PR Fish Bowl


What PR Can Learn From “Money Monster”

moneymonsterandprAnyone who has worked in public relations is familiar with the tension created by a live broadcast interview. In an era dominated by branded content and social media, the live shot still stands out. There’s often a bit of nail-biting as we wonder how a company spokesperson will deliver “key messages” in a three-minute chat, or how far a host will veer from agreed-upon questions. Sometimes we worry about the right props, or the proper brand mention.

George Clooney’s “Money Monster” has incorporated all of these PR anxieties, and much more, into its plotline. The film features a Jim Cramer-like financial expert who is threatened on-air by a gunman in the middle of a live show. The assailant has been burned by an investment recommended by Clooney’s character that has tanked due to a billion-dollar glitch in a trading algorithm.

The film, featuring a behind-the-scenes look at TV production, certainly surpasses the garden-variety anxieties that PR people are prone to, yet it also offers a reminder of on-camera interview do’s and don’ts.

Don’t go on any interview show you haven’t watched. A lot. Although it sounds obvious, broadcast viewing is sporadic for some. Understanding a show’s format, cadence and the typical expectations and interests of the interviewer is critical.

Do be prepared for questions you don’t want to answer. All the assurances in the world won’t prevent certain journalists from going off script and asking a “gotcha” question. It can focus on anything from an interviewee’s personal life to a business controversy. A smart PR team will prepare an exec for softball and hardball questions including the most strategic ways to pivot to comments that offer safer ground.

Don’t forget your audience. Remember, the interviewer is basically a conduit between what you want to say and the people you want to reach.  Focusing on the ultimate viewer is the secret to many successful political figures. Keep this in mind while you prepare messages, and keep it in mind in the heat of the interview. What do you most want people to know about your product or company? What appeals to their needs? Forget the interviewer.

Do practice in front of a camera. With television, the best prep simulates the actual experience, not just muttering through brand messages. While nothing is as visceral (and ultimately unpredictable) as a live interview, comfort in front of a camera will offer a certain level of confidence and teach you how to present yourself well.

Do be positive. This can be translated in a few ways. Remember when Hillary Clinton famously described herself as someone who “doesn’t stay home and bake cookies?” People would rather hear you describe yourself in terms of who you are rather than who you aren’t. At the same time, avoid slamming your competition. Even if pressed, stick to the high road.

Don’t get distracted by studio goings on. An exception could be made for the scenario described in “Money Monster,” of course, but under ordinary circumstances, those who do best in TV interviews are calm, unflappable and comfortable with what they have to say. As one media trainer I know used to say, “Just pretend you’re speaking to a friend in your mother’s living room.”

And if all else fails, just be grateful you aren’t living a “Money Monster” scenario.

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