Do Integrity and Trust Still Count for Anything?

Not to be cynical, but the recent past hasn’t been so encouraging if you still believe that trust and integrity count in this world.

Not so long ago, CNN released the contents of the late Lybian Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ personal journal, after reportedly assuring his family that it wouldn’t. Commenting on the CNN brouhaha, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as telling a reporter to f–k off.

Do Integrity and Trust Count?

The photo of a topless Duchess of Cambridge sun bathing on a private vacation was another media shocker. After the photo appeared in a French magazine, other media took the attitude “they printed it so why can’t we?” So the image is going viral in other countries (but not the U.K.) and so far as we know not the U.S.

Then Mitt Romney was caught on camera with his by-now-famous statement that he can’t worry about the 47% of the people who don’t pay taxes and support President Obama. It’s the election season so the media jumped on the story like a pack of hungry wolves.

So what can you learn from these public disasters when you’re delivering a presentation or doing a media interview?

Watch What You Say and Do

Mitt Romney no doubt wishes he could take back those words. He was talking to a wealthy group of potential donors, and said something that he regretted. Doesn’t matter. He got caught and the video has gone viral.

You need to know the messages you want to communicate and practice them in advance of any presentation or media interview and know that everything you say could quickly go public. We’ve emphasized this in earlier posts.

But here is the real point: you need to be honest or your integrity will be called into question. It’s sad to say that some companies think they can get away with fudging the truth. It won’t work. With information traveling at the speed of light, the media will immediately uncover the real story.

There is no such thing as a little white lie. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan found that out when he mistakenly claimed he had run a mile in under four minutes.

Advance Preparation

All reporters are not created equal. You’ll find editors who are experts in your field. It’s their only beat. Others are general assignment reporters who need your help in putting together their stories with the facts – true facts.

That’s why advance preparation is so important, including media and presentation training. While you may be the expert resource, you can’t completely manage the story.

David Barr wrote in The New York Times of the trend – especially among politicians – to demand that a reporter clear his quotes with the source. After that story ran, Jill Abramson, executive editor of The Times, instituted a policy banning the approval of quotes. Maybe they’ve started a trend in the media.

Don’t expect the courtesy of approving quotes unless you or your client is a front-page newsmaker. The reporter can always find another source.

Quotes are what make a story come alive. Have your “sound bites” ready whether you’re being interviewed by a print or broadcast reporter. What is the key piece of information you want to communicate? Is the quote what the reporter is looking for or is she likely to “juice it up” so it supports her take on the story?

Your Responsibility

It’s your responsibility to ensure that you get your point of view across to a reporter or in a presentation. Romney campaign advisors made a big gaffe by throwing out the candidate’s acceptance speech just prior to the Republican nominating convention.

In its place, they substituted a speech that left out Gov. Romney’s acknowledgement, that was in the original draft, of the men and women serving in the military in Afghanistan. This was duly noted in the media.

So, how do you take control of your message in a presentation or interview?

  • Tell stories. People love stories. They clarify a subject and make it interesting. Your key messages will be more compelling when told in the context of a story.
  • Repeat your key messages. Weave in your key messages more than once so there is no mistaking your meaning.
  • Test for understanding. During a media interview, determine if the reporter is getting the message by asking a question like, “Am I being clear? Do you need more clarification?” During the Q&A following a presentation, ask, “Are there any questions about my key message points?  Then repeat your messages.
  • Send information in advance. Help a reporter to become more knowledgeable about your company and story by sending her background information prior to the interview.
  • Know the reporter. Do a search of the reporter’s previous stories. See if he is knowledgeable about your topic. Carefully read the words he uses to see if he injects his own point of view in the story. Editorializing used to be frowned upon. But now even news stories are being written like features to stimulate reader engagement.
  • Recap the interview. This is an essential step that too many people forget. At the end of the meeting state, “I’d like to summarize what I said.” Then recap and ask, “Is there anything else you need to know, anything I can further clarify?”
  • Follow up. Send an email, thanking the reporter for his time and, once again, recap – in your words – the key messages you want to communicate. Write them as quotes that can be used verbatim in the story.

Here’s a novel thought. If you’re worried about being misquoted, or aren’t in complete command of the topic – turn down the opportunity. Don’t accept and try to fudge the facts.

Maybe you shouldn’t be included in a controversial story. Or, you haven’t got the necessary credentials and information to speak before a convention audience.

No one has a gun to your head. Take a pass.

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