PR lessons from Weinergate

Watching Weinergate unfold is both fascinating and painful.  For those without electronics, Weinergate refers to a scandal involving New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, from whose Twitter account a lewd photo was sent to a Seattle college student.

Was Rep. Weiner’s Twitter account hacked?  We don’t know, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter.  That’s because Weiner has committed every “no-no” possible when dealing with the media about the topic.  As a result, Weiner is in a very uncomfortable spot.

We’ve watched with fascination as Weiner dodges questions and is hostile towards the media.  So what is the best way to address the media during a crisis situation?  We weren’t asked, but if we were, this is what we would tell the congressman.

  • Take control of the interview. Understand what you want to get out of the interview and think of questions and your answers ahead of time.  If the interview is moving away from its purpose, direct it back.
  • Tell the truth.  Reporters can smell a lie from 100 feet away, and will pursue a line of questioning if they feel they are being conned.  When Weiner refused to answer a question about whether the photo was of him, reporters zeroed in on that.  In the Internet age, the truth is sure to come out, so make sure you are truthful and forthcoming.
  • The interview is never “off.” Everything you say in an interview may get quoted.  When television is involved, your tone and mannerisms also are fair game.
  • Speak in positive and interesting sound bites. Rep. Weiner called a reporter a “jackass” and that sound bite became the top news of the day.  Paint a picture for reporters and help them to better understand a complicated issue.
  • Don’t guess. If you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, tell reporters you will find out the answer and get back to them.  Make sure you follow through promptly.

Finally, be nice.  Reporters are only doing their jobs, so treat them with respect.

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