public relations

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    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 and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Why Attorneys and PR Counselors Should Play Nice

Clients in crisis have enough stress without enduring a squabbling attorney and PR counselor who fail to provide advice to minimize liability while preserving a reputation.

Clients in crisis have enough stress without enduring a squabbling attorney and PR counselor who fail to provide advice to minimize liability while preserving a reputation.

One of the biggest challenges in responding to a crisis is balancing lawyerly advice about courtroom liability with PR counsel about the court of public opinion.

Avoiding or minimizing legal liability can come at the expense of tarnishing or losing a reputation. For some clients, losing a reputation is more costly – and more permanent – than an adverse verdict.

Advising clients to say nothing can be a safe legal position, but a precarious reputational position. It is incumbent for attorneys and PR counselors to respect what each other does and offer clients constructive counsel that protects their full set of interests.

Wise attorneys recognize the power of words, so they carefully shape their messages. Experienced PR counselors understand the judicial process. That should form the basis for mutual respect and a healthy working relationship.

Attorneys and PR counselors are both advocates, each with a different target audience and parallel lenses to view the crisis. Judges and juries – not to mention opposing legal counsel – are a key audience. But so are the people affected by or interested in the crisis and its cause, which can include coworkers, neighbors, customers, regulators and, of course, the news media.

In law school, attorneys are taught how to parse words in cases and frame arguments. They don’t always learn the power of what is not said – or of not saying anything.

Journalists and PR professionals typically get a superficial picture in their training of how the legal system works. Most never spend time in an actual courtroom, watching a trial or diving into briefs supporting lawsuits. Few have covered a criminal or civil matter from beginning to end for a news outlet. Some have never heard of attorney-client privilege or appreciate its significance to protect clients and communications.

Clients deserve fulsome advice, even to the extent of differing views. An attorney and PR counselor may have sharply varying viewpoints on how much the client should say and when to say it. Dispensing their counsel in a respectful, professional manner gives clients a fuller view of their options and the risks and opportunities attaching to those options.

Self-confident attorneys and PR counselors serve their clients well when they collaborate and do their best to arrive proactively at a consensus that doesn’t equate to stonewalling or self-indicting confessions.

One of the most vital conversations is what can be said or done that provides reassurance to the people most impacted by a crisis. Earning trust in the heat of a crisis depends on meaningful actions and clear statements. This is as valid to consider as the ultimate liability for the crisis.

Despite coming from different universes, attorneys and PR counselors can be good teammates. And for the good of their clients, they should be.

In a crisis, clients already have enough stress. The last thing they need is a pair of squabbling advocates. However, attorneys and PR counselors don’t always play nicely together in the sand box. They have been called the “oil and water team.” Attorneys discount PR counselor understanding of the law. PR counselors think lawyers are rigid impediments to clients telling their story. Clients facing crisis shouldn’t settle for either stereotype. There are attorneys and PR counselors who know how to work together in the best interests of their collective clients.

An important part of crisis planning and preparation is to ensure your attorney and PR counselor have track records of collaboration and mutual appreciation that winning in court, but losing in the court of public opinion still equals a loss.

Gary Conkling is president 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 and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Don't Be Like That Marshawn Lynch

If you perform at press conferences like Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, don't expect to enhance your reputation or build rapport with the media.

If you perform at press conferences like Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, don't expect to enhance your reputation or build rapport with the media.

If you were looking for a punishing running back, you couldn't do any better than Seattle Seahawk's Marshawn Lynch. If you were looking for a model of how to handle the media, look elsewhere. Being the Beast doesn't work.

Throughout his career, Lynch has avoided reporters. Unfortunately for him, it is part of his job as a professional football player. Lynch has been fined for no-shows at press conferences. Maybe reticent CEOs should get the same treatment when they duck the press.

Amazingly, many heads of corporations, nonprofits and public agencies don't think meeting the press is part of their job or, if it is, don’t think it’s an important part. 

Wrong. Their job may depend on how well they perform in dealing with the media. 

Dealing with the media, especially as the head of a significant organization, is neither art nor science. It has a lot to do, however, with common sense and being personable. The media writes or posts stories that influence public perception. Leaving a bad impression because of indulgent or boorish behavior isn't productive or good for your organization. 

Leaders don't need a bromance with reporters to show respect for the job they do — or help them to do that job. Talking straight and being genuine build rapport and, over time, trust. And the time inevitably comes when you want to see something about your organization published, which is when the rapport and trust you have built will come in handy.

You won't always be happy about the coverage you receive, but it usually is the coverage you or your organization have earned. You will get a better shot of telling your side of the story if you make it easy for reporters to get your side of the story.

At a Super Bowl press conference, Lynch showed up, but told reporters the only answer they would get to any question is, "I'm here so I won't get fined." And that's what traditional and social media reported. 

The performance added to Lynch's already sketchy reputation as a media bad boy who happens to be a great running back. It did nothing to enhance the reputation of his foundation or the good work it is doing in his hometown of Oakland. Spouting canned answers and staring down the press awkwardly for several minutes was what you might call beastly. 

Lynch is a great example of what a great running back is like, but his Beast routine at press conferences is a failed strategy that will get you tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

Public Affairs and PR

Communications are strategic when they are based on solid research, regardless whether you are pitching public policy or soda pop.There is a difference between public affairs and public relations, but not much, or certainly not as much as some would say.

A recent blog by Paige Hawin contrasted the two, saying public affairs is associated with legislation and public policy, while public relations is aimed at connecting with the public to implement a marketing plan. She said PR is often regarded as an extension of advertising. 

We disagree. All forms of strategic communications are at their core marketing, or should be. The marketing discipline demands solid research to inform communications strategies, choices of spokespersons, mix of tactics and preferred channels — regardless whether your objective is to change public policy or sell deodorant.

Taming an Issue Before It Roars

Your best opportunity to tame a thorny subject is before it becomes a public issue.

Issue management is often associated with public relations and lobbying exertions to corral an issue that has erupted into a public debate, prescriptive legislation or regulatory action, all of which can be messy and expensive. There is considerably more room to maneuver before an issue reaches the front pages, a bureaucrat's desk or the legislative bill hopper.

This requires anticipation — and a different bag of tricks.

It's not just who you know, it's what you know

Tamping down an issue that has exploded into the public consciousness and morphed into new rules or laws usually involves talking to the right people. The goal is influence.

Anticipating an emerging issue involves reading and talking to critics to develop a keener understanding of an issue and of expectations how to resolve it. The goal is information , which can be used to change a practice or behavior before it festers into a public sore point. The change might even be significant enough to give an organization or individual a marketing advantage.

Shrinking World of World News

Interest in international news coverage continues to shrink.We live in a region where foreign trade is a vital part of our economy. The ports of the Columbia River system are busy exporting our agricultural, high-tech and manufactured products.  We also are dependent on sales of imports to keep our local businesses humming.

As communicators, many of us help promote these commodities, or chat with reporters about how local companies are faring in the global economy. But how much do we really understand about issues covered by international correspondents and the foreign media? And, how can we stay fully informed of international events?

Of course we know all roads don’t lead to Rome, but are we aware most news about Rome is reported from London or New York because most commercial television news networks closed their Rome news bureaus a long time ago? And that is a small piece of the story about the state of our foreign news coverage.

 It’s important to understand what is happening in the shrinking world of world news. Recently, the American Journalism Review reposted a story by Lucinda Fleeson from 2003 headlined “Bureau of Missing Bureaus.” Although written nine years ago, the overview tells a comprehensive story of what has happened as well as what still is happening to foreign news coverage on television.  

Laboring to Communicate

Is there any way to survive a strike? Just follow CFM’s eight tips.Teachers at three eastside Portland-area districts have threatened strikes this spring. Next week employees at Reynolds School District actually may be on strike. An arbitrator’s decision on Monday has stirred up memories of the tough transit negotiations during the last two decades.

Communications for labor relations is a touchy, sometimes nasty business. That’s on a good day. Pulled into strike mode, the communications job can become painful. Regardless of whether you represent labor or management, here are eight basic survival tips:

1. Don’t waste time:

Contract negotiations on the horizon? If an organization has the luxury of time, take full advantage of it to research the talks from previous years, then get to know the issues both sides will put on the table this time around.

Pull together a media strategy, create fact sheets making your arguments, find the personal stories that humanize your case and identify the credible spokespersons you’ll rely on to carry messages. Note: Your spokespersons most likely aren’t occupying an executive office suite, but may be frontline service providers.

Watergate 40 Years Later: Shoe Leather vs. Google

It’s vitally important that public relations specialists know how journalists work. PR professionals can’t corral solid earned media results for clients without understanding how editors and reporters go about their daily jobs. 

There’s no better inside look at the reporting craft — a great case study for communications students — than the investigative saga of the Watergate scandal. This June marks 40 years since the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters, the beginning of a gripping drama that ended in a disgraced Richard Nixon resigning as president.

Watergate news coverage, led by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, is a shoe leather story. The reporting duo painstakingly assembled their facts through Interviews with reluctant subjects and stealth meetings with confidential sources. Details of undisclosed Nixon reelection campaign financing and expenses — including discovery of a secret fund — emerged only through tedious sifting of the data.

Watergate took place in that ancient time before PCs, the Internet and Google existed. Yale University journalism students recently were asked, “How would the story unfold in the Digital Age?"

Surprising answers from the students point to a generation gap in the understanding about traditional reporting techniques and the use and role of the Internet’s search capability. Student comments left Woodward quite perplexed when he and Bernstein met with the Yale students. 

The Yale tale is best told in the just-released book "Before 'Watergate' Could be Googled" by L. Gordon Crovitz. He writes about a talk Woodward and Bernstein gave at the annual meeting of ASNE, the American Society of News Editors. 

“Mr. Woodward said he was shocked by how otherwise savvy students thought technology would have changed everything,” Crovitz said in a Wall Street Journal article. Continuing to quote Woodward: "I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm," he said, "because the students wrote that, 'Oh, you would just use the Internet’ and the details of the scandal would be there. The students imagined, as Mr. Woodward put it, 'that somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events.'"

Save the Lipstick

Making Moammar Gadhafi look good? Forget the lipstick.What do you do if Moammar Gadhafi calls asking for help to spruce up his image? Unless you are prepared to tell him to his face to give up being a dictator, you should decline the opportunity.

Monitor Group, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, finds itself in the embarrassing situation of explaining why it accepted the assignment of a Gadhafi makeover.

The truth is too many public relations firms sign up for work that demands extreme candor without ever intending to be candid with their client. That's unfortunate and probably unprofessional.

Assisting an organization or individual in managing their reputation requires an accurate assessment of public perceptions and a realistic set of the client's vulnerabilities.

Monitor Group should have recognized a thaw in U.S.-Libyan foreign relations wouldn't translate into collective amnesia. Gadhafi's well-earned reputation as a dictator and supporter of terrorists was the problem it needed to tackle. Gadhafi didn't need an image makeover; he needed to make profound changes in the way he conducted himself.

That is typically the case for organizations and individuals that find themselves portrayed in a bad public light. You can try to push stories about how they are misunderstood victims, or you can deal straight on with the reasons they are standing in a pool of public disrespect.

CFM’s Brand of Public Affairs

The term “public affairs” is widely used in the PR world, but has many definitions and is not easily understood.

CFM’s brand of public affairs focuses on managing communications between an organization and its publics, with the goal of acting responsibly and building trust with those publics.

Good communications follow good actions, I’ve learned during a long career as a one-time journalist and as a supervisor of strategic communications. If you do the right thing, the right thing to say will be obvious.

Picks From CFM’s Bookshelf: The Brain and How We Use It

What’s on your bookshelf? Here are public affairs and marketing communications ideas from CFM.After all the talk about target audiences and key messages, the real secret of effective communications is getting an idea intact from your brain to someone else's brain.

Cresting interest in neuroscience and behavioral psychology provides some clues.

David Rock's "Your Brain at Work" offers practical personal strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus and working smarter. It also explores how to collaborate with others more effectively.