Peak Communicators
November 4, 2015

Media + PR tips and tricks from Canada’s “First Lady”

A recent CTV interview with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau filmed days before the Canadian federal election, reveals much about the woman who stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the newly sworn in Prime Minister. The interview was not only a window into the family’s core values, it also revealed why she’s a rising media star.

Across generations, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau has struck a chord. She carries the type of authenticity that doesn’t require age to connect.

In watching the interview, it’s apparent that Sophie’s style of openness and ability to make a connection with people is precisely what makes her so appealing and relatable. You see she’s human.

At Peak we often prepare our clients for media interviews. Whether it’s for print, radio or TV, interviews can be intimidating if you’ve never been put in the hot seat.

Through media training, we help people feel confident and in control of their conversation before they speak with media. There are a few things we could learn from Sophie’s CTV interview. Here’s what she got right.

Know your key messages

While the media may ask the questions, it doesn’t mean they dictate the conversation. In fact by knowing your key messages, which is an essential statement, thought or idea you want to get out in your interview, you remain in control of the conversation.

For Sophie, her key message throughout the conversation was that regardless of what changes around them, “within we’ll stay the same”.

Offer sound bites

By keeping her language simple, short and without jargon means her message is easy to understand.  By doing so, Sophie adds more power and credibility to her response.

Here are a few sound bites, which reflect her key message:

“whatever things you go through, you stay true to who you are, and your core values”

“how you grow out of adversity is a reflection of who you are and who you can become”

Talk like a human

While none would mistake Stephen Harper for talking like a human (watch him talk about his love for TV shows), Sophie speaks with a natural tone, and it never sounds like she’s reading from a script.

When the reporter asks about her children’s reaction to the potential change to their lives, she repeats her key message, “I answer honestly. Inside we’ll still be the same people.”

Open body language

Crossed arms, shifting gaze and fidgeting are just some of the non-verbal cues of someone who is uncomfortable. This could translate to public mistrust and leave doubt in the message that is being delivered.

From the way she leans forward in her chair, to her open legged-stance, warm smile and animated gestures, Sophie exudes an easy openness, which translates to trust. Not only do you want to hear what she’s saying, you believe her.


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February 4, 2015

Who is Representing Your Message? The Impact of the Right Spokesperson

Having the right spokesperson can really make or break your story, your cause, and in some cases, your company. It’s crucial to think about who is representing your brand to make sure the messaging is clear, concise and powerful.


Last week, I was reminded of just how important the right spokesperson can be.  I was working with the Alzheimer’s Society of British Columbia (ASBC) on media relations surrounding the city of New Westminster becoming the first in B.C. to train its councilors to be ‘Dementia-Friends’. This training session is part of a larger initiative aimed at helping communities develop the skills necessary to properly support those living with dementia.  To start the training session, Maria Howard, CEO of ASBC introduced the society and its role in creating dementia-friendly communities. She then turned the floor over to Jim Mann – a past member of the ASBC Board of Directors. Jim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007 at the age of 58, and has since grown to become a tireless advocate for dementia through awareness, education, and stigma reduction. Jim shared some of his experiences with dementia to an extremely engaged, emotional audience:

Alzheimers_Brain“Now, eight years after living with Alzheimer’s I have come to realize I have good days and I have bad days. I suppose the same can be said for all of us, except when I have a good day it means I get to exercise my independence, and when I have a bad day, when my mind is too muddled to do much on my own, it means I need support,” he said. “For those around us, this is an ever changing landscape of eggshells.”

The Mayor, along with every city councilor, spoke to the impact of Jim speaking after the training session was complete. Jim was able to connect with the audience because it was authentic – he was sharing his personal experience, and it was easy for everyone to relate to.

The messaging for the Alzheimer’s Society was clear: dementia is something that affects us all, and it’s also something that  communities can support to lessen the challenges surrounding this disease. With personal stories about his own struggles  with dementia, Jim Mann had a profound impact on the audience – I can guarantee everyone left feeling inspired to pass on  the messages of the Alzheimer’s Society to their own networks, which is exactly what you want a spokesperson to do.


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May 2, 2014

Be Careful You Do Not Become the Company Spokesperson

A reporter called and started asking questions. I knew the answers and was well into giving information on behalf of the client when it hit me: I’m not authorized to be this company’s spokesperson!

Media Relations

As a communications consultant for this client I was empowered to provide information – send out pre-authorized backgrounders, fact sheets, news releases. But I was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. I stopped in mid-sentence.

“I’m not a spokesperson for my client so I don’t want to be quoted,” I said, probably too sharply. I caught the reporter cold. He was taking down everything I said and fully intended to pepper his story with Alyn “Edwards said…. According to company spokesperson Alyn Edwards…”

It was almost too late that I realized I had set a trap for myself and I was right in it. I knew better.

During the hundreds of media training sessions I have conducted, I stress that companies must appoint and train anyone speaking for the organization and they should only offer information in areas of their direct knowledge and responsibilities.

I also tell them to negotiate every interview. When reporters call, don’t start answering questions until you know exactly who you are talking to, how to contact them and have asked these other key questions:

  • What is your story?
  • What information do you want from our organization?
  • Is there a focus or angle that you are pursuing?
  • Who else are you talking to?
  • What questions do you have?

Only with full information should a company or organization decide that an interview will suit its goals and interests. That’s not always the case.

Several years ago, a call came in from a meat processor in the Vancouver area. It was during the XL Meat e-coli crisis in Brooks, Alberta. The B.C. company was not related in anyway. But it was receiving calls from reporters wanting ‘localize’ the story. They asked to take video and photos of their plant operation and interview managers about food safety.

My strong advice was to thank reporters for their interest, tell them the plant is in full compliance with all food safety standards and explain that no unauthorized persons can enter the plant.

I recommended the company not say anything beyond this because, as soon as the public saw pictures or video of that meat packing operation, the company would be immediately associated with the e-coli outbreak and its business could suffer greatly.

If the interview is a good fit for your organization, negotiate a time and place for the interview which gives the spokesperson adequate time to prepare key messages.

Sending a fact sheet or background information in advance of the interview describing the organization, its products and services along with information detailing the subject of the interview could head off up to 30 minutes of needless questions. That also helps ensure accurate reporting.

That’s what communications consultants can deliver while being careful not to unwittingly become a spokesperson for their clients.

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January 11, 2013

Making Life Easier On Our Journalist Friends

Journalists are busy people. They have hundreds of pitches flying at them from PRs daily and often have little support or resources. As a result, media pitches have to be authentic, newsworthy and to the point to get noticed. To help them further, it can be beneficial to package pitches up that offer various experts who are able to give different perspectives on the topic in question. This can save a reporter valuable time having to source a third party opinion themselves. Offering to draft an initial article can also go a long way with time-strapped media.

This is what we did to secure a recent hit in the Financial Post. Peak strategically selected several senior client spokespeople and asked them to share the best advice they’d ever received. To make the piece timely, we pitched it in late December so that it could be published in early January to kick off national mentoring month.

Here’s the end result.




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