High-profile celebrities, athletes and public officials usually start out their careers saying stupid things to reporters. It’s a given. Then they get an agent, a publicist, a PR firm to represent them, other aptly titled assistants, like a swagger coach (case in point: teen sensation Justin Bieber) and to top it off, a subscription to PR News (just kidding on the latter). So it’s no surprise that Tiger Woods, in his early 20s back in 1997, would give interviews that made a reporter chomp at the bit. As we’ll read in the latest issue of Vanity Fair and as reported in the NY Daily News today (Jan 5): “Woods joked about lesbian sex and the endowments of black athletes – the kind of gaffe he never repeated once he signed with super agent Mark Steinberg.” For those in PR who are media-training their key executives or even themselves, this next thought will either make you wince or nod in agreement. Joe Logan, a golf blogger, in the same article, said: “Tiger learned very well to talk forever and say nothing.” Is that what we are training our clients to do? To say nothing and say it often? Or to say practically nothing, as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted about TV host Steve Allen, “the worst interview” he ever conducted. Williams told Time magazine that Allen might have been having a bad day at the time of the interview, when he gave Williams only one-word answers to his questions. Noted Williams: “The interview felt like about a week and a half and I think it took 20 minutes.” When it comes to speaking to the media and upholding a certain image, it should never be an all-or-nothing game plan: say nothing or reveal everything? It’s beholden on PR counselors to identify a compelling story line and teach their clients or key execs how to tell those stories and how to bridge messages so they, not the reporter, is in control of the interview. Storytelling is a lost art which, unfortunately, has never been considered part of the science of communications. It’s time to get back to the basics, the science of PR, and give the media true, compelling and quote-worthy stories and prove one of the many values of public relations counsel.
– Diane Schwartz