When To Kill A Live Interview

This weekend, New York Jets star Darrelle Revis was instructed to hang up during a live radio interview by a member of the team’s PR staff after the conversation started to get testy. It seemed that the host was baiting Revis into saying something he’d regret (which could have hurt the image and selling power of one of the franchise’s top stars, and even the team.)  The PR staffer has since admitted he made a mistake, however, saying he should have simply suggested moving on to a new topic.

When is it truly necessary for a PR person to step in and kill a live media interview? It’s highly debatable, and some may say that it should never be done, given the possible relationship consequences of the “dead air” that can result.  In my opinion, it’s a reasonable option for the following examples.

The client is doing irreparable harm to his career or image (Charlie Sheen)
This is an extreme example, but it was impossible to avoid and hard to look away.  This drugged up version of Charlie Sheen desperately needed a PR person to step in and end the interview. He clearly wasn’t in a healthy state of mind, by his own admission. He ended up losing his job and forever tarnishing his image. If a client is doing career-ending damage during an interview, any good PR pro will step in and pull the plug. (If only it had been that simple.)

The reporter isn’t playing by the rules (Matt Lauer vs. Kanye West)
It could very well be necessary to stop a live interview if the reporter fails to follow a set of pre-determined guidelines and starts discussing off-limit topics. It’s unprofessional and sets your client up to be ambushed unfairly. In the example above, Matt Lauer all but admits doing just that to Kanye West by playing his infamous VMA clip while asking him if he is a racist. It would be tough for just about anyone to answer that question.

The client appears “out of sorts” (Paula Abdul)
This one is pretty obvious.  It’s the PR pro’s job to protect the reputation of the client being interviewed while making sure the correct message gets across. This fluff piece promoting American Idol quickly turned into a joke, and the “Paula is stoned” meme was born.  Whether she was just exhausted, took some bad medication, or was actually intoxicated, the interview never should have been allowed to go as long as it did.

Please add to our list of “when to kill an interview” examples right here.

Have Press Agents Become "Suppress" Agents?

Recently I attended an awards luncheon where a prominent PR woman was honored for her fierce protectiveness of her clients and her way of shutting out press who didn’t promise positive coverage. It made me wonder about the guard-dog publicist in the age of social media.

A few days later, I read the New York Times feature about entertainment publicists who struggle to rein in their clients on Twitter and other social platforms, often with limited success. (Are you listening, Gilbert Gottfried?)

Is the publicist as gatekeeper an anachronism? Maybe it should be.

Of course, we all want to do well by our clients, and that can mean blocking media access or counseling against certain actions. And I know it’s standard operating procedure in Hollywood, where celebrity representation has always meant painstaking image crafting and aggressive press management.

But, in becoming “suppress agents,” entertainment publicists (and some corporate communicators) may be going too far. First, they miss opportunities to convey the human dimension of their clients, and to actually build something like authentic engagement with fans.  And when access is too limited or the image too divorced from reality, they might just be setting them up for a fall.

Think back to Tiger Woods. His drive into the rough might have been smoother if it hadn’t contrasted so sharply with the carefully crafted image of Woods as a loyal family man and a paragon of self-restraint.
And one of the reasons Charlie Sheen’s outburst was so fascinating was that it felt so real. I, for one, am tired of the bland diet of banal profiles, puffy writearounds and praise for brilliant colleagues. Sheen’s unfiltered outbursts were like juicy red meat. As Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd wrote, “Well, at least he’s not reciting the same carefully crafted humility that we hear from everybody else.” It’s true.

Where can we get a break from those overscripted moments? The answer seems to be Donald Trump and Snooki. I wish there were something in between.

Every publicist wants to help clients be the best possible versions of themselves. But there needs to be something genuine at the core. Sometimes  you can just feel the journalist struggling to eke out a spontaneous moment. It’s not to terrible to show your client’s humanity, and in the age of social media, it just may be inevitable.

Charlie Sheen For President?

Celebrities-turned-politicians aren’t new … but this one caught our attention. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling revealed that independent voters favor Charlie Sheen over Sarah Palin for President by a 41/36 margin. Sheen’s “winning” outcome is even more surprising given that he’s the “most unpopular” figure they’ve ever polled about, with 67% of respondents indicating an unfavorable opinion of him.

People having fun with pollsters? Residual affection for dad Martin Sheen, our TV president for seven years on NBC’s “West Wing”? Let’s hope. But the survey also speaks to the power of non-stop media coverage, and, maybe, to our lack of faith in the political establishment. Sheen’s antics don’t seem to end, especially now that he’s launching a one-month tour across the US.

How many would really vote for a self-proclaimed warlock with Adonis DNA and “tiger blood”? If you could pick any celebrity to be President, who would it be and why? Let us know below.