Showing posts with label interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interviews. Show all posts

Thursday, April 3

Cooking Up Contests: Chef Clive Berkman


Notable and award-winning chef Clive Berkman may have come to expect cooking for presidents and celebrities at Charley’s 517 and later Clive’s in Houston, but he never expected to cook up an online contest for his upcoming book Cooking With Clive, Creating “Empty Bottle Moments” With Those You Love.

The contest, which runs through June 15, invites participants to pick 20 pictures from more than 250 featured on his Flickr account. Whoever selects the most photos that will appear in the book will win a seven-course meal for 20 people, prepared by Berkman anywhere in the continental United States.

“I am hoping the winner lives in an area that has tons of fresh meat and locally grown vegetables,” says Berkman. “Then I can work with them to make a menu with local products like lobsters in Maine for a sake curry soup or lamb in Colorado with rosemary and corn polenta.”

Originally, Berkman had set up the Flickr account as a way to share the photo shoot with his friends and family. But as other people started to visit, he decided that he might as well share it with more people. So on March 24, Berkman announced the contest on a blog that he started in April.

“I could have started blogging last summer,” Berkman said. “But I did not want to ramble on about nothing for no reason at all. So I started about five weeks ago as a simple way for people who are interested in my book to stay up to date.”

Adding one-minute video segments on YouTube happened much the same way. He originally wanted to produce a 4-minute DVD that he could send to speakers bureaus and the media, but decided to try producing one-minute video segments in order to reduce production and distribution costs instead.

“We filmed 25 one-minute videos that are unrehearsed and definitely not-scripted,” says Berkman. I didn’t want show glitz as much as authenticity. That way people can see me as an author who wants to share his reflection of a book.”

The first video, which is a trial demo, features Berkman sharing his disdain for green peppers. While not as popular as his Flickr images, it does provide a true-to-life glimpse of who this Johannesburg, South Africa, native really is — someone with a passion for life and food that began while watching his mother teach cooking classes in the back of their home.

His mother wasn’t his only inspiration. Berkman also had the pleasure of working under noted chef Victor Broceaux, best known for his work at The Four Seasons, Forum of the XII Caesars, La Fonda del Sol, and Tavern On The Green.

“He pushed me every day to be my best,” says Berkman. “But although I was grounded in classic French, my style cannot be only described in one word.”

Like some seasoned chefs, Berkman prefers to present an eclectic approach to cooking by finding the best ingredients available and then creatively combining them into something special and cooking them with the best techniques.

While he is still motivated and inspired by standards set in New York, the recipes in his book are simpler and more user friendly. The idea is not to simply give people specific recipes, about 100, but to also share his passion by reminding people that every meal is an opportunity to create a unique moment with loved ones.

“I truly believe that if we pursue creating moments with our loved ones, it can strengthen our relationships,” Berkman said. “Eating together is designed to bring people together, which is where the subtitle of my book comes from.”

The subtitle, which references Empty Bottle Moments, refers to how decorative glass bottle collections resemble guests at a dinner party. Every bottle may be unique, but together they create a celebratory visual metaphor for people.

“I tell [people] that in a sense, we’re all in the kitchen because it’s a symbol of life, full of joy and spills, glorious successes and burnt dishes, tender moments and unnerving chaos,” Berkman includes in his book. “We’re all in the process of learning, growing, and laughing with each other. It’s there that we develop our recipes for cooking and for life.”

In addition to New York, some recipes are also influenced by Berkman’s home. He enjoys sharing these recipes because people are often surprised to discover South African food includes hints of Dutch, British, Portuguese, Indian, and Greek cuisine. The 256-page book with approximately 80 full-color photos will retail for $30. For more information about its summer release, visit here.

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Tuesday, January 29

Mixing Media: The Recruiting Animal


Last March, the unabashed shock jock of recruiting, best known to the industry as the “Recruiting Animal,” launched an online radio talk show. Since, the show continues to capture growing interest, maybe even contributing to his recent win as the “Best Recruiting Blogosphere Personality” gratis RecruitingBlogs.com Best Recruiting Blogs Of 2007.

You think? No way, says Animal.

“I feel guilty about the prize because David ‘Bull Doza’ Mendoza of Six Degrees From Dave put me on his slate of candidates and sent a request to his super huge network* to vote as he advised,” explains Animal. “I have to assume that most of the voters didn't know anything about me.”

Whether they did or not, I doubt he feels guilty. At least not since the contest organizer stripped him of one coveted treat. There was no Starbucks coffee in the prize package.

“Have you ever heard the word schnorrer?” asks Animal. “Jay Dee (Jason Davis of RecruitingBlogs.com) is my friend, so he thinks that what's mine is his.”

Adding Practicality To Punch Lines

The Recruiting Animal is not the only one to add podcasting to his repertoire. Since August 2006, BlogTalkRadio has added thousands of shows, including several authors and celebrities in addition to bloggers. It makes some wonder. Is it worth it?

“I think it is easier to get other people to contribute their expertise because they don’t have to write anything,” says Animal. “But it does take preparation to do it well. Writing a good intro for the show is as time consuming as writing a long blog post, but you don't do it every day.”

In addition to the introduction, good online radio hosts have to spend considerable time researching topics and giving the information advanced thought. And, a blog or Web site is important for show promotion.

There is also considerable effort in developing a workable approach. While Animal says he is still in the process of formalizing his interview approach, there are a few things he has learned along the way.

• Always research the featured topic and examples
• Always plan questions thoroughly, including follow ups
• Sometimes pre-interviews can make a huge difference

“I did a pre-interview this past week and it made a big difference,” says Animal. “If I know something about the answers in advance, then I don’t have to struggle to get a clear statement from my guest.”

The pre-interview technique also put him in a position to clarify answers without losing the spontaneity that keeps the show fresh. And, he says, they are more appropriate than supplying advance material or scripts.

While advance material has been helpful for what he affectionately calls “The Animal Panel,” guests tend to know their subject and need more flexibility. On one occasion, he did plan a show with a guest and it backfired, with the guest refusing to stick to the script. Animal filled in some blanks, but the interview seemed like guest baiting to industry insiders as opposed to a fun show.

Balancing Acts For Guests And Listeners

Even with some tried and true tips, there are no hard and fast rules. One of the challenges Animal faces on a weekly basis is finding the right mix for guests and listeners. People don’t necessarily want a plodding question-interview session, but rather a fast-moving, entertaining, and informative show.

If he is too polite to guests, he says it makes for a less interesting show. Most people want what they are used to: blunt remarks, raised voices, and interruptions that sometimes have nothing to do with the subject. So Animal is always looking for balance between his colorful— sometimes snarky — blog persona and a radio show host who doesn’t frighten guests away.

“Since I know that I can find people to interview, I'm probably
better off telling guests that it's going to be a rough ride,” says Animal. “But if I don't sober up, I wonder if it might be hard to get certain interesting, but straight-laced types, on my show.”


Somewhere in between entertaining and outlandish seems to be the answer for him, even if it means losing certain guests to someone else. If he plays it too straight, his listeners let him know. Great introduction, they might say, but what a dull interview.

Live Listeners Are A Fraction Of Audience

Many online radio talk show hosts avoid answering questions related to live listeners, but Animal helped put this into perspective. He says live listeners aren’t as important as some people might think. While he would like more callers because they add value to the show, the bulk of his audience comes from people who download podcasts.

“I derive a lot of benefit from my regular callers. You meet a lot of intelligent, talkative people in blogging. When people like Maureen Sharib, Harry Joiner, Dave Manaster, or Jason Davis call in, they ask good questions that I wouldn't think of,” says Animal. “They also make good remarks and add a lot of variety.”

The show itself, much like The Recruiting Animal’s blog, is geared more for recruiters in the business than it is for recruiting clients and candidates. As a result, readership and listenership tend to be more narrowly focused. However, Animal is still surprised by how many people listen or write reviews of past shows, making podcasts a better measure of his reach.

“I do get the odd review in which someone I don’t know says they find it entertaining,” says Animal. “That’s a real treat.”

Currently, Animal is working to build a subscription network and that might give him a better idea of who and how people listen to the show. This may eventually help produce a show with online sponsors that will keep his Starbucks cup full.

So is it worth it? It seems to be for Animal. But like all online tools, it’s best to match what you do best with the available applications. If you have a good speaking voice and can dedicate time to online radio, it provides a richer experience and relationship than other formats. Animal is a natural for radio, and he didn’t pay me to say it. Listen for yourself.

You can also catch an essay discussion opener on BlogStraigthTalk on adding podcasts.

*note comments: Animal was dreaming.
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Friday, January 18

Needling Romney: The Associated Press

The exchange between Mitt Romney and Associated Press reporter Glen Johnson yesterday provides an interesting glimpse into everyday media relations. It’s being covered from several angles, but not so much from a communication perspective, where my interest resides.

Here is a quick link to the video of the exchange from CBS News’ Scott Conroy.

At a press conference inside Staples in Columbia, South Carolina, Romney was delivering a point that his campaign team has identified as one of several contrasts between himself and other candidates. It’s one of the most challenging points to successfully deliver in any campaign, primarily because all candidates speak with lobbyists at one time or another.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said. “I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my … ”

“That’s not true, governor!” Johnson interjected. “That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist.”

Kaufman, chairman of Washington-based Dutko Worldwide, is a well-known lobbyist, and former advisor to President George H.W. Bush. He has been frequently seen on the road with Romney during the campaign, purportedly as an unpaid advisor who is not privy to senior strategy meetings for the campaign.

"Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said, Glen?” Romney continued. “I said I don't have lobbyists running my campaign, and he's not running my campaign."

"So Ron's just there, window dressing; he's a potted plant," said Johnson.

The comment is a form of an aggressive reporting style, identifiable as needling. Needling is the patented rejection of whatever the speaker says (eg. “Oh, come on now, you don’t really believe that, do you?”) In this case, despite Romney delivering a not great, but fair answer to draw a distinction, Johnson continued to push his own definition of having lobbyists tied to the campaign.

I’ve never been a big fan of needling, but it exists. So rather than bemoan the interview tactic, it’s better to prepare clients for the eventuality that it will happen because it will happen sooner or later.

Romney would have been better off restating the distinction to the audience (as opposed to engaging Johnson direct) and then defusing the situation by offering to show Johnson his campaign’s organization chart (which he did anyway, but by then it was too late). While it might not have changed Johnson’s argument, it could have minimized what’s become a heavily discussed story.

Even more striking to me, despite receiving a little less attention, was the second, quieter exchange between Johnson and Eric Fehrnstrom, press secretary for Romney’s campaign. Fehrnstrom seems to push the limit in telling Johnson he was argumentative with the candidate and it was out of line.

“Save your opinions and act professional,” Fehrnstrom said.

Public relations practitioners are often put in a position where they might need to be firm, but it’s generally not a good idea to question a reporter’s professionalism. Why? Because even after the campaign attempted to mend fences with Johnson by showing him their organization chart, he published his evidence that lobbyists are an important part of the campaign.

Besides, candidates, public relations professionals, and members of the media all have varied definitions of what professionalism means anyway. These differences are about as plain as what they are all wearing and where they are speaking from in the video. No comparisons are needed.

Net sum: While there is enough difference between offering advice to a campaign and being a paid member of the campaign team to conclude that Romney wasn’t attempting to lie as some suggest, the net outcome is still a communication loss for Romney.

Case in point: In delivering what was meant to be a contrast point between Romney and Senator John McCain, most members of the media reported the opposite, writing stories that deepen Romney’s ties to lobbyists as opposed to diminishing them. By any measure, that’s a tough luck outcome for what didn’t even add up to three minutes of tape.

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Friday, October 5

Creating Conversations: Safety Glass


When I wrote about how I broke into journalism, Lewis Green suggested the bigger lesson was never missing an opportunity to start up a conversation.

He’s right. One perfect example is my good friend James Hoke. He recently became one of the executive producers behind the Hilary Duff and Steve Coogan movie Safety Glass, which is due to be released in 2008. How recently? The movie’s financing received a green light, just before we went to a late lunch today.

Safety Glass, yet to be revealed on IMDB, is about a New York reporter sent to cover a hometown Challenger Space Shuttle hero, but then finds another story when he follows a group of students whose teacher commits suicide. While covering the new story, the reporter is drawn in by this group of confused and combustible students, becoming their "substitute" hero and willing participant in their twisted universe.

Hoke, who is also president of Las Vegas-based Destination Marketing Group, broke into becoming one of the five partners in the new production company Five Kings Pictures, LLC because he didn’t miss his opportunity to start a conversation. The conversation began more than a year ago when he was promoting Matsuri, the number one stage production in Japan, while it performed a limited engagement in Las Vegas (a promotion we were fortunate to work on with him).

It was during Hoke’s promotion of Matsuri that he started a conversation with Joe Nahas. While working together on a couple of projects that are still under wraps and in development, Nahas called Hoke one day and asked him a life-changing question.

“Do you want to start a production company and make a movie?”

“’Yeah, sure,’ I told him. ‘Let’s do it,” Hoke said. “What’s to think about? All my life I’ve wanted to make movies. So I called my friend Anthony Miranda and the three of us founded Three Kings Production.”

Three Kings Production then teamed with two more people — Nick Nahas and Elie Samaha — to form Five Kings Pictures. Samaha most recently produced Rescue Dawn with Zach Grenier, Marshall Bell, and Christian Bale. He is best known for producing The Boondock Saints, The Whole Nine Yards, and City By The Sea (along with scores of others).

“You’ve heard about napkin deals in Hollywood?” asked Hoke. “Here’s one … right here.”

Tacked to his office wall, the entire production budget for Safety Glass is sketched on a single piece of yellow notebook paper by Samaha. The edges are worn, small tears along the top and bottom, but the handwriting — written with a black Sharpie marker — was everything needed to produce the film. It is also a representation of the chain of events that started with one conversation.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m one of the executive producers of Safety Glass, written by Jonathan Kyle Glatzer and Robert Lawson,” says Hoke. “We’re producing in Canada with Nasser Group North and Montage Films. I’ve worked for this my whole life.”

I saw it for myself. Laid out in analytically organized piles across his floor, it was the makings of a movie. Three different companies tucked inside neatly labeled binders on the shelf, with more to be added in the days ahead. Phone calls and e-mails waiting to be answered.

Amazing. Even more so when after lunch, I sat in with Hoke as he made numerous calls to set the next step in motion in between celebratory cheers as the news rolled across the country. Safety Glass was moving forward.

“I’ve worked on dozens of movie soundtracks,” said one of Hoke's partners, Miranda, during one of several calls placed after lunch. “This moves it to a different level. It’s the right movie with the right script and the right people at the right time.”

A new level indeed. Hoke has three additional movies that they are working on to ensure Safety Glass is only the beginning of Five Kings Pictures. The others, of course, will be balanced against his schedule, commuting between Las Vegas and Canada.

Even more remarkable, all of it can be traced back to a single conversation. And all of it will create more conversations in days, and weeks, and months to come.

In fact, I’ll be interviewing Miranda for another reason soon. He’s likely to appear on David Letterman in the next few months because of a single YouTube video. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Dreams and conversations. You never know where they might lead.

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Tuesday, August 28

Answering Dumb Questions: Miss South Carolina

Almost anyone can sympathize with the notion that even the most polished presenters can experience stage fright at the worst possible time. Without question, that seems to be what happened to Miss South Carolina during Miss Teen USA.

When asked why she thinks “one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map, “ Miss South Carolina offered up one of the most perplexing answers and solutions in the history of all pageants.

“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps.” — Lauren Caitlin Upton

Upton then went on to offer a solution that included, um, better education in third world countries. Despite the flub, she still finished third, which further demonstrates just how important the question and answer segment was to the pageant.

To redeem herself, Upton agreed to appear as a guest on NBC’s “Today” show where she was given a do-over. “I believe that there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better. Yay!”

Hmmm… I don’t know if that is any better given the do-over drove 1.5 million more people to see the original flub on YouTube (4.5 million and counting). Maybe someone should have advised Upton to say something completely different.

“The question took me aback because I personally don’t believe that one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map. I’d like to see the methodology of that study because I doubt its objectivity.” Or maybe …

“What kind of propaganda is Miss Teen USA trying to spread about our country anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.” Or maybe …

“Hey, what difference does it make? I was the third runner-up. Yay!”

Instead, Upton has become the pageant’s patsy despite her third runner-up position, which may or may not have softened the blow, and the Miss Teen USA pageant has succeeded in deflecting all accountability in asking a question that would have made most people ask: “What the heck are you talking about?”

Worse, as many excuses as she gave for not being able to answer the question (including one that was coached to her by a sympathetic host), one wonders if Upton’s appearance helped at all. Here is the do-over, courtesy of the Gawker, who preferred the first answer.

Granted, Upton had to answer the question because it was part of a pageant. However, we can’t help but to provide some hard-learned lessons for up-and-coming semi-public and public figures: don’t answer dumb questions because it will increase your propensity to provide a dumb answer; if you do answer, make sure you prepare one solid response that addresses the mistake before going on the “Today” show; and, most importantly, never take the “do-over” because while it’s cute for the show, it doesn’t do anything for you.

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Tuesday, August 21

Redefining Reporter Finesse: Steve Friess

The last time I saw Jerry Lewis, it was years ago and in passing at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Most people didn’t recognize him because he’s an unassuming traveler. There was no entourage. There was no fanfare. He was in a wheelchair; the medication he was on at the time was less than kind.

He is good to his fans; it is not impossible to write him a nice letter and receive an autographed picture on request. He personally donates funds to the MDA and as most people know, he is the MDA national chairman and will be leading the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

But credentialed local freelance writer Steve Friess wanted to write about something different. So Lewis’ publicist Rick Saphire passed, mentioning that Lewis had a sizable fee unless the interview was related exclusively to MDA. Friess, in turn, wrote about his experience on his blog, which has since landed over at The Huffington Post.

Yesterday, Saphire was fired. Lewis agreed to the interview. His team noted that the fee was never intended for mainstream U.S. media, but merely an attempt to cut down on the number of international interview requests. Some celebrities, as you might imagine, could make a full-time job of doing nothing but interviews.

Most people seem to be celebrating Friess securing the interview out of the misunderstanding. In truth, it seems to me only Lewis handled this right. Saphire might have known the facts, which makes me wonder why he was on the payroll. Yet, Saphire wasn’t the only one mistaken.

As seasoned as Friess is, with by-lines appearing in USA Today and Newsweek (among others), he knows well enough that interviews are almost never so restricted. Our credits include the Los Angeles Times and The Denver Post, and we know it: a little finesse during an interview can go a long way.

So where does all this drama lead social media? When freelance writers cannot get the interview they want, is the appropriate action to publicize the rejection? I hope not. It seems brutish to me. Not to mention, the rejection seems to be getting a lot more mileage for Friess than the update. And, unfortunately, that comes at Lewis’ expense.

Simply put, Friess could have contacted the MDA publicity team, arranged the interview, and had a different experience all together with no harm done. Instead, it seems to me that he set out to teach the publicist a public lesson, and mirroring yesterday’s story, that seems to say a lot about his reporting style. It also seems to demonstrate once again that news creation is alive and well in Las Vegas.

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Friday, August 17

Understanding Gumballs: From Trunk To Maltoni

If there is one secret to be learned after conducting hundreds and thousands of interviews, ranging from an emotionally exhausted mother staying at a Ronald McDonald House to billionaire Sheldon Adelson, it is that the success of any interview hinges on effective communication.

And, if there is any prerequisite to ensure effective communication, it is to see the interviewee as a person, regardless of any perceived labels — status, position, gender, whatever. The concept is simple. The execution is not.

For the past few months, one label that seems to have galvanized, if not polarized, online communities and bloggers is the most basic of all — gender. To this ongoing discussion in its numerous forms, I say gumballs.

Right, gumballs. You know what I mean. When we were all kids and could not care less about silly things like gender, most of us claimed certain gumballs were better than others — blue, red, yellow. We were all delusional. The gumballs all tasted the same.

The gender issue is much like that. It doesn't matter where it turns up. Last month it appeared on a post penned by the popular blogger Penelope Trunk when she abandoned career conversations in favor of sharing her perspective on her marriage, which quickly turned into a war of words about gender.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth about stay-at-home dads…” she wrote.

Not surprisingly, most of the discussion quickly descended into non-communication, with some claiming that any man commenter who disagreed was somehow invalid, if not sexist, because, well, they were men. Never mind that not all of them were men.

Ho hum. What most missed was that if there is a "truth" about stay-at-home dads … it is that there is no truth about stay-at-home dads. Just as there is no truth about stay-at-home moms. Just as there is no truth that accurately defines a good marriage, spouse, or parent. Just as there is no truth to any discussion that revolves around a label.

We saw the same descent into non-communication after Valeria Maltoni published her Top 20 PR PowerWomen list, which prompted Lewis Green to write his much discussed post, which questioned the validity of an all-woman list (he has since yielded and agreed to support it).

Before I continue, I might point out that I already commented at the The Buzz Bin and agreed with Geoff Livingston’s decision to support the Top 20 PR PowerWomen. However, I also understand what Green was asking, but think that he asked the wrong question.

In sum, it seems to me that Green asked whether any list segregated by gender, race, or ethnicity was valid. In other words, he may as well have asked if we group our gumballs by size or color, does that place the other gumballs at a disadvantage. Um no, they still taste the same.

But let's say he asked a slightly different question. Does the promotion of a label — status, position, gender, whatever — further erode the ability of people to interact as individuals without regard to labels (such as gender) or does it simply draw more attention to their differences as identified by such a label and breed resentment?

Well now, that depends solely on the gumballs who make up the group. In this case, there is no evidence that the Top 20 PR PowerWomen are promoting that pink gumballs somehow taste better than blue gumballs simply because they are pink, which basically means that the list is no more exclusionary than a Top 20 PR PowerPeople in the Washington D.C. Area list or a Top 20 Bloggers Who Own Red Socks list.

However, Green's question also illustrates why labels are tricky things. On one hand, humans have great cognitive capabilities, which includes processing large amounts of information by categorizing it by labels. On the other hand, if we are not aware of this process, we can become enslaved by it — either by subconsciously taking on stereotyped behaviors that are identified with a specific label or assuming other people will likely act like the labels that they are assigned.

The simplest truth is there are no typical women and there are no typical men. And if you approach either with the preconceived notion that they will react or respond to you as their label suggests they might, you will likely be disappointed. Worse, you could greatly increase the likelihood of label-centric non-communication.

In a different context, freeing us from the trappings of gender: there are no typical mothers to be found at Ronald McDonald House. And there are no typical billionaires. They are all people and each of them deserve to be treated with respect as individuals. Treat them any differently and you may as well argue that one gumball is better than another gumball, when we all know that they taste the same.

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Wednesday, February 28

Deciphering Interviews: Emotional Intelligence

If you have ever opened a package to find that the wrapping was better than the contents, you have all the experience you need to understand the danger of placing too much emphasis on a candidate interview. As Daniel Goleman, author of Working With Emotional Intelligence, wrote as an opening: "The rules for work are changing. We're being judged by a new yard stick: not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also how we handle ourselves and each other." Ah yes, packaging.

While I had been introduced to the concept years ago, the label "Emotional Intelligence" (EI) was relatively new to me until an associate of mine recommended Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Given my interest in behavioral psychology (I work in advertising and minored in psychology, so go figure), I enjoyed the book, pulled several gems from it, and it remains on my shelf despite the fact that Don Blohowiak, from the Lead Well Institute, suggested a better title would be ""Three Ph.D.s Cite Tons of Research to Convince Business Executives (Yet Again) that Feelings Matter to People at Work" over at Amazon.com.

Like virtually any issue, polarizing the issue seems useless though it does raise some interesting questions. As an employer, human resources director, recruiter, or team builder, how much emphasis should we place on interviews, especially in a world where some applicants are better equipped than others. After all, I coach some people, political candidates and public relations practitioners, to withstand the pressure of an aggressive media interview and some embrace it quite nicely ... but does that mean they have any more substance than the next person? (Hopefully, I've already decided that before I work with them.)

I am reminded of an experience when our company was just a few years old, before we restructured it to be modeled a bit more like a legal or consulting firm and less like a advertising agency or manufacturer. After considerable success with a few interns, we decided to hire a full-time employee — someone who could increase our presence in the marketplace and handle some large volume writing services work.

We narrowed down the applicants to three and scheduled interviews. Since one had already accepted a position elsewhere, we were left with two candidates who brought very divergent assets and qualities to the table. One was less experienced but showed potential and had a friendly, enthusiastic, team player presentation. The other had more experience and insisted she knew everything about communication she needed to know to help us take our company to the next level (which perplexed me because I didn't know everything, and still don't).

In short, one had fewer skill sets but a high EI (l don't like labels, but let's called her the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart for simplicity) and the other had higher skill sets but a lower EI (Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac). After the interviews, we ultimately decided that we would be better off hiring the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart. The other one, well, it was very, very hard to like her, especially after she outlined her need for structure in a field where there seldom is structure.

Unfortunately, our new hire only lasted three months, which was about six weeks too long by any measure. The allure of EI packaging had worn off, leaving us with an employee who struggled to write the most basic news release (come to find out, her portfolio samples had been generously edited by her former employer). It was a valuable learning lesson.

In retrospect, sometimes I think that I would have had more success polishing and humbling the Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac than I did trying to fast track skills sets for the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart, which leads me back to the original question: how much emphasis do you place on a candidate interview? Or, is it easier to teach EI and presentation/interview skills than round up the skill sets required for mid-level job description?

In fact, as an additional point of interest, I've noticed that I'm running into more higher EI professionals in the field who look good on paper, present well, make stellar first impressions, and ask the right questions. But then, on the first project, they completely baffle everyone with apparent ignorance in communication (asking the media for "tear sheets" to prove they ran a news release comes to mind). Sure, I frequently build teams for clients (primarily vendor teams), but would be interested to glean some additional insight from an industry that interviews people all the time.

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Friday, January 19

Lacking A Message: SCO


As an investor, you might think twice about a tech company that seems to spend more on legal counsel than on research and development. In the communication world, we might wonder too, when the only news to offset the company’s continued losses is an audio postcard for mobile phones.

I’m not saying an audio postcard isn’t interesting (though I don’t think I’m in the target audience), it’s just not enough to offset what amounts to a net deficit in good news vs. bad news. (I sincerely hope they get something else off the drawing board).

You see, while I don’t enjoy reading about companies in trouble, there seems to be growing cause for coverage from Slashdot and Groklaw that suggests SCO is in deep trouble, with the company saying very little to correct the idea. (Although there is one denial, reported by CNET reporter Graeme Wearden.)

What is odd about SCO's lack of a message is that it has a history of correcting people, an entire page of its Website is dedicated to “recent” media corrections (most pertain to events in 2004). The page makes me wonder about the public relations logic in making media corrections a permanent part of their communication strategy, doubly so because they called it “recent,” as if to allude that more corrections were expected.

Sure, some might give the company kudos for correcting flawed reporting, and in some cases, I might be one of them. However, if erroneous reporting seems to be the rule as opposed to the exception, it’s time to start asking if "you" might be part of the problem.

When assessing what the media says about you or your client, here are a few questions to ask: 1. What did I say (or not say) that might have contributed to the inaccuracy? 2. Was the story fair, given the context and depth of the story, allowing for opinions from both sides? 3. Did the media give the story appropriate time and space and, if not, why was I unable to make my case that certain points were critical to the story?

These are just a few from a longer list, but suffice to say that when the media gets it wrong, spokespeople and public relations professionals have to accept some of the responsibility. Why? Because the truth is that most spokespeople are unprepared for interviews and few have any objectives outlined before they take the call. In fact, almost no one tries to correct what they said immediately after an interview (probably because they don't remember what they said anyway).

That's too bad because if you do listen to what you are saying, there might be time to follow up. You never know when a quick post interview e-mail to a reporter might be readily welcomed. Most reporters just want to get the story right.

While I am not sure that a few bad interviews started the communication problems at SCO, it does seem safe to say that there is an abundance of miscommunication surrounding the company and that miscommunication has irreparably damaged its brand.

Thursday, April 28

Understanding Media Interviews

The May-June edition of Communication World, published by the International Association of Business Communicators, recently ran an article written by Karen Friedman that does a great job at boiling down what spokespeople need to know before speaking with the media. Here are few highlights, along with a few additions* from our media training program.

Be real. People want to relate to you. No one wants to hear from a robot who is so ''on message'' that they never smile or show emotion. *Some of the best spokespeople in the world are not those who stay ''on message'' but rather are people who use their message as a guide to share personalized stories and information that accurately conveys the point.

Speak their language. They know you're smart - that's why they're interviewing you. So avoid big words or workplace jargon. Speak simply and conversationally. *Having worked for the media and corporations, it's easy to see that writers are often translators for industry experts. As a side note, customers are not all that big on jargon either.

Own your interview. Interviews are opportunities to inform and educate. It's not enough to simply answer the question. Try to address the question and look for opportunities to insert your message. *A seasoned spokesperson almost always finds opportunities to define their company. This, of course, assumes the company has taken the time to develop a message.

Don't ramble. Say what you have to say as clearly as possible, and then stop. It is not your responsibility to fill the silence and too much information can create confusion. *Not coincidentally, filling silence often results in taking interviews off subject, and sometimes shifts the focus of the story. Be mindful of what you talk about.

Attitude is everything. Cooperate without being offensive, argumentative, or confrontational. Don't tell reporters how to do their jobs. Provide information to guide them, but let them write their story. *Nothing frustrates reporters more than the spokesperson telling them what the story should be about or that someone knows better because ''they can't understand.''

Avoid either/or questions. You cannot win an either/or question, which can box you into a limited answer. Take the high road and present a big picture. *Very few subjects are black and white so limiting yourself to one side of an issue or topic is always a mistake. The same can be said about hypothetical questions. Don't guess at what you could not possibly know.

Be yourself. If you don't know, say so. Reporters will respect your honesty. *Even better, let them know if you can find out and when you intend to get back to them. There is nothing worse than guessing at answers only to find out you were wrong or attempting to mask that you don't know by talking around the question.

There are many more, but these are great basics not only when you speak to reporters, but also when you speak with anyone. After all, with the growing popularity of blogs, everyone is a potential reporter/publisher.

To illustrate the point: I read a blog entry that shared an entire conversation that the blogger had with a customer service representative of a car insurance company. The blog is well read, about 100 visitors a day.

After reading the post and about the blogger's decision to choose another company, I could not help but to wonder if the customer service representative might have handled the call differently had she known she was talking to an amateur reporter/publisher with 1,000 readers a month. It's something to keep in mind because it used to be that one negative impression/customer interaction is shared, on average, with eight other consumers or potential customers.

Nowadays, one negative impression can reach thousands, making everyone an important spokesperson for their companies.
 

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