Three Media Relations Lessons from Christine O’Donnell’s CNN Disaster

I sure hope there’s a PR team out of work after the epic failure of Christine O’Donnnell on Piers Morgan August 17, 2011. Didn’t see it? Check this out first.

The team handling Christine O’Donnell committed three cardinal sins of media relations that should be addressed in any, thorough PR education.

Lack of research

I’m willing to bet the team handling O’Donnell don’t know much about the interview style of Piers Morgan and clearly did not prepare their client for handling tough questions. Morgan, a fairly new face to Western media, was a former editor of The Daily Mirror, and in fact a figure of intrigue during the recent phone hacking scandals that rocked british media.. The tabloids in the U.K. are known for challenging their leaders and making enemies exposing fraud, ethics issues and more. Quite honestly the interview should have never been accepted based on the colorful history O’Donnell carries.

Lose control

O’Donnell’s team clearly failed just by making the decision to put their client at the mercy of Piers Morgan’s inquiry. But what’s worse is that it seems clear that her team did not prep her or coach her on media handling. Every good PR pro should have tactics in their tool belt to redirect interviews gone awry. While O’Donnell attempted, it was clear she was shook up and Morgan had the upper hand. Three tips for controlling the interview

  • Rehearse being badgered by an interviewer
  • Be firm, but not offensive or aggressive in redirecting the question
  • Have rehearsed responses and repeat ( Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is a queen at this!)

Walk off

No matter how bad the interview is, do not, under any circumstance EVER walk off, particularly if the camera’s are rolling. For the last day and a half the clip of O’Donnell being a difficult guest and avoiding a direct question has been repeated. Leading up to the Piers Morgan show you can also bet the network made promos of the now infamous walk off.  Further, the PR pro who walked in front of the camera should be the first firing by the O’Donnell camp! Appearing unresponsive and walking away from a question never reads well.

What do you think? Was O’Donnell and her people right in how they handled the media? Were there other failures?

Ryan Ruud is a Minneapolis based communications executive with more than a decade in media communications filling roles from broadcast to public relations in both profit and not for profit organizations.

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