Spokespeople: pause, think … then speak

Common sense rules when talking with any media.

Personally, I would like to see most celebrity news abolished, but this will never happen. Too many people long for this type of news, which is amazing enough in and of itself.

Nonetheless, movie/television stars, professional athletes, talk show hosts and countless other celebrities provide some of the best communications case studies available today. Sometimes they do it well and sometimes not so well. So let’s take a quick look at China’s newest karma queen, Sharon Stone.

Countless media outlets have reported on this story, where Stone suggests that the earthquake and related catastrophes in China could be the result of karma. Prior to reading about Stone’s apology, I wondered if she was perhaps misquoted, but apparently she was not. Now a video of her comments is available on YouTube.

How is this news relevant to media relations? Well, if you represent your spokespeople with the media, you’re responsible for preparing them to perform well on camera. Don’t get me wrong, we cannot work miracles, but the interview itself is perhaps the most important aspect of the media relations process.

So what should we as media relations professionals take away from Sharon Stone’s experience? Let’s look at a couple Media Training 101 tips for a quick refresher:

  • It’s OK to pause and collect your thoughts prior to responding to any question from any reporter; it’s certainly better than saying something you’ll regret later
  • Everything is on record: cliche but true; assume everything you say will show up in a page one headline
  • Remind your spokesperson to trust her/his own common sense and be attentive to her/his own conscience
  • Avoid wishing bad will; it never pays to point a finger and then lay  blame, particularly when talking about karma or making other statements that are, at best, opinions
  • When catastrophe strikes, lay down your arms; the Tibet discussion has no place in a conversation about the recent tragedy

Sharon Stone most likely got caught up in the moment as so many people have before her, but this just goes to show how one brief comment can be all it takes to turn a generally likeable spokesperson into the “public enemy of all mankind,” as China’s official Xinhua News Agency referred to her today.

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