Traditional PR Wisdom is F-Dash-Dash-Dash-ing Destroyed

Tears are always the best – other acceptable forms include nervous laughter, your jaw tightening and releasing, long silences with an uncomfortable smile or when you excuse yourself for no reason and return with a Kleenex. But nothing is better than tears though. It means I’ve done what I was sent to do. It means we are talking about something real and we have moved past the robotic talking points you keep trying to hand me. It means my readers get a story.

When covering a story, I don’t set out to make anyone cry or become emotional at all. But my job is to dig in – to know when to be patient and when to be impatient – to know when to listen and when to ask – to listen to what you are not saying and to be curious. And if you get emotional, it triggers an instinct.

The funny thing is I don’t spend all my time as a journalist. Most of the time, I am on the other side of the table. I am the PR guy hammering out talking points and training my clients on how to prepare to talk to the media.

At times, this leaves me feeling somewhat duplicitous. What makes for a good interview from a media perspective is sometimes not-so-good from a PR perspective. And it is with this divided heart and mind that I listened to a recent interview with the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

PR. The PR guy inside me braces. He is already thinking of how he will clean this up. And how much he wants to sit down with his client and tell him something that almost every PR guy says:

Don’t talk to the media when you are angry.

This would seem to go without saying. When you are angry, it means you are more likely to lose control of your words. You will say things you don’t mean. And anger is sloppy. It does not usually discriminate – it will unleash itself upon anyone nearby and that includes the media folks just doing their job.

Media. The media guy, though. He doesn’t take your answer personally. And the more you criticize the media, the deeper he wants to dig. He will let you continue to spout your f-bombs and keep you talking. Because it sounds like there is a story here that is deeper than his sports beat. Something at least is interesting.

The committee. Neither of these voices in my head would advise you to drop f-bombs. The committee convened in my mind would agree that getting angry with the reporters is not a good use of your time. And it’s really not that good of a story.

Before you allow your emotions come through, do this first. Take a breath. Ask yourself if your reaction matches the circumstances and your brand. If not, take another breath. If you have genuine emotion attached to the situation, then trust your instincts.

Because the overall findings of the committee also includes this: If you need to get emotional (angry, upset, outraged, joyful) in an interview, then do it.

Some PR folks may disagree but showing raw emotion in an interview is not something I outright discourage. Most interviews are boring. Most people when interviewed are cautious. Most of the world is starving for authenticity, and, more deeply, a kind of bold humanity. Being human makes your business growth story, your announcement about your new hire, your latest industry announcement into a feature-worthy interest story. Also, humans want to know humans not brands.

I have seen this with clients. The ones willing to get real receive more interviews and better coverage. They establish trust with the media that goes beyond any media coaching. And they embrace the chance to be real.

If there is a tragedy, it is natural to be sad. If someone wrongs you, there is frustration. If there is a win, there is happiness. And if you are asked for comment on these situations and you are void of those emotions, you are lying to the media. And, while playing it safe may seem like a better strategy, there are definite results – you won’t be asked for an interview again.

All of this advice assumes you are not prone to bullying, jerky behavior. Because being an outright mean person, while authentic, also comes with a set of results. And while a Reds manager whose office is feet away from jock straps and locker-room speak, may get away unscathed with that many f-bombs, the CEO of a children’s toy company would not. So, consider your brand when you act authentically and be willing to accept your results.

The journalist in me wants your truth. And the PR guy in me wants your confidence. And, if you decide to say something out of emotion, I would rather clean it up than ask you to lie.

Just be f—ing honest. It’s a stronger brand strategy.

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