Media Training: Bill Clinton Shows Businesses Why They Must Address Their Critics

Media Training:  Bill Clinton Shows Why You Must Address Your CriticsAfter I left TV news, one of the first videos I put together was for an animal shelter. The shelter told me it suffered from misconceptions about the conditions of their animals. I edited the video and showed it to a colleague for review. He criticized the video for addressing the concerns about the animals. He recommended against reminding people of the “problem.”

I disagree. The video must address the problems and provide answers. The video’s purpose is to find new people to adopt those animals. The video must convert opinions and transform them. If you don’t address the critics, the viewers walk away with the same doubts they started with. Without addressing your critics, you’re simply speaking to your supporters. You’ve already got their votes! You want the votes you don’t have!

Many businesses don’t address the criticisms they face. They put on smiling faces and come up with clever lines. They hope those gimmicks are enough to persuade people to ignore the naysayers. Sometimes the approach works. However, sometimes the approach only makes one particular target audience happy … and that audience is the one already in your pocket.

On behalf of President Obama at the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton, as if checking off a to-do list, addressed one by one the political criticisms of the current White House. Clinton even spent a chunk of time directly discussing the biggest anchor weighing down Obama:  the economy. Some media experts may have advised not talking about the economy. They may have argued “Let’s not remind them about that. Let’s focus on better achievements.” That plan doesn’t work.

Yes, you want to fire up your base. But most of your base will vote for you. Everyone in the convention hall likely will vote for you. That’s not your target audience. Your target audience:  the people not in your corner. You know what they hear. You know how they feel.  Hit the pink elephant in the room head on. Don’t pretend she’s not standing there. Everyone is thinking it.

You may quibble with some of Bill Clinton’s facts or analysis. You may dislike the man himself. That’s not the point. The point is this:  If you want to win and if you want to make more money, one of your key goals is to convert the hearts and minds of those who simply don’t get you. And that works whether you’re running for president or running a little animal shelter.

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One Response to “Media Training: Bill Clinton Shows Businesses Why They Must Address Their Critics”

  1. A very good blog that makes some excellent points, however I do quibble with the suggestion that it is always the best policy to address criticisms. In Bill Clinton’s case in this instance, absolutely, and he did it masterfully. But in most cases it is best to weigh the pros and cons of addressing criticism rather than automatically addressing it. And there definitely are cons, the biggest of which are that you will be drawing more attention to it, and that it will drive you off your key messages.

    So you ask yourself – is the criticism such that if I don’t address it, it will remain a distraction – an elephant in the room? And if I address it, will that help it go away as a negative? Is it worth taking focus off my other messages to deal with it?

    My point is that there is no absolute here. It is a matter of, in each case, weighing the pros and cons and then deciding. But in this case, Clinton’s instincts were bang on, and he nailed it.

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