A US Congressman is making national news after he was caught on camera threatening to throw a reporter over a balcony inside the US Capitol. There’s a great lesson on crisis communications and branding that you can take from this exchange.
The politician made a classic mistake that many people in the past have made, including Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. You can avoid this mistake by becoming aware of it.
But first, let me give you a little personal history on the politician in the middle, Rep. Michael Grimm.
In 2010, I was the Communications Director for Michael Grimm when he was an unknown politician running for Congress. He didn’t have much experience dealing with reporters and it frequently showed during his interviews. He made classic mistakes that many novice politicians and business owners make.
Throughout the political campaign, I coached Grimm with his on-camera delivery, helped him with speeches and secured media placements with nearly every local news organization. He got better with each interview and went on to defeat a sitting Congressman. That’s an accomplishment, considering 92 percent of all incumbents win.
But like most novice politicians or business owners pursuing publicity, mistakes are made. Here are some of the biggest mistakes these people make, and what you can do to avoid falling into their traps.
The Camera is Always Hot
I can’t tell you how many times as a TV producer where a person continued to talk when the camera lights were turned off. The interview is never over when a camera or microphone is nearby. If you are within earshot of a microphone or camera, assume it is recording even if the lights are off. More important, many people don’t realize how powerful these microphones can be even from a distance. Boom microphones can pick up sound even when the camera is not within sight. Don’t say anything stupid, or worse, threaten a reporter when a camera or microphone is nearby.
Be Respectful of Reporters
Many politicians seem to have the same DNA make-up. They are used to being in charge and they don’t like being told what to do. This doesn’t work well with journalists who take pride in their independence. And when these two sides collide, it can frequently be bad for the story. I’ve worked with many CEOs and founders who were interviewed by reporters and showed a lack of respect for the journalist throughout the interview. After the interviews, the CEOs went on to tell me why they didn’t like the journalist. I get it. I was one of them. But what everyone needs to realize is that journalists are trained to question and look for motive. If you give them a reason to not like you, you will succeed. Be kind, be courteous and practice what your kindergarten teacher taught you about others anytime you deal with a reporter.
When you Mess up, Take Responsibility
Michael Grimm was caught on camera threatening a reporter. There is no denial and the viewer gets to see this in an uncensored way. So what was his response?
I wouldn’t recommend that response. Don’t blame a reporter when you lose your temper. Losing your temper happens to everyone – from Moms to politicians. If it happens and you realize later that you made a mistake, take ownership of it. If you’re in a position of authority and your organization is being questioned, don’t take it personal. It comes with the territory.
UPDATE at 12:15pm EST: Looks like Rep. Grimm is getting some solid advice. He changed his statement and followed Tip #3: Here is his written statement: “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have allowed my emotions to get the better of me and lose my cool. I have apologized to Michael Scotto, which he graciously accepted, and will be scheduling a lunch soon. In the weeks and months ahead I’ll be working hard for my constituents on issues like flood insurance that is so desperately needed in my district post Sandy.” Not bad. Sounds like a chapter from Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media.
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.