By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
I’m really struggling with the apology given by TV host Ellen DeGeneres this week. It’s flippant, evasive, and borderline offensive. But here’s my problem - while it seems to have done the trick and changed the conversation I wouldn’t try it at home.
According to Forbes, the show generates US$35 million a year for Warner Brothers and the NBC network. There's a lot at stake so Ellen had to apologise to keep her loyal viewers and advertisers sweet. But if this twaddle is acceptable then what does it mean for your crisis response?
Before I deconstruct Ellen’s apology, let us take a step back. Traditionally an apology is a circuit breaker designed to disperse outrage. A textbook apology will name the offence, show you get why the action has caused offence, and offer some changes to ensure it won’t happen again.
At face value Ellen seems to be doing this, but a deeper dive shows she’s glossed over the outrage, is ducking any responsibility and makes no specific commitments to change.
It’s a bigger deal in the US, so if you missed it the outrage is that dozens of former employees have made allegations of a toxic workplace with sexual misconduct, racism and bullying by top executives – all while working for the ‘be nice’ lady. But Ellen just glosses over the details like they don't matter.
It’s pretty serious stuff. In a previous apology Ellen said her only fault was to trust her employees to do the right thing and they let her down. She tones it down for this video but still implies she was completely ignorant of her workplace culture so she’s actually the victim here.
That argument just doesn’t hold water.
But not only is the content wrong, the delivery is, to say the least, non-traditional.
Ellen’s delivery is on brand – she opens ironically about her 'super terrific' summer, and uses her trademark deadpan tone throughout. She undermines the idea that she takes it seriously by adding a joke about her name being on underwear (which is technically a product plug since she actually flogs branded unmentionables).
Despite these communication crimes, Ellen seems to have got away with it. While we don’t have viewer numbers yet there are no calls for an advertiser boycott and the US media has given her a good wrap.
Perhaps all the Karens are loyal fans, or maybe her popularity carried her through. Either way, it would be a brave CEO to put his or her company’s share price on the line with this approach when a crisis has triggered public outrage. I hope Ellen won’t be an example you have to contend with when you’re trying to get a Crisis team to act to protect your firm's reputation.
We’re doing online training and coaching for crisis workshops and all our media training programs. Drop me a line if you’d like some more info, or you might also like to read:
Horsegate - Tesco's textbook crisis management
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By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
I’ve been separated for four years this month, and my divorce is done and dusted, so I thought it was time to dip my toes into the foetid swamp of online dating that is Tinder.
Turns out Tinder is just a super naive version of a media interview. Like an interview, Tinder is a chance to build your reputation through thought leadership and skillful communication. It’s a strategic conversation to achieve your desired aim.
So it’s no surprise that the feedback I’d give my fellow swipers reads like interview skills 101. The bar seems low, and they’re really rookie mistakes.
First thing that hit me was the Tsunami of negative language - curiously all of it from women (yes I looked at men’s profiles as well to scope out my competition). Guys, I'll get to you shortly but ladies, it’s a basic rule of effective communication to say what it is rather than what it isn’t:
No players, no time wasters, no nutters ... the list is endless. When you focus on the negatives you come across as angry, carping and not trustworthy. Plus no one is ever going to self-identify as a time waster or nutter so why bother - it’s not going to get you partnered, or laid.
You've got 500 characters so make every one count. Use your language to paint the pictures you want people to see. Inspire me by telling me what you are, what you love and what you believe.
The same rules apply in a media interview. What do you think of this quote from Qatar Airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker:
“We are not cheating anybody nor are we overcharging anybody; we are not taking advantage of anybody in this difficult situation."
Trust him? Believe him? Are you likely to swipe right and book with Qatar? No? Me neither - but what if he’d said:
“Qatar is determined to keep flying in these difficult times and do everything we can to get people back home”.
That’s a reputation building quote - for now and the future.
Of course, Tinder is first and foremost about images, not just words. And like a media interview, the images you share should reinforce your credibility and messaging.
Notice how in the media a Lawyer is usually filmed in front of a wall of books, a Doctor has a stethoscope slung over her shoulder or a sciencey background. It’s about positioning and authority.
So lads, what’s with the photos of you with a dead fish, sitting astride a coconut palm or staring into your laptop at an unflattering angle, unshaven and hungover after lonely Saturday night? Is it so hard to brush your hair and wear a shirt - ideally in a colour that makes your eyes pop?
Ladies, if your puppies really need an airing they won’t get it as your profile pic, especially if you caption them with “No ONS”. And is it just me, or is a pic of you clutching an armful of branded shopping bags, or guzzling cocktails with your gal pals, a major red flag?
But on Tinder, like a media pitch, the interesting part comes when you strike up a conversation. In a media interview, when I’m on the public record, I curate the topics and ideas pretty carefully. In Tinderland there are no filters.
Susan, I’m sorry you discovered your husband was cheating by getting diagnosed with advanced Syphilis. Kristin, sharing that you need a man because you’re sick of paying your own rent probably won’t have the desired results. Mike, 9.23” is an impressive claim, and disturbingly specific, but it isn’t what I’d lead with if I was looking for a life partner with Christian values which is your stated aim.
Tinder or a media interview, it’s basic human communication. Know what you want to achieve from the conversation, use words and pictures that cut through AND align with your strategic intent - then focus on your key messages without oversharing.
If you’d like to hone your interview skills, or your dating skills, you know where to find me. Meantime, happy swiping.
You might also like to read:
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By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke to Sky’s Kate Burley for a regular Covid-19 update, the first part went as you’d expect from a seasoned performer. But when the journalist went off piste on the hot story of the day – Tony Abbott’s mooted appointment to the UK Board of Trade – Hancock experienced the most excruciating three minutes of his life. You can watch the video here.
Schadenfreude aside, what went wrong and what should you do if you were in his place?
There are three simple rules to media engagement 101:
Rule 1: Know what you want to discuss and prepare your content
Rule 2: Anticipate what else could come up
Rule 3: Focus on your topic and always stay in your lane.
This interview is a brilliant demonstration of why you must stay in your lane and exert control over the direction of the interview.
Hancock’s mistake was at a macro level – he should never have engaged in the Abbott issue in the first place. When the question came up at around 1:18, the only possible response was: “Kate I’m the Health Secretary, that’s a question for the Trade Secretary, as Health Secretary my focus is …”.
Dull but effective.
If Hancock couldn’t fight his urge to be helpful he could have added Downing Street’s tried and tested official line “…but I understand no decisions have been made on that appointment”, and everyone would have gone home happy.
Instead he engaged and gave some insights into why Mr Abbott would be a valuable hire.
Even when he’d gone down the rabbit hole, Hancock could have got back on track by exerting control in what I call the Goldilocks zone.
In a challenging interview the key is to match your degree of control to the tempo of the journalist. Too little and you are roadkill, too much and you look like an evasive bully.
The gloves came off at about 2:21 with Ms Burley’s stonking slapdown “Health Secretary, that’s not my question … I’m asking you about…”. If the journo goes hard it’s an invitation for the interviewee to clap back.
I’d love to see him try: “Kate I heard your question, but I’m the Health Secretary, not the Trade Secretary. My focus is on Health, and particularly the challenges of Covid-19. Because we both know I cannot answer those questions you are doing a disservice to the people of Great Britain who are watching this to get critical health information and keep everyone safe”.
You might also like to read:
Disarming a hostile reporter
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Trudeau's viral dodge
Want to hone your control techniques, or to update your training for the new world of online media interviews? Contact us for our customised Covid safe training options.