How to Break Bad News to Others (or the Media)

By Mark Macias

You probably don’t realize it, but crisis communications skills are used almost every day in your personal life.

Why were you late to dinner?

What do you think of the new young hire?

Did you follow-up with the potential client?

All of these questions have double-blades that can get you into trouble.

Crisis Communications Advice for Business Owners

Here are a few principals you can apply from my crisis communications book – Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. These are tactics I learned from my media career as an investigative producer when everyone on the other side of the camera was the villain.

Be Transparent

If you project any vibe that you are hiding something, clients will run from you and the media will run to you.

The best investigative stories have conflict and when reporters discover a subject lied in their interview, they have instant conflict for the story.

As a journalist, my radar flashed red lights when I noticed the interviewed subject was avoiding my questions. Be direct with your response. Don’t mince words when asked direct questions or reporters (or anyone else) will become suspicious.

Stay Ahead of the News

It is much easier to put out a fire before it starts and it’s no different with the media.

You can better manage negative news when you are in control of the message.

I’ve run several crises campaigns for nonprofits and politicians where their lawyers were closely involved with the media strategy. Of course, their attorneys wanted them to say “no comment” for legal purposes, and I understand why. But in the court of public opinion, this approach doesn’t work.

When it comes to journalism, you give reporters cart-blanch to write any story if you refuse to comment. Don’t make it easy for them.

Don’t Lie

You get caught lying and all credibility is lost. It might seem easier to lie your way out of the problem when you think no one will know, but trust me, that is myopic. And if you’re dealing with a seasoned investigative journalist who has prepared for your interview, you are in more danger by lying when the cameras are rolling.

Just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner about that. If you forgot about that lie, it’s on YouTube and will likely be there for eternity. (Here’s an article I wrote on why I suspected he was lying before he confessed. Hint: he forgot.) Yet another reason to tell the truth. You won’t forget what you said years down the road when your story is emblazoned on the Internet.

Macias PR was named the 2016 “Financial PR Firm of the Year – USA” and the 2015 “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. We have launched and led media campaigns for clients in healthcare, finance, tech and the nonprofit sectors. The founder of Macias PR – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. He is also a PR contributor with CNBC, providing media analysis, insight and crisis advice on timely business topics.

Media Training – The TV Interview

By Mark Macias

You’re prepared for the job interview, but are you ready for the TV interview?

I recently interviewed a high-level executive with a major tech company. It was for a story that would run on the web.

Minutes before he sat in front of the camera, the corporate communications woman handed him a briefing document for the interview.

As the producer, I stayed quiet and listened.

This was a friendly interview and the questions were all softballs, yet this executive made the same mistakes that I continually saw throughout my TV career.

The executive tried to read from a script when he should have been speaking from the heart and mind.

Media Training 101

If you do any TV interview, throw out the script.

Don’t try to memorize sentences because you will forget no matter how much Gingko is in your system.

And if you’re preparing a briefing document for a client, don’t write out long or even short sentences. In fact, don’t write out any sentences. Instead, communicate the thoughts that should be expressed in the interview. Those bullet-points will force your client to understand the issues rather than memorizing sentences.

Media Training 201: Understand the Topic 

In the case with that C-level executive, I was shocked because he knew the content, but his communications person was unfortunately confusing him with sentences that were from her heart and mind – not his.

After 10-minutes of watching this executive stumble over simple words, I asked the cameraman to stop rolling and politely asked the executive to throw his briefing document in the trash.

I reminded him that he knew this topic. He needed to tell me what he knew – not what someone else thought he knew.

Less than 2-minutes after the camera started rolling again, he gave us the best sound any producer or viewer would want to hear because he spoke from his heart, not from memory.

Media Training 301: Speak from the Heart – Not from Memory

If you know the topic intimately and speak from the heart, you won’t mess up when you are under pressure.

It’s when we fight the nervous energy that our anxiety becomes more pronounced and we forget what we are supposed to say. So embrace that emotional energy and remind yourself that the best communicators always communicate on a level where others can feel it. If you feel it, your audience will feel it if channeled in the proper way.

That’s something you won’t get from a script written by another person.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

Find Your PR Gimmick for Publicity

By Mark Macias

Everyone needs a gimmick when it comes to PR and it’s no different than living in New York City.

As any New Yorker will tell you, if you want to stand out at a cocktail party, you need material to push you above the crowd. Some call that personality; others call it charisma. I like to call it a gimmick.

It’s no different when branding a product, business, or service with the media. You need to discover what your gimmick is if you want the media to take notice.

Now before the critics start breaking down that statement with comments like, “That is shallow,” or “Execution beats style,” –  I agree with you.

But let’s take off that analytical cap for a sec and discuss this idea not in black and white terms, but in gray terms – which is where publicity lives.

Many entrepreneurs rightly assume that “gimmick” implies a form of forgery or scheme of deception. Think of it as a way to distinguish your business from the crowd.

There are hundreds of public relations firms in the U.S., so my PR firm, Macias PR, needs to stand out from the packed field.

What’s my gimmick?

I am a former journalist who understands intuitively and intimately how the media works. I’ve been inside (and run) those morning news meetings where stories are approved and killed.

I know what it takes to get a story on the news.

That is what separates me from other publicists.

It’s no different for your business. If you can’t identify your gimmick, then you are in trouble, because consumers have no reason to buy your product.

What was President Obama’s “gimmick” when he ran against Sen. John McCain? Barack Obama was the man with hope. I’m sure Mr. Obama believed it, but that was, in essence, a gimmick.

So if you are starting a business (and it doesn’t matter what you are selling), you’d better discover your gimmick before the doors are opened. If you need to brainstorm on a future gimmick, ask yourself what you can do to stand out from the crowd. Sure, it’s a simple question, but most lawyers, accountants, and medical doctors don’t acknowledge that question on day one.

Perhaps that is because they are choosing to use their left brain over their right brain.

Now that I think about it, these are probably the same people who are arguing that a “gimmick” is shallow and will never work.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

When One Employee Inspires a Crisis

By: Mark Macias

Rupert Murdoch runs a global media empire that includes Fox News, Fox Business News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Television Network, The New York Post, 20th Century Fox – and others, making him one of the most powerful people in the world.

When it came to influencing readers, Murdoch holds the ink that moves the pen.

But cracks in Murdoch’s concrete empire began to appear in 2011 after a few employees were accused of illegally hacking into voicemails of the British Royal family.

You don’t need to run a global media empire for this type of crisis to impact your company. It only takes one rogue employee to create negative news that splashes your business name on the front pages of the local newspaper.

There is no universal crisis communications book or one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to managing a crisis situation. Each case is individual based on the situation, but here are a few rules that apply to all crises, regardless of the scandal.

1) Get to the bottom of the truth as quickly as possible.

“I don’t know,” can be an acceptable response in the early stages of a crisis as long as it is followed up with “let me find the answers.” Reporters won’t walk away just because you can’t answer their questions, but they will give you time to research it. So if you are learning in real-time that your employees may have engaged in any unethical or illegal behaviors, it is your job to get to the bottom of it quickly.

2) Hold the Guilty Accountable. 

If you discover an employee engaged in any illegal behavior, fire him. It sends a strong message to the media that your company won’t condone any form of behavior that breaks the law.

Likewise, many professions — like journalism — involve ethical standards. If you discover that your employees violated  ethical codes while conducting their jobs, make an example out of them – and don’t be afraid to share it with the media. The public is more forgiving once they realize it is less likely for your mistakes to happen again.

3) Be Open With Your Findings. You may not like what your employees did, but if reporters ask you specific questions, don’t be evasive with your answers. Allow yourself to be human and share your disappointment with the media. Contrition is a trait that makes us all relate to one another.

4) Be Prepared to Announce New Policies. If your internal investigation into the crisis discovers a systemic problem, now is the time to announce a change in policy.

This crisis communications advice isn’t just for business owners. It’s practical information that can apply to managers, political leaders, public personalities, or anyone who could become the face of a scandal.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias has consulted politicians and nonprofits on their crisis communications strategies. He now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

 

Negative Political Press

By Mark Macias

In the political press game, you’ve got to respond to bad press, quickly and loudly.

If you don’t defend yourself, people will assume you are guilty. It’s a form of public opinion that goes back to high school.

Remember when you used to hear rumors about someone in high school? You always assumed the gossip was true unless the person came out and denied it in a credible way. The laws of human behavior haven’t changed since then. If a source is credible, most people are going to believe the bad press has merit unless there is a strong denial involved by the accused.

It’s no different in politics.

If your candidate is accused of doing something that he or she didn’t do, make sure your denial is clear and crisp. There must be no reading between the lines. Don’t mince words when you tell the reporter or producer that the allegation is false. And if you talk on television, don’t give viewers an opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Make it easy for them to believe that the accusations are false.

Be clear in your denial.

President Bill Clinton was a master communicator and he articulated his denial to perfection when he told America in 1998 the allegations against him involving Monica Lewinsky were false: “I want to say one thing to the America people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

The President sounded sincere, honest and straightforward in his denial, and many people, including myself, assumed he was the victim of dirty politics.

But What Happens when the Accusations are True?

I’m of the journalism school that subscribes it will almost always hurt you to decline an interview with the media, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent. If you say no to an interview, you have virtually no chance of shaping the story’s coverage.

However, if you say yes to an interview and artfully prepare your statements you can at least maintain damage control.

There are several reasons why I say it will almost always hurt you to not talk to the media. The most important reason is you give a reporter full reign to pursue his or her story when you decline to speak on the record. You effectively remove a reporter’s checks and balances by refusing to respond to the allegations.

Mark Macias is author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. He has run crisis media campaigns for politicians and nonprofit organizations. You can read more at MaciasPR.com.

 

 

PR Case Study on Credibility

By Mark Macias

It was all over the news. Amazon would soon start delivering products using drones to deliver products. Even established news organizations, like 60 Minutes, reported on it.

Don’t believe the hype or near-term predictions. It was all part of a flawless PR plan executed perfectly by Amazon.

The drone story wasn’t about reinventing the delivery system for Amazon. It was about Amazon creating a strong, intriguing narrative and backing it up with substance.

This makes for a great case study on credibility that you can apply to your own business. But first, a quick personal story.

Jeff Bezos understands the media intuitively, and I first learned that back in 1999 when I was a producer with NBC in Miami. I pitched a profile story on the young, unknown entrepreneur from Miami Palmetto High School. At the time, Bezos was beginning to shake up Wall Street with strong predictions on his company would revolutionize retail.

His hype worked and the stock skyrocketed.

It’s no different with PR. A strong statement usually gets covered but it first needs to have credibility.

Lesson One: Establish Credibility with PR

Every media campaign needs a credible narrative because without credibility, the media won’t cover your story. If you’re a portfolio manager for a hedge fund and you want to get on CNBC, you better have an established record. Likewise, if you’re running for City Council, you need a plan that is believable and possible or the local reporters won’t write about you.

Amazon has proven itself over the years so credibility has already been established. Did you know earlier this summer, Dominoes Pizza unveiled the same “drone delivery” platform? But guess what – you probably didn’t hear about it because Dominoes Pizza doesn’t have the credible track record of Amazon. If you’re going to make a bold claim, make sure you have the operations or history to back it up.

Lesson Two: Build Suspense

60 Minutes rarely buys into hype. They don’t need to create hype because it is an established program with the best journalists. But in the case with Amazon, if you watch the segment (click here to watch video) you will see how Amazon was able to build suspense for the drone unveiling. 60 Minutes opened their show with that unveiling to bring in viewers – proof that suspense works.

Lesson Three: Identify a Gimmick that Reinforces Your Services

The drone delivery unveiling was a brilliant strategic media move for Amazon because it reinforces its delivery service. But this isn’t about drones and Amazon changing the way books and clothes are delivered to our homes. This isn’t about customer service or delivery becoming more efficient. This was about an idea that every consumer wants to believe. It’s a page from the Jetsons.

This doesn’t mean you should create a gimmick that is not true. At its root, I’m sure Amazon and Jeff Bezos believe drones do have an opportunity to change the way products are delivered. Your gimmick should inspire but have a root of reality.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com