Posts Tagged ‘key messages’

Using key messages in media interviews

So CSIS (Canada Security Intelligence Service) head Richard Fadden has admitted that he shouldn’t have told CBC News’ Peter Mansbridge that his agents were watching some municipal and provincial politicians who, in the agency’s view, were a being used by China to gain strategic information.

A sense of complacency

You may have read my previous blog post on this issue www.sayitwithpower.ca/media/talking-to-the-media-can-be-a-challenge/, in which I wondered why a person as highly placed as Fadden would give away that much detailed information to a newscaster instead of using key messages to stay on safe ground. I speculated at the time – and it looks as though his admission bears out my suspicion – that Fadden was just lulled into a sense of complacency by the comfort and the familiarity of speaking to Mansbridge. And perhaps a little bit of the celebrity of being on national television affected his better judgment and he veered off course, instead of using his key messages to stay on target.

Forced to come forward

The uproar that ensued because Fadden didn’t name names, leaving all politicians under a cloud, has forced him to come forward now and admit – at least the government – who his agents are watching and why. All of this could have been avoided if Fadden, a 30-year bureaucrat, accustomed to being in high places, who knows the media game, had just been more discreet, using his key messages to manage the media interview.

It’s easy to criticize

It’s easy for guys like me to criticize him for what he did but the pressure in that sort of a situation is huge. Fadden knew that millions of people were watching him. He knew that Mansbridge was a highly skilled interviewer. He undoubtedly was skilled in using key messages, had been prepared by media trainers and theoretically shouldn’t have gotten into trouble.

Calls to resign

But Fadden is known to be outspoken, to tell it as he sees it and to be fearless. However, sometimes common sense has to trump courage. There have been calls for Fadden to resign, which he has resisted – so far. Politicians right across the country are outraged. Relations between Canada and China were given a shake by his words and the value of Fadden’s reputation as a wise and capable spy leader has been dealt a blow. As I said, it’s easy to criticize.

The reporter’s job

It’s much harder to escape the same thing yourself in a similar circumstance. Very few of us are at Fadden’s lofty level of power but no matter where we sit on the power curve, if we’re going to be interviewed by the media it’s important to remember a few things:

  • It’s the reporter’s job to put you at ease, to take you into his or her confidence, to encourage you and to make it easy for you to say things you wouldn’t reveal under other circumstances
  • It’s the reporter’s job to go for the best story that’s available. If you allow the reporter to do so, he or she will take you to that story and share it with the world.
  • It’s absolutely paramount to use key messages to remain in control of the information  you’re going to share
  • And the only way to do that is to prepare those key messages in advance, discuss them with people who matter – the people it may affect – and stick to the tone and limit of those messages, no matter what the reporter asks
Stay within the boundaries

The boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate must be very, very clear. If you step outside those boundaries you’re entering a no man’s land where you may find yourself all alone in a very hostile environment.  Plan your key messages carefully and stay within the boundaries of the intent of those messages.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

How to use key messages to clean messes

A few well placed key messages can help if you ever have to take responsibility for a mess that someone else created.

Key messages can help

Being singled out as the culprit for someone else’s deeds is a tough position to be in but strong key messages, well used, can help. For example, American President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are being criticized for how they are handling crises they didn’t create.  After all, even though the current oil disaster off the coast of Louisiana and the Mexican drug wars are today’s newspaper headlines, the governments that allowed those disasters to develop are long gone. And now Obama and Calderon have to take responsibility for a situation they didn’t create.

Key messages kept him on track

And in my opinion, they’re handling it well.  According to this morning’s paper Obama is accepting ultimate responsibility in a Trumanesque “the buck stops here” manner.  But he’s holding BP accountable and he’s pointing out that undersea oil drilling has been around much longer than he’s been in the White House and, when a journalist asked recently if this crisis would become his “Katrina”, he flatly dismissed it.  He stuck to his key messages and kept him on track and allowed no one to lead him astray.

His key message was simple

The same with Calderon.  When he was interviewed by Peter Mansbridge last night his commitment to fighting the Mexican drug lords was obvious and unwavering.  Mansbridge ran footage Calderon at a public meeting where a woman held him directly responsible for the deaths of her two innocent sons, who’d been murdered by the drug cartel.  Through it all, Calderon remained unapologetically committed to ridding Mexico of the drug runners who threaten order with chaos.  He didn’t create the situation, but he’s determined to resolve it and he’s prepared to accept criticism in the process.  His key message was simple: We will defeat them!

A few suggestions

He’s dealing with the fallout of cleaning up someone else’s mess – in this case, several governments who held power for generations.  It’s a job  very few of us would want. For most of us, it’s tough enough dealing with the office oaf whose actions – or inaction –brings the team down instead of building it up. And sometimes we’re left to do the explaining and mop up the mess. So how can we be more like Barack Obama or Felipe Calderon when it’s our turn?  Here are a few suggestions for navigating through alligators other people have let loose:

  • Avoid being defensive.  Often, the more defensive you become, the more guilty you appear.
  • Avoid accusing others. Pointing the finger of blame usually just fans the flames instead of dousing them, particularly if you don’t have any concrete proof to back up your claims.  You can easily end up looking like you’re just trying to shift the blame
  • Create key messages based on the facts and stick to them. Figure out what went wrong, assemble some evidence to support your position, lay the facts out on the table and use them to answer any questions that may arise.
  • If you bear some of the responsibility, partition your involvement from the overall situation. If you’re partially responsible, it’s probably best to be forthright.  But if you can define exactly where your responsibility for the issue begins and ends it will strengthen your position.
  • If there’s an opportunity to create positive spin for yourself, by all means take it, but not at the expense of truthfulness. There are many shades to the truth and there’s nothing wrong with using the truth, as you know it, to minimize damage or put yourself in a positive light.  But remember, if you only need to be caught in a lie once to ruin your credibility forever.

How do you deal with other people’s messes?  Does the approach I’ve outlined work for you?  Please let me know.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.