Peak Communicators
April 10, 2014

Avoiding the Impossible Situation

The day before he was to be introduced as the next Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations, Trevor Linden says he was put in an impossible situation during a live TV interview. He told Global News he had never talked to the Vancouver Canucks about the job. “I had never really thought about it to be honest,” he said. After four and a half minutes, he ended by saying an announcement was not imminent. It would soon be revealed that none of this was true.

The next day, he was apologizing as he was introduced as the team’s new president of hockey operations. The Province newspaper called it a “barefaced lie” while its blog editorial was titled, “Lying to fans is no way for Linden to win their trust.” SportsNet called it a “white lie” and the Vancouver Sun said Linden “wasn’t completely honest.”

As Linden explains his responses to questioning on live TV, he didn’t want to disclose that he had talked to the Aquilini family, owners of the Canucks, because he was trying to protect Mike Gillis, who was about to be fired, and the integrity of the process. He says he had to do what he did. And he did it calmly for four and a half minutes.  

Whether Canucks fans think it matters or not, there is a huge PR lesson here for everyone else.

Linden’s ‘impossible situation’ was of his own making. It shows that, even if you have done thousands of media interviews, you need to be properly prepared and you need to know when to say no. Here’s what he should have done.

Impose a media blackout The safest and smartest step for Linden would have been the media blackout. It’s a common step corporations take when there is big news they don’t want to leak out — and this was big news. As soon as he got into discussions with the Canucks, he should have gone off-the-grid, cutting off all contact with the media and cancelling all personal appearances, especially media interviews. This was not the time to go on TV to promote a new fitness concept.

Be prepared If he was determined to go on television or thought he might be tracked down by a diligent reporter, he should have anticipated the most obvious question: Have you been approached by the Aquilinis? The best answer would have been: “I have met the Aquilini family, but I am not in a position to disclose the details of those discussions.” Simple and truthful while respecting the process and soon-to-be-fired general manager Mike Gillis.

There are lessons for all of us:

  • Each media opportunity needs to be assessed on its own merits. Sometimes the best answer is “no thank you.”
  • Anticipate and be prepared for all media questions
  • Prepare a toolkit of responses for any question that could catch you off-guard
  • Negotiate the interview up front and get assurances any questions you can’t respond to won’t be asked
  • Be prepared if the reporter asks those questions anyway

Trevor Linden’s brand credibility took a hit with fans and the media. He was right to apologize. It is sad that the entire incident could have been avoided.

You can bet the next time he does an interview, someone in the media will be thinking: “Is he telling the truth?” How long that will last is the great reputation unknown.

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March 19, 2012

Premier Christy Clark’s New Press Secretary Shows How Not to Manage Media Relations

Obviously B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s new director of communications Sara MacIntyre didn’t do her homework on local media. She had done the same job for the Prime Minister and may have been bounced for being too aggressive. But the back east media is small ‘c’ conservative. They are somewhat pushy but not uber aggressive.

No holds barred out here. When you tell a good reporter in British Columbia that they can’t do something, they are definitely going to do it. Reporters demonstrate the long-held tradition of a free press every day.

Veteran Global Television cameraman Paul Rowand took MacIntyre on while videotaping the Premier who had just invited reporters and camerapersons to follow her into a Vancouver trade show. “No go” from MacIntyre was met with “what did you say?” from Rowand as he kept walking and videotaping while firing off questions including “who are you and where are you from?”

The gum-chewing MacIntyre snapped back with sneering answers with the most condescending looks. Then she did the ultimate no-no: She stood right in front of Rowand’s camera in a futile attempt to block access to the Premier.

The embarrassing Global TV coverage that resulted from the altercations has now gone viral. I will use it in media training as an example of how not to manage media relations.

Former CTV reporter Chris Olsen (Olsen on your side), who was Premier Clark’s past press secretary, lost his job to the feisty MacIntyre. Olsen got off side in his attempts to manage the media even though he was once one of the reporters. The Premier’s office thought he couldn’t do the job. Well, what about MacIntyre?

She’s now off side with reporters who will find ways to continue to make her look bad. She forgot that you may be able to manage reporters, but you can’t control them. You would be better off trying to herd cats.

Maybe she should ask some key reporters for advice on how to facilitate positive news coverage on government. Christy Clark says she stands for open and transparent government. What does Sara MacIntyre stand for?

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September 7, 2011

How to Pitch Yourself

In my role as office manager, I review requests for internship opportunities and employment. People want to work at Peak because they are outgoing, influential, great communicators, have an eye for detail, have had experience in media relations – all the things we’re looking for. Surprisingly the majority of applications we receive are sent by email with short cover notes. Very few candidates contact us directly.

As PR professionals, we pitch ideas and stories to media. We also promote and sell our services to clients. We are the best at it because we talk to people and persuade them to cover our story or give us their business. We never just send an email.

If you seek a career with a top public relations firm, pitch yourself. Demonstrate the skills you’ve put on your resume. Sell us.

Strong research skills: prove it

Spend time on the company website; know who you’re applying to, the key players.

Attention to detail: prove it

Proofread your resume for spelling, grammatical or formatting error. Don’t have your resume stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Strong communication skills: prove it

Putting together an impressive resume and cover letter is a good start. List only the experience that is relevant to working with us, or reword your past experience so that it’s clear it will transfer to the new role. Write an impressive cover letter. Call to arrange an informational interview or better yet a meeting with someone in the firm who makes the hiring decisions.

The interview, well that’s a topic for another day.

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