Posts Tagged ‘using 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, 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.

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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.