive, as it successfully reduced the occurrence of unexpected shutdowns. We recently extended the same support for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in iOS 11.2.”

However, consumer grumbling began last fall about slower iPhone performance, which gave rise to conspiracy theories about Apple’s true intentions. Apple’s statement tackles that head on:

“First and foremost, we have never – and would never – do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

That declaration is followed by an understandable explanation of how cell phone batteries age and can cause sudden, unexpected shutdowns.

Apple’s statement ends with a section titled “Addressing customer concerns,” which includes the offer to reduce the price of out-of-warranty batteries to $29. The iPhone maker says in early 2018 it “will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.”

The statement concludes: “At Apple, our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support – and we will never forget that or take it for granted.”

Conspiracy theories may still bounce around, but Apple provided consumers – and skeptics – a clear, comprehensive explanation coupled with an apology, a consumer pledge and a compelling offer for users with aging batteries. You can’t ask for or expect more from a credible crisis response.