Media Relations 101:Beware of the Sound Bite Trap

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One of the problems of working in the media is that you really never turn off. Since TV is ubiquitous,  us media types are always analyzing the press to see how we would have handled certain situations differently.

I often find myself saying about media disasters, “How the hell did that happen?” And I am finding myself saying this ever more often during an election year, when we are presented with daily media screw ups. 

I say this because running a presidential campaign is one of the most high-profile media gigs you will ever find. And the people involved with the campaign have teams of handlers who are supposed to be well versed in prepping candidates for the 24-hour media cycle. So why is it that we still have candidates making elementary blunders?

The most recent blunder that comes to mind is Ann Romney’s gaffe where she said “We’ve given you people all you need to know.” The day after she made this gaffe, first mentioned on an interview with “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts, it was replayed endlessly on several talk shows and news sites.

I know that Ann Romney is still fairly new to the political game, but come on. Didn’t anyone warn her about this? Didn’t her media team do a dry run of the interview and prep her for every question and prepare appropriate answers? That is Media Relations 101. However, even if Ann Romney’s team did prep her for the interview, there is no guarantee that she was going to stay on track, and that is one of the dangers of media relations.

These kinds of media gaffes don’t just happen to national political figures. They also happen to people involved in other national news stories. George Zimmerman, who has been charged with second degree murder for the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, also received national headlines for his now infamous interview with FOX News’ Sean Hannity. The one clip that was sound bited to death was the phrase where Zimmerman said that Trayvon’s death was “God’s will.”

Zimmerman’s FOX News interview and the resulting PR nightmare, where he demanded payment from Barbara Walters then later tried to call into “The View,” is a text book case of how not to handle the media.

I think Zimmerman blundered his way through his interview because he is receiving media advice from his attorney, who has different goals from a PR professional. A lawyer may want to get a controversial client any kind of media coverage, or may simply want to drum up publicity for his firm. A PR professional is more concerned about how the interview will affect his client’s image.

The moral of this story for PR professionals is always do word-for-word interview prep with clients before big interviews. And remember to tell them, “Think how your words are going to look as a sound bite on CNN tomorrow.” Chances are the producers will choose your worst possible clip to build their story around.

If PR professionals did this, they could save their clients thousands of dollars in bad PR. And isn’t that what they pay us for?

Manny Otiko, founder of Otiko Communications, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for several Southern California public relations agencies.

Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Men’s Health.

Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.

He is currently promoting Christopher Otiko’s medical thriller “Santa,” which is available as an ebook. “Santa” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And it is currently available via PayPal for $1.99. (E-mail motik_1970@yahoo.com.) For more information visit Author Christopher Otiko on Facebook. To read the first chapters of “Santa,” go to http://bit.ly/santaebook

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