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Media Training: Big Fails

  January 15, 2024

We all know we can learn from our mistakes.  When it comes to media interviews, media appearances and media relations; you really can learn a lot from other people's mistakes.  A sample of big fails making news recently:

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and senior staffers failed to notify the President when Austin was hospitalized for cancer treatment or about his return trip to the hospital that landed him in intensive care.  Neither did they let the media know and thus the public was not aware.
  • Chris Christie appeared before supporters and cameras to announce he was suspending his campaign for President.  It went according to script. Trouble was just prior to his public appearance he was caught on a hot mic trashing GOP rivals Nikki Hailey and Ron DeSantis. Two very different images in one day for Christie.
  • Golden Globes host Jo Koy bombed according to most accounts.  Perhaps his biggest sin was throwing his writing team under the bus on live TV when jokes failed to land.  To his credit, Koy later apologized to the writers and called his action a "rookie mistake."
  • Alaska Airlines made news for all the wrong reasons after a door plug blew out in flight.  Dramatic on-board videos quickly appeared and so did interviews with passengers.  While the investigation continues, the airlines is trying to make it right with passengers of that ill-fated flight.  But offering them just $1500 each, resulted in plenty of backlash on social media.

While these scenarios are unique to each person or business, there are lessons to be learned.  Like what?

  • If you are a high profile person (like Austin) or helm a high risk business, you should expect the media will be watching.  When a crisis hits, the story will come to light.  Better to be proactive with your communications than to play catch up later.
  • Always assume microphones are hot (on).  So many politicians have been caught by hot mics over the years, you'd think no one in office or running for office would ever make this kid of mistake in 2024.  
    For executives or business owners who don't do a lot of broadcast interviews or hold news conferences often, it's a real danger to spout off when you think no one is listening.  Don't let your guard down until every last mic and crew are gone.
  • When you make a mistake, it's better to own it than to try to shift the blame.  A well-crafted apology and an action plan to do better in the future is a winning combination.  That may not stop all bad press and negative social media postings, but it's a very good start to controlling the story.
  • In the midst of a crisis all your communications matter; outreach to stakeholders, internal emails, social media posts and traditional media appearances can either help you recover or make a bad situation worse.  Never assume internal or private communications will not go public.

Over the years I have worked with high risk/high profile businesses and individuals--celebrities, politicians, airlines, rail systems and energy firms.  They all have one thing in common: they know both the risks and the value of media exposure.  For them media interview training is a necessity and not an afterthought.  It's a not a bad idea for small businesses either!


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