For the first time in my 27 years in public relations and media relations, I watched right here as a guest walked off a national prime-time, LIVE broadcast based on the recommendation of her “handlers” – those PR peeps who sit on the sidelines and direct traffic for their spokesperson while nodding heads or coaching silently. (I know, I’ve been one of those frequently.)
Christine O’Donnell, you may recall, is a Tea Party candidate who tried to run for U.S. senate in Delaware, and her book, “Trouble Maker,” details many of the issues she either believes or doesn’t believe in.
When Piers Morgan queried her about gay marriage and masturbation, she began to unravel. You can watch the interview with link above and form your own conclusions. It’s a good lesson for everyone including public relations/media relations as well as those figureheads who deem themselves prepared for prime time television.
There are so many other links you can go find, and many are attempts by Christine to massage her weakened brand and accuse “the producer” (she calls Piers the producer albeit he’s the host) of sexual harassment during the CNN interview.
The point is, PR, that if your spokesperson, client, company executive is NOT ready for live, national, primetime and potentially raucous interview tactics (do you remember Sarah Palin and Katie Couric?), then by all means KEEP THEM OFF TV!
Here are some media relations thoughts for everyone’s digestion:
** In media relations, it’s your job to comb previous interviews with that particular host to understand the style and potential for the segment to go downhill fast. Always expect negativity!
** Negativity sells, and there’s absolutely no way a former politician (especially in the Tea Party movement) can be safe. I say “especially in the Tea Party movement” because their policies and beliefs are strong, and when you get the “liberal” media going 1:1 with a candidate, there’s going to be bashing and addressing the issues.
** At the first sign of discomfort by an interviewee, the host is going in for the kill. Obviously, Christine was not prepared for a negative interview and did not expect to be thrown off course – book promotion, not running for office, I don’t want to speak about this issue today, “you’re being rude.”
** I fault Christine O’Donnell’s media relations people for this debacle. Either they didn’t prepare well enough or thoroughly enough to identify all the possible land mines any host would attempt to uncover, or they were not seasoned enough to manage this situation. With issues as contentious as gay marriage, abortion (I don’t know if she addressed that topic in her book), masturbation, and the like in a book she wrote and is promoting, it’s open season!
** Preparation for an interview of international importance like this should be oriented to diving into all the Q&A with possible discomfort zones. Role playing and watching tapes of previous interviews would be part of the prep; in addition, dog earing book pages with highlighted text should have also been part of the prep.
** Piers Morgan is an investigative journalist; it’s his business to uncover scuttle butt on everyone who sits across from him. He wants ratings, and boy was he enjoying himself – trying not to laugh at Christine’s obvious discomfort.
** Finally, when has a PR person EVER stepped in front of the camera on national live TV? Are you kidding me? Terminate.
What thoughts can you offer based on your own experience, your experience being interviewed, and the prep that needs to happen in this contentious media age?