American Airlines Incident: Why You Should Media Train Employees Even If They Won’t Talk To Reporters

April 24th, 2017
During a media crisis, be prepared for reporters who seek your organization’s permission to report the story live from your property. (2)



When I worked as a television reporter and arrived on the scene of an incident involving a company, I normally first encountered a frontline employee before one of the organization’s executives. The employees sometimes stayed silent other than telling me I would need to wait for a spokesperson’s arrival. But other employees frequently talked to me, gave me information or got into a confrontation with me. I specifically remember an apartment complex office employee arguing with me with the camera rolling about our story on the property’s swimming pool.

In the recent American Airlines video involving a crying passenger, you can see an employee getting into it with another passenger. Media training is not only for top executives. That’s because executives aren’t normally on the frontlines of their businesses with daily, face-to-face contact with customers and unexpected visits from members of the media. Some of the same techniques executives learn during media training work when handling upset customers or any member of the public who might raise questions about your business. Even if you instruct employees to keep their mouths shut when a reporter unexpectedly arrives, those employees must still handle agitated customers armed with smartphones shooting video. And while those customers may not be journalists, journalists often can’t wait to get their hands on that video. We remember numerous times when companies escalated situations because frontline employees did not know how to properly handle our concerns.

You don’t need to train every employee to become a spokesperson or learn by heart every one of your brand’s key messages. But you should take steps to ensure an employee’s initial encounter with a reporter or angry customer doesn’t generate news before the real spokesperson shows up with all the right answers.

Training While Entertaining

April 14th, 2017

Hear This!

April 7th, 2017

Video Production

Preparing For A Media Crisis

March 23rd, 2017

Preparing For A Media Crisis

10 Tips To Lose Credibility With News Media

March 2nd, 2017


  1. Make major shifts in key messages within short periods of time.
  2. Make statements that don’t match actions.
  3. Prohibit certain news outlets from attending media briefings.
  4. Ask reporters to profile your organization without providing a story angle.
  5. Answer questions before ensuring leadership is on the same page and then backtrack.
  6. Hammer away at opponents’ actions and then downplay allies’ similar conduct.
  7. Act as if important issues don’t matter.
  8. Share misleading soundbites.
  9. Blame the media.
  10. Lie.


C-SPAN Might Make You A Smarter Citizen

January 19th, 2017


My mom asked me how she might ensure she is watching and reading the most objective news. I asked her to list the sources that provide her information. Media outlets that tend to reinforce her political views dominated her list. Understanding this is the first step for her and others. People often label as “objective” the news that leans toward their positions.

My first recommendation for my mom was to watch and read a news outlet known for providing points-of-view vastly different from her opinions. This could provide balance. She crinkled her face and implied watching that particular outlet would be the equivalent of forcing yourself to eat a meal you detested.

My second recommendation was the better one: Watch C-SPAN. Watching President Obama’s last news conference as president reinforced my advice. I didn’t watch the news conference live. I watched it in its entirety later on

C-SPAN offers us the option of viewing the news without filters. You can hear the questions that people are answering. You can hear complete answers instead of soundbites. After a news conference, we don’t need to hear analysis from talking heads. Take it from a former television reporter: Many journalists are not smarter than us. They often aren’t better educated. You don’t need talking heads to help you understand what you just heard.

Yes, many issues are complex. Perhaps you don’t fully understand the issue. Maybe you are skeptical the answers you hear reflect truth or facts. Then engage in your own form of fact checking.

In addition, you learn a lot watching an unfiltered version of the news. You can hear all the words and answers and not only the ones that journalists or talking heads determined are most important.

True, hearing talking heads who mostly agree with you might make you feel better about controversies in our society. But that path won’t necessarily make you smarter. Be strong enough to challenge your own ideologies.

You just might want to turn C-SPAN off before the station starts taking phone calls. That’s when you might again hear talking heads … not from the networks but from your neighbors.

Noticing Sunsets And Mountains

January 13th, 2017

We’ve been listening more frequently to 1940s music on satellite radio. This surprises us. We’re not even fans of what artists produced in the 1990s. But the sounds of what our grandparents’ listened to suddenly captivate our ears.

Most strikingly, this music is relaxing. It doesn’t fuel our adrenaline while driving and that’s OK. Slowing down, actually enjoying the drive and more frequently noticing sunsets and passing mountains are pleasant alternatives to a world of smartphones constantly demanding our attention.

We recognize some of the musicians such as the great Louis Armstrong. We’re familiar with the Andrews Sisters or is it the Andrew Sisters? We couldn’t discuss them without peeking at Wikipedia. Ironically, much of the music sounds similar, ironic because we’ve characterized much of today’s tunes in a similar fashion. Some of the lyrics make us laugh and understand how language changes with generations. One song appears to happily discuss jerks in a car. Another song delves into a detailed discussion about chicken.

The music naturally leads us to daydream about those who listened in the 1940s, a decade we so often define by a generation experiencing world war. We travel through a subconscious time warp and better understand why rock and roll dealt such a shock to the system.

Except for our distaste for what the 90s offered and the nostalgia we feel for the 80s, we won’t proclaim one decade’s tunes superior to another. But different decades take us different places on different paces.

Good, Bad And Ugly Of President-Elect Trump’s News Conference

January 11th, 2017


The Good

  • Delivery. President-elect Donald Trump speaks with confidence. He talks conversationally with reporters the same way he might talk with friends or strangers he just met. Generally, he doesn’t memorize lines. He fluctuates his voice and uses his hands for emphasis, giving his delivery an extra punch.
  • Stories. To reiterate his efforts to avoid conflicts of interest in business, Trump shared a story of a friend who recently offered him a $2 billion deal which he turned down.
  • Preparation. He was prepared to handle questions about conflicts of interest and the Trump Organization. He brought a second person to the podium to detail the steps he is taking to avoid these conflicts of interest.
  • Props. To demonstrate his efforts to avoid conflicts of interest, a table stacked with folders of documents was by his side. Props and similar visuals are an excellent way to drive home key messages.

The Bad

  • Soundbites. You should consider soundbites and quotes that stand out and help audiences relate to complicated issues. But some of Trump’s soundbites went too far. He said, “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Describing his incoming administration, he said, “It’s a movement like the world has never seen before.” Such over-the-top statements can erode credibility.

The President-elect also said, “Obamacare is a complete and total disaster.” This is not true. Healthcare reform has provided health care to more than 20 million people. The New York Times reported health care costs are rising at a slower rate under health care reform. People continue to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act. These are not the elements of a disaster. These are the elements of a public policy that needs fixing. But calling health care reform a “complete and total disaster” reinforces politics as usual where each side insists on viewing policy as black or white or in extremes. Real life includes large shades of gray.

  • Defensiveness. When talking about Russia and Vladimir Putin, he said, “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.” The election is over. Trump shouldn’t continue to debate his qualifications compared to Hillary Clinton.

Trump raised questions about the accuracy of some reporting. This is fine. He also praised some media. However, he continued to mock the mainstream media. Attacking the media in general will please your supporters but not win over others.

  • Sarcasm. Trump sometimes addressed members of the media with sarcasm. Sarcasm might work on TV when you can hear him and see his body language. But sarcasm often doesn’t work in print. People who might read his sarcastic comments might misinterpret them.
  • Nastiness. Reporters can be nasty. However, they cannot force you to be nasty. Trump engages in verbal jousting with reporters, sometimes being condescending toward certain media outlets.
  • Evasiveness. The media asked some questions up to three times because they didn’t feel Trump fully answered the question the first two times. For example, he didn’t answer a question about how negative reports about Russia would impact his relationship with Putin. He didn’t answer if he will undo steps President Obama took to punish the Russians. He also offered no details on his plan to replace health care reform.
  • Speculation. He speculated about how certain information got out to the public and the media. Stick to the facts. Stick to what you know. Don’t speculate.

The Ugly

  • Social media. A reporter asked him about his Tweet earlier in the day that read, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Nazi Germany is responsible for the murders of more than six million people. Such comparisons are very inappropriate.

Lowering Standards of Genuine Friendship and Personal Communication

January 4th, 2017

We watched a film called Snowpiercer, one of a handful of movies portraying a morally corrupt future where the privileged live a lifestyle of absurdity and rule over what remains of the populace and humanity once bent on self-destruction. For us, films such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogy fall into this genre.

For a while, we have been reluctant to automatically dismiss such stories as merely dark science fiction where a hero among the disenfranchised rises up to lead a revolt against the arrogance in power. Especially as Americans, it is difficult for us to imagine a reality when we fall susceptible to one line of obedient thinking that borders on a form of government mind control.

However certain aspects of today’s society offer glimpses of how disconnected we can become from each other. Ironically, social media, in our view, plays a significant role. While social media provides an important voice for people, organizations and social causes, it also appears to lower the standard of genuine friendship and personal communication. Couples sit at restaurant tables fixated on smartphones instead of each other. People walk across parking lots focused on those small screens instead of the vehicles swirling around them. Walk into a waiting lobby and roughly half those in the room are lost in an electronic world originating elsewhere.

Combine this with neighbors who don’t consider welcoming the new people who moved in next door. There are the emails and phone calls that inexplicably go unanswered. Others turn the concept of scheduling a simple meeting into a complex endeavor. While we passionately complain about our politicians, their red tape and bureaucratic lives, they may actually be a public reflection of how so many of us live our lives.

Arguing that all this is leading us to a path of some entity gaining monolithic control over us would be a melodramatic exaggeration. But everyday routines offer us flashes of lost community, with individual thinking falling prey to a world of templates. For this reason, we recommend exercises such as taking time away from smartphones or actually meeting with friends and family instead of replacing such experiences with a click of a mouse. Look up and witness the world around you instead of the one from afar reaching you through a handheld device. Technology is wonderful and allows new worlds of communication. Technology also can harden humanity, ensuring we remain inside our own boxes with little need or desire to reach out. When society walls itself off, it can become vulnerable to concepts normally reserved only for science fiction films.

How Companies Can Cut Through Clutter With A Stronger HR Voice

November 30th, 2016

Employee Communications

Effective HR communications is a lot of things. It’s often behind the first impression your company gives to recruits and new employees (the welcome mat) or the door that closes on the way out on their last day of work. HR communications is also a platform for employee engagement. HR communications can help humanize the company by being that helping hand to help navigate through work life. People want to work for a company that cares for its employees and HR communications can be the string to tie all of the pieces together. Having an HR communications plan in place is key to harnessing all the people-oriented programs companies have to offer their employees.

Without effective HR communications, it can be like the “Wild West” where every HR team sends out their own communications whenever they want (often with inconsistent style and content full of jargon). Those messages can get lost in the shuffle, unseen by employees. An overarching HR communications strategy that aligns with company priorities creates a more holistic approach to HR programs, helping their messages cut through the clutter with a stronger voice.

Without effective HR communications, it can be like the “Wild West” where every HR team sends out their own communications whenever they want (often with inconsistent style and content full of jargon). Those messages can get lost in the shuffle, unseen by employees. An overarching HR communications strategy that aligns with company priorities creates a more holistic approach to HR programs, helping their messages cut through the clutter with a stronger voice.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when developing an HR communications strategy:

  1. Establish an HR brand that complements the company brand. Communications should have a consistent look and feel for materials so they are easily recognizable as coming from HR. This also includes consistent key messages to build connections and connect the dots for associates about why this matters or why they should care.
  2. Build synergy with other corporate initiatives. Look for opportunities to integrate key HR messages into companywide communications tools as well as regular meetings and events where appropriate.
  3. Arm leaders with key HR messages. Managers need to be able to explain key programs or updates to their teams. Employees often look to their managers for HR-related information.
  4. Lose the jargon. Many HR programs like benefits and compensation are ripe with industry lingo. It can be tough to increase employees’ understanding and value perception of what the company offers when this information can be tedious. Look for ways to make it more interesting. For example, use storytelling with real employees showing how they use a benefit. Make it visual with video and infographics to explain key points.
  5. Centralize HR communications on the intranet or external site. People want their HR info — especially benefits and compensation information — when they want it, not necessarily when you send it out. That’s why it’s essential to give them easy access to this information. Family members are a secondary audience who are often involved in benefits decisions. Making this information readily available at home is helpful with this in mind.
  6. Think like an employee to guide how you develop your HR communications — and organize your information accordingly. I think of it as the employee life cycle. What are all the major touch points in this life cycle — from recruitment to onboarding to retirement? Communications should be targeted to employees in each stage of the life cycle. Similarly, arrange information according to these stages on the intranet and/or external website.
  7. Meet regularly with each area of HR from benefits and compensation to organizational development. This not only helps when creating a communications strategy for the year but also with ongoing communications or to stay in the loop when new opportunities arise.
  8. Tap into employees to “beta test” your communications. Create an ongoing “focus group” of key employees at different levels you can lean on for input on communications before you send them out. Does the messaging and look and feel resonate with them? What could be more clear? Do they have ideas or do they hear questions from other employees that need to be addressed?