Friday, December 18, 2009

News Anchor Bob Losure Unplugged

What a pleasure to talk with a journalist who's covered the biggest stories in the last few decades and retained his sense of humor. Learn from his perspective.

Soundbite Coach: Bob, you have had a wonderful career, from reporting in major markets to anchoring at CNN and emceeing events and debates all over the country. How has the news industry has changed since you first got into it?

Bob Losure: Lorri, we've seen huge technological changes in just the past ten years. Miniaturization of cameras and uplink equipment. Laptops to edit on in the field. And that leads us to ....smaller budgets. Fewer anchors with larger salaries. Reporters who shoot, edit, produce, write, blog, maintain websites, and work for less money, factoring inflation in, than I did when I began in TV news in '76 in Tulsa, OK. It's no secret that news departments have been turned over to station management and sales departments. With the advertising downturn, more is being done with fewer people. The average reporters have less experience on their resume than they did 15 years ago. have too many duties to spend more than half-a-day on any story, and must move up from city to city if they want a salary increase. Bizarre stories that are tabloid in nature, stories that former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw refers to as "distractions," are making it on the air in place of anything hard-hitting or investigative in nature. And so stories that I think are important in holding government officials accountable, and explaining real problems festering in cities are not covered, and if they are, not by people who have a history of that particular city.

Do I see some bright spots in this rather gloomy assessment? Definitely "Yes." Today's reporters/shooters are developing a whole new generation of journalists who can work far faster than my generation. They are more diverse--women who have now become the majority on-air, and minorities of all ethnicities. News is delivered from more sources. Yes, newspapers are a dying breed, but internet sites, including those of TV stations, allow you to access print and video in seconds, and respond with your own e-mail and your own blog. And I also see a hyper-local explosion in the media, sometimes in partnership with TV stations and newspapers, where more websites target specific neighborhoods, giving instantaneous information from crime to weather to sports to business news in a very short news cycle.

SC: Tell us what you are doing these days. How can people use your skills?

BL: As a cancer survivor, I've been doing cancer survival speeches since 1992. I've branched out into commercials and infomercials on-camera, corporate videos and hosting "live" events for companies, and narrating for ESPN2's Territories Wild outdoors show for the past 8 years. Video clips from my various appearances, and contact info are on my website at

SC: Tell us about some of the most interesting or exciting events you have covered.

BL: Briefly, the San Francisco earthquake in 1989 and the Huntsville Alabama tornado in 1990 stand out. I did "live" reports on major breaking news for various network affils for CNN Newsource, and enjoyed being in the field immensely. In the case of the SF quake, the Marina District of the city became became a crush of sidewalks and houses buckled into the air from the concrete separation below. I was flown there from Atlanta, and quickly joined a chorus line of anchors--including Sam Donaldson, Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer-- all standing six feet apart and all starting to speak simultaneously at the top and bottom of the hour as their newscasts began. Staying focused is everything, or you end up mimicking the anchor next to you.

A similar scenario of confusion happened to me in Huntsville, Alabama a year later. I was doing "live" reports for local stations from the scene of a tornado that had destroyed much of the main thoroughfare of Huntsville. It was dark, cold, and a steakhouse behind me was a pile of rubble. All we could do was hook up our one light and our phone patch to the steakhouse's electrical box. As I began my report, the lines got crossed somehow, and a guy started ordering: "Hey Mac, I'd like three chicken fried steaks, four baked potatos, a couple of those cobbettes. Hey can you hear me?..." Yes, I heard him...loud and clear. I couldn't turn his volume down in my ear, but fortunately no one else was hearing him. My worry was that I was going to say "We have 16 people injured...and three chicken fried steaks." That guy may still be on the phone today.

SC: Bob, that's funny. And you have to keep your sense of humor when you cover such tragic events. You have interviewed or worked for some of our generation’s most colorful characters, such as Ted Turner and Donald Trump. Do you have a behind-the-scenes story about one of these larger-than-life personalities?

BL: Ted Turner brings back many vivid memories. When I first went to work for CNN Headline News, we were in the basement of an old four-story community center at 1050 Techwood Drive in Atlanta. Ted Turner had a penthouse on the 4th floor and would come down frequently in the middle of the night to the Hard News Cafe to get a snack. He more than once poked his head into the Headline Newsroom, and I was there to greet him on a nightly basis, since I anchored the 3 a.m. - 7 a.m. shift. One night he looked at me and asked "How do you read this stuff every night?" to which I snapped back the reply, "Because you pay me." I'm glad he took that little retort the right way, because I was fortunate to spend the next 12 years there, most of it during daylight hours in much bigger building called CNN Center. Ted, incidentally, still watches over CNN Center. Although losing an estimated six billion dollars in the AOL-Time-Warner merger several years ago, I think he still has a great fondness for what he started. His office is on Luckie Street in downtown Atlanta on the top floor above his Ted's Montana Grill, with the CNN Center in view. As he puts it, "I wanted an office right here so I could keep my eye on 'em, and if they need help, I can rush right over."

SC: Bob, what do most newsmakers do wrong when they are being interviewed?

BL: Most of them--politicians and corporate spokesmen alike--talk too long, repeat themselves, and don't think ahead to what out-of-the-blue questions they might have to answer. And if they say "No comment," that's definitely the wrong answer. Spokesmen need to anticipate tough questions, always dress appropriately and give direct answers, avoiding the stammering and "uuuhhh" pauses that create such a distraction. And they have to be positive and not carry "an attitude." If they address the interviewer (or newsperson) in a condescending tone, or in one of dis-interest, they more often than not come out the loser.

SC: What advice would you have for business owners who find themselves with a crisis on their hands and reporters pushing microphones into their chins?

BL: Keep your sense of humor. Let me repeat that. Smile, keep moving...and keep your sense of humor. Trying to "get even" with a pushy interviewer just doesn't work. They have all the time in the world to edit your comments so you'll look like the bad guy. If you have "no comment," work around the edges of it, saying "I can't say anything at this time, but at the appropriate time I'll make a statement." And if you're walking from a building to a car, or vice-versa, gently move that way, and do it with a pleasant look on your face--even if you're not exactly in the best of moods.

SC: What advice do you have for those running for office who are in a televised debate?

BL: Don't challenge the questioner or moderator. I've moderated many television debates, and when I'm challenged that the question is not pertinent or too vague, I ask the question with a "Hopothetically, if someone were to ask..." and if they don't answer it, I move on down the line and ask the other candidate or debater the same question.

Also, I advise debaters to keep their cool and stick with the issue, not their opponent's personality. I know that's all you see in these shout shows on the cable networks, but you can be passionate about an issue without trying to make it personal. Most people will already have made up their minds on an issue before they hear you, which is why just plain facts with no shots over the bow of the ship can give you the edge over your opponent's loud response.

SC: What else would you like to add?

BL: On the issue of answering tough questions, I had what should have been a "softball" question thrown my way once, and I think I gave an honest answer. I was asked in a radio interview what story in all my years of broadcasting I thought I had covered the best. I was stumped. I was literally without a comeback. Then I told the truth as I see it. There was no story I could say I covered the best...though I may have done a few that came close to the best of my ability. In TV news, TIME is a huge factor. Getting all sides of a story, giving the history of a story, getting compelling pictures of the story seldom happens for a local reporter with half-a-day to get all the pieces in place. But I'm not giving up. Observing some of the masters like Frontline, Nova or The History Channel might just get me a little closer to that goal.

SC: Bob, thanks for your time and insight. To get in touch with Bob or to read an excerpt from his book, go to

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Little Something Different

If you've read this blog over the years, you know I can coach you on how to be a newsmaker and how to craft soundbites. But you might not know that I can also keynote events for you. Here is a sample from a recent fund-raising dinner at which I spoke.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiger Woods

I've been thinking, "If I were Tiger's Soundbite Coach, what would I advise him to do?" The first thing is I would get him to talk. As long as he's staying secluded, we think the worst. And I thought David Letterman had good advice:

Top Ten Ways Tiger Woods Can Improve His Image

10. Crash a State Dinner at the White House

9. Change name from "Tiger" to more adorable "Puppy"

8. Fix this whole health care mess

7. Put on a scarf and a hat and sing Christmas carols with Regis

6. Instead of sweatshops in Asia, have Nike merchandise made in a sweatshop right here in the U.S.A.

5. Retire, then come back and play for the Vikings

4. Safely land golf cart in the Hudson river

3. Release list of women he did not have sex with

2. Find Osama bin Laden

1. Blame Letterman

Courtesy: The Late Show with David Letterman

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Soundbite Savvy from Author, Crisis Expert

Rob Phillips has so much experience working with newsmakers that he makes it look easy! He's worked for several corporations and is now Director of Communications at LifeWay Christian Resources. When I interviewed Rob for a radio program, I liked how he's calm and authentic, yet passionate about his topic. Read and learn from this interview. Notice how some of his answers display his sense of humor.

Soundbite Coach: Rob, how did you get interested in working with the news media?

RP: I was working as a corporate speechwriter in 1989 when our company experienced a crisis. There was a major explosion and fire at one of our plastics facilities. Many people died and dozens were injured. I was pressed into media relations as a backup for the first wave of media specialists on the scene. I will never forget my first on-camera interview. It was with CNN, and I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. I did so poorly that, mercifully, the network didn't use any of the interview. I figured it could only get better from there. I was wrong. I found myself needing a police escort from a news conference after another operational crisis, and I witnessed a politician take over one of news conferences on a third crisis. But the experiences gave me an interest in understanding the news media and they taught me the importance of developing and maintaining good relationships with journalists who, even in rough times, are not out to get you; they're out to get the story.

SC: What is the hardest lesson you learned about news coverage?

RP: I'll never forget agreeing to hold a news conference after an investigation into a chemical plant explosion. I thought this would be viewed as full disclosure by a big corporation, complete transparency and a significant effort in befriending the otherwise hostile news media in this major metropolitan area. I had to make all arrangements long distance, and was not able to arrive until a short time before the news conference. My flight was late, and the rental car company decided to do a favor for me by upgrading me to a gold-trimmed Cadillac (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up). I arrived on the scene at the last minute, where a crowd of residents led by a local politician was waiting for me, as well as a full complement of news crews. Imagine how it looked for a corporate representative to wheel into this blue collar suburb in his gold-trimmed Cadillac. Needless to say, the news conference did not go well and I nearly got ridden out of town on a rail. Lessons learned: 1. There is such a thing as being too accommodating with the news media. 2. Don't make local arrangements with news media via long distance; get eyes and ears on the ground. 3. And by all means, don't accept upgrades from the rental car company!

SC: Those are lessons not often covered in a crisis media course. What do you like about corporate communications?

RP: Two things. First, the variety. At LifeWay, for example, we're engaged in everything from news and feature stories to social networking to crisis communications. There's never a dull moment. Second, I like the challenge of telling good stories in a way that journalists see as newsworthy and that our audiences want to share with others. With the social media, we're actually able to equip and empower our audiences to retell great ministry stories from LifeWay.

SC: You’ve been in charge of media relations for big companies. What is the hardest part for executives to get about working with the media?

RP: Seeing the news media as important conduits for reaching our audiences -- customers, suppliers, the general public, and so on. The news media often are seen as anti-business -- as an enemy that can't be controlled -- rather than as a vehicle for sharing news and information with others. Sure, some journalists either don't understand or don't want to understand business, and a few are hostile to capitalism. But at the end of the day, you still don't want to pick a fight with people who buy their paper by the ton and their ink by the barrel. Also, with the rise of cell phone cameras, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, anyone is now a potential reporter, so business leaders should forever get over the illusion that they can "control" the media. The only thing we can control as businessmen and women is how we speak and how we behave.

SC: How has working with the media changed since you entered the profession?

RP: The two biggest changes I have noticed have to do with deadlines and distribution. Because of cable and satellite communications, the Internet, and especially the social media, deadlines no longer run in 24-hour cycles. They're continuous. So media relations professionals need to respond quickly to inquiries from journalists. At the same time, the expansion of distribution channels has finally erased any illusion business leaders may have had of "controlling" the media. Anyone with an Internet connection -- or even a cell phone -- is now a potential reporter. So we need to make sure we speak with a consistent voice across our organization to customers, suppliers, journalists, and others. One final note -- corporations may benefit from Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media in addressing public concerns and correcting inaccurate reports. No need to wait for a letter to the editor or a retraction to show up. You can respond instantly and effectively through these channels.

SC: How does your organization monitor social media? Are you as concerned about what an individual may say on Twitter, for instance, as opposed to what a reporter may write in an article?

RP: We do monitor what the news media say about us, and we follow the social media as well. Obviously, we are very interested in comments about LifeWay and its people. If we've done well, we like to hear about it. If we've messed up, we want to know that, too, and act quickly to make things right. One of the nice things about social networking is that in many ways it's self-correcting. Someone who places a snide comment in a blog, for example, is often chastised by a more fair-minded reader who posts a rebuttal. Someone who tweets nasty comments often is responded to by users of Twitter with more gracious words. Sometimes all we have to do is sit back and watch. But if we feel the need to weigh in, we're able to do so immediately. The big question about engaging in social media when you're attacked is: Is it worth it? If it's a blogger with eight readers, you might give the blog undue credibility by posting a response. On the other hand, if it's someone with a significant following in the social media, you probably want to take part in the discussion.

SC: You are now an author (The Kingdom According to Jesus), giving interviews representing yourself, not an entity. Which is harder?

RP: For me, it's definitely harder representing someone else -- a corporation or ministry, for example -- than representing myself. The responsibility is greater because more than just your own reputation (and perhaps career) is on the line. But it's also rewarding to know you've stepped into a difficult situation, represented your organization well, and helped defuse a volatile situation.

SC: What have you learned as you promote your book?

RP: I'm never going to get rich as an author. Beyond that obvious lesson, I have learned that when you're "promoting" a book, it's better to talk about issues in the book that relate to people and their experiences rather than to talk about the book itself.

SC: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see newsmakers commit?

RP: First, lack of homework. By that I mean they agree to appear on programs or submit to interviews without knowing much about the reporter, the news outlet, the reporter's angle, the format, etc. Second, lack of preparation. They've got their talking points memorized, but they haven't taken the time to consider the questions they figure they'll never get asked. Third, lack of execution. When they're asked a question, they go straight to one of their talking points and avoid addressing the question altogether. Politicians do this a lot, as do many political consultants. That's why their credibility is so low. People hear them talk and say, "Hey, they never answered the question."

SC: What else would you like to add?

RP: One of the most important things for media relations professionals to understand is that there are at least three agendas in any news story. First, the news media's agenda -- why are they calling you and what do they want you to do for them? Second, your agenda -- what's best for you and your organization in this situation? And third, the audience's agenda -- why will they want to watch the evening news or read about you in the newspaper? And what will they think afterward? When reporters call, it's good to think this through before deciding whether to participate and, if so, how to participate.

SC: Rob, thank you for your time and your thoughtful answers!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Press Releases and Pitches

I have been getting lots of questions about press releases, so here's some advice. Yes, journalists still read press releases, but it seems pitches are made more often and press releases are part of the supporting material once an interview is booked.

Pitches come in the form of an email or a phone call. If a reporter wants more information before confirming, he or she will usually request the press release.

The great thing about writing a press release is that it can be re-purposed:

1. Use them as blog entries.
2. List them in the “Press” or “News” tab of your website—this is where journalists go to research your organization.
3. Print them out and put them in packets you send to potential clients and investors.
4. Link to them in the social media outlets you use, such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Here are ways to make your press releases effective:

1. Keep them short.
2. Have an attention-grabbing headline.
3. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how.
4. Include a quotation from the newsmaker.
5. Have contact information prominently displayed.
6. Put a date on them.
7. Do not exaggerate—be as accurate as a textbook.
8. Do not call to ask if it’s been received—reporters hate this intrusion.

With newspaper, radio and television outlets reducing their staff size for economic reasons, producers and editors are looking for shortcuts. And that means in some instances, your press release—if well-written—may end up, copy unchanged, as a news story.

Happy Halloween!

Don't be a spooky newsmaker! You can be treat to work with by:

1. Getting requested items to producers/editors ahead of the deadline.
2. Rehearsing your answers to typical questions so you don't get caught flat-footed.
3. Wearing the correct colors for TV.
4. Arriving at the studio early.
5. Having high energy and passion for your topic.
6. Sending a thank-you note after the interview.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Meaty Questions

As a newsmaker or guest on a talk show, you want to have a list of questions for the reporter or host. You can reframe these as "talking points" if you like.

I recommend that you have a list and title it, "10 Suggested Questions." You don't want the reporter to think that you're doing anything other than suggesting a line of questioning. Some interviewers are so slammed, they will go straight down the list, asking each one in order. Others won't even look at your list. Some may pick and choose questions from the list.

When you come up with this list, put good questions on it. By that, I mean meaty questions or ones of substance. If you only put lightweight questions on the list, you lose credibility as a newsmaker. For instance, a non-meaty question would be, "Where can people buy your book?" or "Why did you write the book?" You are likely to be asked those questions anyway, so make your ten questions count.

Friday, September 4, 2009


When you are scheduled to be on a talk show, most producers will send you some sort of confirmation. It may be a simple email with the time or date. It could be a fax that you have to sign and send back. At our show, we send an attachment and ask guests to read and follow the instructions. We include FAQ's. Even so, many people don't read this sheet. I can tell because they don't send the required information, or they ask questions answered in the document.

To give you an idea of what talk shows like to get, here's a modified version of what we send confirmed guests.

Congratulations! You are confirmed as a guest!

To ensure that you get the publicity you want on our website and to make sure our hosts can be prepared, please send the following at least TWO WORKING DAYS before your interview:

1. Your landline and backup numbers
2. Your headshot –preferably in a jpeg (also send book cover, DVD cover, etc)
3. Your bio
4. Your website

Due to our early morning shift, if we have not received the phone numbers 48 hours in advance, we will begin looking for a replacement for your time slot.

Note: Please do NOT send us to a website for these items—many times our corporate Internet will not allow us to access certain sites, then you miss out on having your photos on our website or on our TV broadcast.

If you’re scheduled during the TV simulcast (7-9 am eastern), and your interview is by phone, please send relevant photos and/or video to enhance your segment. Our pipeline is small, so send no more than three jpegs at a time. Mail the video so that it arrives three days in advance. Or give us a link to download video.

If you are scheduled as an in-studio guest, please arrive 30 minutes ahead of time for makeup. You will have access to tea, coffee, water and light snacks. Also, we only need your cell number (see #1 above).

ATTIRE: In-studio guests look best wearing blues or earth tones. Please avoid wearing white as a main color.
AUTHORS, ARTISTS, etc: Please send TWO copies of each book, DVD or CD. Our hosts prepare for each guest. Please send these as soon as the interview is scheduled.

Here are answers to FAQ’s (and a few more Do’s and Don’ts):

1. We are live, not taped. We take calls from listeners and viewers.

2. We broadcast to Canada, via Sirius, all three hours. When you use inclusive language such as “North America” or “U.S. and Canada,” our listeners appreciate it.

3. “Simulcast” means that for two hours we are airing both on TV and radio, like Mike & Mike on ESPN.

4. QUESTIONS—we do not come up with questions ahead of time. However, if you want to send suggested questions or talking points ahead of time, we consider it helpful.

5. Audio podcasts of the interview generally will be up on our website the afternoon after the interview. We do not post video of every show.

6. Our program reaches:
· 8.6 million subscribers to Sirius
· 30 million households on FamilyNet Television
· 10,000 subscribers to

7. Many people want to know how they can be a repeat guest. The easy answer is, “Do a great job the first time!” Offer lots of content and energy and you will make a good impression. We promise to give the name of your book and your website IF you’ve given it to us in advance, so we don’t like it when you repeatedly say your book title or website. In fact, doing that is almost a guarantee you won’t get asked back.

8. If you are a guest by phone, we prefer to call you. We much, much prefer to call you. We have been burned by many guests who promised to call and then slept through the interview. We will call a few minutes before your air time.

9. If you are a frequent Skype user and are scheduled to conduct a phone interview, we may want to consider using Skype. Let us know if you are interested.

THANKS! We look forward to you being on our show!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Letters of Recommendation

I've noticed a new trend over the past year. More guests are asking me, as a producer and host of a talk show, for letters of recommendation right after their interview airs. I think they use these to pitch to other media outlets or to post on their websites.

If the guest is terrific, amazing, wonderful, fantastic... I don't mind taking the time to do this. Keep in mind, though, that just in the last 18 months, I have interviewed about 3200 guests. That's not counting all the news interviews I did in the 20+ years before that. So by now, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd.

Time is the challenge for me. First, if I write a recommendation, I want it to be a good one, and that means putting thought into it. Second, the way our office is set up, a short email response is much more convenient. But some guests have insisted on a letter on our station's letterhead. To me, this is asking a lot. It takes more time to find letterhead, go down the hall to the printer, tell all my office mates not to print... get the letter printed correctly, find an envelope... you get the idea. Keep in mind, I'm preparing for as many as nine guests a day, reading books that many of these guests have written, or researching them... and booking future guests. Time is already at a premium.

Here's what I would suggest. Send an email (or have your publicist do it for you) asking the host/producer/guest scheduler how the interview went and if there are suggestions for improvement. If the response is, "She was awesome! We'd love to have her back sometime!" then the chances of getting a glowing recommendation are good. If there is a less than enthusiastic response or more than one suggestion for improvement, the interview may not have gone as well as you thought it did. So don't even ask for a recommendation.

And if someone goes to the trouble (and yes, it's trouble--we have no spare time) to write a recommendation, thank them profusely!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hear How to be a Great Guest From a Great Guest

A one-time guest appearance can so impress your hosts that they will invite you back again. And if you wow the hosts again with your quick repartee and depth of knowledge, you could become a regular. That's what happened on my talk show with Dr. Rick Winer. He's a fun guest because as a psychiatrist, he can talk about mental health issues, and as a sports statistician, he can keep us enthralled with amazing facts and stories he's compiled over the years. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about being a guest.

Lorri: Dr. Winer, you are a fabulous guest. What do you think it is about your profession or background that prepared you to be articulate and able to handle any question thrown at you?

RW: Lorri, thanks for the kind words. Long before I became a psychiatrist, I had an eighth grade speech class teacher who helped me work on trying to be articulate. When I first had to present a short speech to the class, he stopped me the first time I said "um" and pointed out how important it was to try to speak concisely and clearly. I have never forgotten that bit of advice although I am sure my speech that day was rather forgettable! Each day of my 25 years practicing psychiatry, I go to the office or hospital never knowing what a patient might say during our visit. That sure makes me think on my feet and try to come up with a comment or question that will be appropriate for that patient session. Yet, it is interesting to me that many psychiatrists are so introspective that they have to think things through for a long time before responding. The other experience I have had that probably has helped me be however articulate I might be must be my work in high school and college doing the play-by-play announcing of football, basketball and baseball games. No matter how prepared you might be for a broadcast, the beauty of play-by-play is painting the "word picture" and calling the action as you see it because there is no script for what happens during the game itself. If you'll pardon the sports analogy, it's a little like baseball. It's one thing to be able to hit a fastball right over the plate, but can you hit the curveball?!

Lorri: That's a great analogy! Your depth of knowledge and breadth of topics amazes me. It would be too easy to say that you are a smart man. You must do some preparation. How do you keep up with all the sports and psychiatric current events?

RW: There is no way to keep up with everything, so it is important to hit the highlights. To keep up with the sports, I commonly watch shows like Sportscenter while working out, and it sure helps pass the time more quickly when exercising. I certainly try to keep my eyes and ears open for any information that comes along about what is happening in psychiatry. Maybe more importantly, I learn a great deal from my patients and what they consider to be important. Fortunately, I tend to remember sports and psychiatric information more readily. On the other hand, I don't always remember what I had for breakfast that morning! When it comes time to go on a show like Mornings, I appreciate going over possible topics in advance of air time so I can do some preparation in anticipation of the show.

Lorri: You are gracious and have a terrific sense of humor. For guests who may be a bit nervous, what advice can you give them about remaining calm, but also being quick-witted?

RW: You're very kind. I have been told that I have the makings of a wit, but I am only halfway there! Actually, being a bit nervous is natural. It's human nature. More people are fearful of public speaking than death and that might be because they think are dying while they are speaking. But, being nervous to me represents caring about how things will go and doing a good job. Take a deep breath and be yourself. People want you to do well. It's often helpful to check out the setting before going on the show because, in this case, familiairity breeds comfort, not contempt. I would say to first work on being calm and then see where your sense of humor takes you. It's not so easy to tell a joke with the proper delivery, timing and punchline. We all have to be very careful in our attempts at humor and not be offensive. You can be humorous without doing stand-up comedy. If there is a funny story to tell, you might want to tell it to someone before ever going on air. That way, you have it in mind and can probably tell it more quickly and to the point.

Lorri: In your work as a statistician, you have worked with some of the best sports announcers and commentators in the world. What do these professionals do that we can all learn from?

RW: Lorri, you are right. I have been very fortunate since I was a 15 year old working at my first NFL game to be around some of the top sportscasters. As a kid, I would listen to as many baseball games on the radio as I could find on a summer night and came to appreciate and, in a sense, study the announcers. Then, to have the opportunity to work with not just the play-by-play announcers, but also the analysts, many of whom I watched during their playing days is indeed a real thrill. The really good ones all do their homework before the game by viewing game film, interviewing players and coaches, and reading up on the game at hand. What the top announcers do that I also try to do in my own practice is take the specialized language of our chosen fields and then explain themselves in language that the layman can understand and appreciate. Too many X's and O's without talking in plain English will just confuse the viewer or listener. In doing the stats, I particularly appreciate those broadcasters who trust the people working with them and providing information to enhance the broadcast. We need to be team players both on and off the field. Lastly, I think we can learn from those who have a sense of wonderment about the game and the broadcast. I try to follow that example of being enthusiastic and excited while trying to have fun doing the work before me. Don't take things for granted and enjoy what you do.

Lorri: What great advice for every aspect of life. Another action you take that I would recommend to people who want to become regular guests is that you are responsive to requests. As busy as you are, you always manage to accept or reject a possible interview time within 24 hours. How do you do it?

RW: That goes along with my own policy in my practice of trying to make return calls to patients in a timely manner. It is very flattering to be asked to participate in various speaking engagements and it is important to respond to the invitation as quickly as possible. There have been numerous times over the years when I have been quoted in stories or given talks of some kind simply because I returned a phone call or an email with little delay. I also welcome the opportunity to talk sports for sure, but any time I can talk about psychiatric issues, it is a great way to help educate, dispel myths, and provide a greater comfort zone for people.

Lorri: What other tips do you have for people who want to be great talk show guests?

RW: First of all, you have to do it for the right reasons and enjoy it. Lorri, this goes right along with your website because it is worth working on being able to speak in soundbites. That is useful for both electronic and print media. If our responses are too long, our answers will not be quoted and anyone watching or listening will tune us out in a heartbeat. Also, we have to remind ourselves that we are talking with people, not at people. I often say there is the message and there is the massage. Many people know their material, but have a hard time conveying it. Practice can go a long ways to making us more comfortable and at ease in front of the camera and the microphone.

Lorri: You are so right. Thanks so much for your time and insight!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Future of News and Public Relations

I've been a fan of Jeff Brady's for years. I first met him on the night he was the best man in our wedding. He has been a reporter and anchor in the Yuma, Tyler, San Antonio, Shreveport and Dallas markets, so you may have seen him on the air. He recently left the newsroom to start Brady Media Group. His perspective about the direction of news is fascinating.

Jeff: We are a Dallas-based PR, consulting and content development agency made up exclusively of journalists. We KNOW the news: the fundamentals of how it is produced, the tempo, the deadlines, the “recipe” and how to attract the interest of a reporter. We understand how to pitch a story to a working journalist because we’ve been there ourselves.

But what does "content development" mean? Well, by that I mean the media content housed on your website. Do you have a blog? A podcast? A video blog? A digital newsletter? Current articles or press releases? What about a video clip to convey your brand identity for the next generation of media-savvy consumers? We can produce all of that. Out-source your newsroom to us. We’re the professional story-tellers.

The clients we currently target are medium and small businesses that are either dissatisfied with their current marketing, advertising or PR strategy. Or those that have never tried PR in the first place. We come at it from a different perspective, and most clients like the “insider knowledge” we bring to the table.

Lorri: How is the Brady Media Group different than other PR agencies?

Jeff: As you know Lorri, the vast majority of publicity agents have never worked a single day in a newsroom.

The analogy I provide is taking your car to be repaired by a mechanic who’s never driven a car. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone try to solicit favorable coverage in the news media by paying an advisor who’s never done the work?

Not only do we have the DNA of journalists, but each member of my team has a pretty hefty Rolodex (or Outlook Directory) filled with our former colleagues in newsrooms all across the state – and the country.

Lorri: You say that “public relations” has a negative connotation in newsrooms.

Jeff: Name one PR agent whose help or involvement you enjoy. I would challenge any working journalist to name three. It’s almost impossible.

Again – as you know – the typical relationship between the reporter and the publicist is one of grudging tolerance. As a journalist, you typically feel that you HAVE to put up with the meddling, opinionated interference of the PR rep because it’s the ONLY way to get the story.
If there were any other means, you’d do it. Right?

Moreover, during my entire 18-year career in TV news, I can’t think of a single PR agency I would turn to – in good faith – as a resource in a pinch. And yet that’s exactly what’s happening to me and to my friend and colleague, Jeff Crilley. He has a very similar publicity agency here in Dallas. And our story ideas and clients have now become almost invaluable to friends and former co-workers who may need help on short notice. They will call to ask about a reliable source who can speak on the "topic of the day." And we usually come through!

Lorri: What is the future of television news?

Yikes. This is the tough one. Short answer: most major network TV news operations will survive in their current form.

Most local TV new operations will NOT. The business model is disappearing like ice on a summer sidewalk. A recent report projected that 2009 local TV ad revenue will drop up to 30% this year alone.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons – including the recession and the staggering auto industry.
But advertisers are simply following the audiences – and migrating to other platforms. If ad revenue drops, that means the station’s entire budget drops: payroll, equipment, travel, overtime, etc.

So imagine the task of a local TV General Manager: reduce the budget by 30% but produce the same amount (or more) original content – and make it better than ever – to attract an audience that is more media-savvy than ever!! It is not sustainable.

Lorri: News is covered differently than it was when you started reporting. What happened?

Jeff: Newspapers are going bankrupt because they are using an archaic technology (ink on paper delivered by hand) and because they are giving away their best content. (Why should top-notch journalism be free online when the phone companies have trained us to pay 25 cents for a TM??)

Most big newspaper ownership groups are in a financial tailspin and doing anything to survive. Most will not. The reporting suffers when the business is going through such convulsions that it can no longer pay for the best talent. (I wrote a blog entry about “The Newspaper Fix” – you should check it out at!!)

As far as TV, when Walter Cronkite (rest his soul) commandeered CBS, the fundamental goal was to do the job of reporting what every American needed to know. Then TV became highly profitable. Then the journalists in charge of the networks and local stations sold out to non-journalists (in the 70s and 80s), and then it became all about the profit margin. Then the newsrooms became more focused on “what will people watch” instead of “what do people need to know.” That’s why we have so many blaring cop-chases and health scares on local TV news.

In addition, there are too many people "under the tent" calling themselves journalists. Not everyone with access to a TV camera and a microphone is qualified to deliver the news. I fully support the notion of “accredited” news agencies. But I digress…

Lorri: Do you think every newsmaker needs a publicist or a company like yours, or can people do this on their own?

Jeff: Most people can absolutely do it on their own. No question. It’s not nuclear physics. PR is a sales job. It involves making a sales call with YOUR story or YOUR company or YOUR brand in mind. Sell, sell, sell. Know the audience (the journalist to whom you are speaking). Make it sexy. Leave 'em wanting more.

At the same time… with my U.S. Marine Corps training, I can wash, starch and iron my own shirts. But I don’t. Instead, I outsource that work to experts who are much more efficient and effective. The same can be said for media exposure.

Lorri: What else would you like to add?

Honestly, I believe we are on the verge of an era in which most people don’t need to worry about soliciting the attention of mainstream media. Instead, most people need to spend more time developing their OWN media… with the help of an expert consultant, or course!

Have you read The New Rules of Marking & PR by David Meerman Scott? If not, check it out. With increasing high-speed Internet access, more companies, entrepreneurs and non-profits are learning that a steady stream of unique and compelling content on their own website is the best PR in this day and age. So I tell most clients that they need to start a blog and then create a channel on YouTube. And develop a better brand using these new platforms to reach a vibrant new audience. Most of whom are not watching TV or reading newspapers, anyway.

Lorri: Thanks for your time and insight, Jeff. And all the best wishes to you in this new endeavor!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bad Podcasts

Please don't put a video of yourself on You Tube or your website if it's not high quality. A substandard piece tells potential clients or reporters that you will not pay attention to detail when you are interviewed or hired.

Here are a few easy-to-correct mistakes I'm seeing:

1. People looking around, coughing, swallowing before talking. How to fix: The camera is rolling, so start talking immediately. Or figure out how to edit the distracting material at the beginning.

2. People sitting or standing in front of bad backgrounds, such as cheap-looking paneling, cluttered desks, and a VHS-TV combo unit. If you're telling the world that you're high-tech enough to create a podcast, a VHS machine sends the opposite message. How to fix: find a one-color (not black or white) wall or book shelves that you can stand about six feet in front of for depth.

3. People sitting or standing in front of a window. This means you're "backlit" in photography terms, and we can't see your face. How to fix: Move so that the light source shines on your face, not on your back.

4. People leaning back in a chair. Aren't you engaged and passionate about the material you have to share? How to fix: Get in job interview mode for this... sitting up straight, weight slightly forward and ready for anything!

5. People looking everywhere but into the camera. This can make you look unfocused or shifty. How to fix: look straight into the camera.

Use these tips as a checklist and make sure your video passes every point before you post it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Delivering Bad News

While everyone likes to get positive publicity to promote their product, service, book or event... most people are interviewed on the worst day of their lives. You know the story: the house exploded, the investor took their life savings, the plane with the child crashed, the bank robber grabbed your spouse as hostage... you get the idea.

Sometimes you won't be that close to the victim, but because you are a company or community leader, you will be asked to comment on the bad news to lend perspective. Let me encourage you to do this, if asked. You can offer grace and honor the memory of the fallen/victimized/terrorized.

Last week, a son and his mother were killed in a car crash. Not a big news story in most cities, but a minister was interviewed, and he handled the questions so beautifully. His soundbite went something like this, "He was a wonderful teenager, dedicated to helping people in other countries. He was the kind of young man you'd like to have for your own son."

The minister didn't need the publicity in a week of grief and funeral planning. But by being available, he helped grieving friends. He also told a city about the special young man who died.

We've heard lots of soundbites this week about celebrites who've passed on. But sometimes, the most important soundbites will be the ones you deliver in small settings that are never broadcast. Be available. Be gracious. Take every opportunity to comfort the grieving.

Happy Independence Day

"Without an unfettered press, without liberty of speech, all of the outward forms and structures of free institutions are a sham, a pretense -- the sheerest mockery. If the press is not free; if speech is not independent and untrammeled; if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen."- William E. Borah

Friday, June 26, 2009

Huge Breaking News

If you were watching local newscasts or news cable channels yesterday, you had a textbook case of an evolving story. The jargon, much overused these days, is "breaking." It means it's big and it's happening so moment-by-moment, reporters cannot give you the whole story.

First we heard that the King of Pop had collapsed and gone to the hospital. Then, depending on which network you were watching, we heard that he had cardiac arrest. Then, he was in a coma, and then several sources confirmed that Michael Jackson was dead at age 50.

Kudos to ABC. I was so enthralled with the coverage on that network that I didn't channel surf as I usually do on big stories. This morning, Robin Roberts said that Jackson provided "the sound track for a generation." What an apt description.

But what happens to you as a newsmaker when big, breaking news happens? Most of the time, your interview will get scrapped. The best course of action is to be gracious because there is nothing you can say that will convince a producer or guest scheduler to change his or her mind. Follow up when the story seems to die down and remind your contact that you were canceled due to wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson (or whatever story that took priority over you).

Be nice and you will likely be re-booked if your story is still timely.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Newsmakers can take advantage of social networking sites to get publicity. Reporters research blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others to get story ideas and spot trends. Sometimes a short message such as, “I’m going to be on CNN tomorrow” will help a reporter realize that you have a message for her outlet, too. In fact, I saw an entry like that from a friend on Facebook and didn't even know he had expertise on the timely topic. When I found out, I scheduled him on my morning talk show.

Here are some tips:

1. Keep in mind that what you’re writing is fair game for a reporter. Would you want to be interviewed on your notes and tweets?

2. Consider establishing two accounts--a personal and a professional account. Only the food critics care what you had for lunch.

3. Watch the abbreviations. Although journalists can translate the acronyms, they are trained and drilled in grammar, spelling and punctuation. So an entry too challenging to read may have them glazing over your content.

4. Offer solid content—not just personal observations. Be helpful and become recognized as a resource.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Keep 'em Talking About You

Recently on our talk show, a guest brought coffee cups with his organization's logo and presented these to us on the air. Appropriately, his cause is The Kindness Revolution, and the coffee cups had an infectious Smiley Face. In fact, the cups were so cute, so visual, we kept them on our set and referred to them and the organization the rest of the morning. This guest was on for 12 minutes, but he got many more mentions and free publicity the rest of the day.

This past week, Blue Bell Creameries visited and brought plenty of samples of new flavors. The reps had several bowls on the set for my co-host and me... but they also set up in the nearby break room and served station employees for half an hour--until very generous supplies ran out. The reps left coupons and lots of good will. The next day, we talked about how nice that was and how great the ice cream tasted... so again, more mentions and more free publicity.

What can you do to leave people talking? Here are some pointers:

1. Make it relevant. People do bring gifts that don't get mentioned. It's not the gift--it's the fit.
2. Go above and beyond. We expect people to be nice to us--we're on the air. I'm impressed when you're nice to the folks behind the scenes.
3. If you're selling food or other products, bring lots of samples and coupons.

At least one person asked me, "You mean people lined up for ice cream before 9 in the morning?" Yes, they did, and as one who had at least two scoops -- hey, it was part of my hosting responsibilities--it makes a delicious breakfast.


Clients are asking me about using news media principles to take advantage of grass roots exposure on social networking. We are in exciting times... times when we can all be reporters and publicists. While for the forseeable future we will continue to get news in traditional ways... economic pressures, technology and creativity are changing the nature of news gathering and news reporting.

Be on the forefront of this cultural shift by getting a Twitter account to publicize your book, your services or products. It's easy: go to and sign up for a free account.

You are welcome to follow me! I will give short "tweets" on news and soundbites. Click here and follow the instructions.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Details that Derail

When you're trying to get publicity, pay attention to the details. Here are a few turn-offs that immediately tell producers you're not ready for prime-time:

1. Mistakes in your emails or press releases. Proof-read. If you can't get it right on a document that you've had time to work on, why should producers take a chance on you to get it right on live TV or radio?

2. Low energy telephone call. When you call to pitch, be just as high-energy, fun and peppy as you will be during an interview. If you speak too slowly and sound bored, the producer figures that's how you will sound for the guest spot and be afraid to book you.

3. Guest does not fit the format of the show. Do your research. A publicist pitched me for a book last week saying it was like "Sex and the City." When I laughed politely and said then it wouldn't be a good fit since a Baptist pastor owned our TV station, she replied, "Oh, I'm so embarrassed." I'll be very careful about taking her pitches in the future, since I realize she doesn't know who our audience is.

4. Distracted or disorganized. Be on point when you call a reporter or producer. They work in minutes and seconds for a living and will only give you a few seconds before losing patience. Talk quickly and tell them immediately why you are a good fit for their program.

Take care of the details and get positive publicity!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tips for Better Podcasts and YouTube Videos

Newspapers may be dying, but news coverage is taking a new twist with many people broadcasting on the Internet. Here are a few tips to make your small screen debut look and sound more polished:

1. Practice before you post. Don't be in such a hurry to upload that the world sees your first-and worst-effort.

2. Pay attention to your background and attire. Some auto-focus cameras will put the flowers in the foreground in sharper focus than you are. Wear a solid color with non-distracting jewelry. Bookshelves or a backdrop are nice in the background, but you should be the main element.

3. Get as close to the microphone as you can to avoid a hollow sound. This may mean getting closer to the camera.

4. If you have to use notes, get them as close to the camera as you can. This will keep you from looking all around or being perceived as shifty-eyed.

5. Aim for vocal variety. Low energy or a monotone will bore your viewers. Let them see and hear your passion for your topic.

Last, consider hiring a coach to tell you what you are doing right and what you need to tweak. An objective third party can keep you from turning into one of those videos that's passed around for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Public Relations

Reportedly, Gore Vidal said, "Never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television."

And if that's not enough for you to increase your publicity efforts, Alan Corenk is quoted as saying, "Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms."

But not all people like the spin doctors. Robert Fitzhenry said, "The art of publicity is a black art."

And you have to laugh at the lyrics to Jimmy Buffett's song "Public Relations" from his musical Don't Stop the Carnival:

Public Relations, Public Relations
Boozing and schmoozing, that's what I do
PR's my vocation
And I'm a sensation
Public relations
Such hullabaloo

I appreciate the talented PR folks who make my job easier. They are organized, responsive, easy to find when a problem pops up, and they don't push when I say, "This is just not a fit for our audience."

If you're hiring a PR professional, look for someone who responds to your calls and emails quickly, someone whose writing is free of mistakes, and someone who has nice manners. Those qualities will endear them to the reporters and producers to whom they're pitching your story.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Great Example of Following Up

Right after the entry about maintaining media interest, I received the following email from a guest we'd had on our talk show a few days earlier. It was such a perfect example, I asked Joel Zeff for permission to share it. Enjoy and learn!


Thank you again for the opportunity to be on your show last week. I had a wonderful time with you and Larry. It was a true pleasure to be on a show where the hosts actually have read the book.

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the time on your show. More importantly, thank you for the support, help and for the entire wonderful experience. I wish you and Larry much success.

If I can ever help again, please let me know. I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to be a guest on a future show.

Here are some topics that I have discussed on other shows:

Staying positive and passionate during the job search.
Reducing stress and motivating employees during a difficult time (recession/merger/layoffs).
Dealing with a bad boss.
Managing your career through a recession.

I have attached two articles. The first article discusses reducing stress and motivating employees. The second article is about staying passionate during the job search.

I don’t have any Atlanta trips on my calendar right now, but I would be happy to do a phone interview.

Thank you again for everything. I look forward to receiving the DVD of my appearance.

Take care and continued success.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maintaining Media Coverage

The executive director of a non-profit poses this question: "We used to get great coverage, and now it seems as though we have fallen from grace. What can we do to maintain media interest?"

The simple answer is to become a resource for reporters. Be the kind of newsmaker producers and journalists mark in their database as someone who is always good for a soundbite. That means you are accessible, articulate and willing to say, "I'm not the expert you need for this story, but call my colleague, who would be perfect for the angle of this story."

As for talk shows, coordinators are always looking for local guests who can come into the studio on a moment's notice, who offer ideas for future topics and who are interesting and provocative behind the microphone.

You can fall from grace if you tell the same old story every time. Or one too many times you are tied up. Reporters will find someone who has an expertise close to yours, and he or she could become the go-to source.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

C'mon People - Focus!

Please, please quit multi-tasking while you're doing phone interviews. I've pleaded with guests and newsmakers on this issue time and time again here in this forum and in my monthly Media Savvy eTip, but some folks just don't get it. Here's one more attempt to convince you that bluetooth or not, we CAN HEAR WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

Live, I've interviewed authors, speakers, organization presidents and pundits who think we can't hear their extra activities while they're answering our questions, usually in a short time segment that they or their publicist begged for.

Cell phones ring. Emails are delivered. Dogs bark. Pots and pans clang. And a few days ago, a man must have been standing in front of his freezer while the ice maker unloaded a fresh batch of cubes. Was he on a deadline to have a cocktail or smoothie at 7:10 am?

Not only does this make you sound unprofessional, it distracts us from promoting your cause. Instead, we have to acknowledge a loud interruption:

"Oh, the garbage trucks must pick up early in your neighborhood."

"No," the guest answered, unapologetic. "I was just making breakfast."

She couldn't have waited five minutes for the interview to conclude?

Many shows will ask great guests back again. But if you forget to turn off your cell phone, lower the volume on your computer, put the dog out or insist on multi-tasking, chances are you won't get a return invitation on that program.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Whole Lotta Apologizin' Going On

From former Senator Tom Daschle to Olympic Champ Michael Phelps, the phrase of the week seems to be "mea culpa." Did it help?

Yes, it will help both men in the long run, their supporters in the short term, and more importantly, it was the right thing to do. When a newsmaker commits an error in judgement, the public -- and the press -- want accountability. That's what's made the Rod Blajojevich story so confounding. He hasn't apologized.

Tom Daschle lost his chance to be in the Cabinet, and Michael Phelps lost an endorsement or two. We hold lawmakers and athletic heroes to high standards, but most of us realize they are human. So when they apologize, we forgive them. We have short memories. If you would've asked me a couple of years ago, I would've said Senator Joe Biden would never be elected to higher office because of the plagiarism incident that clouded his career. And now, he's a heartbeat away from the highest office in the United States.

We will probably hear from Tom Daschle again. And Michael Phelps may be back on a cereal box in 2012.

Learn from them. If you goof up, be ready to say, "My bad."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Tylenol Test

Dateline: Illinois. In 1982, the makers of Tylenol spent $100 million to rehab the brand when seven people died in Chicagoland after tampering. Despite the tragedy, Tylenol survived and the incident is a case study for public relations students. The spin doctors, Hill & Knowlton offered this advice: "Tell the truth. Tell it all. Tell it now." It's terrific advice for any person or corporation facing a crisis. Think of the newsmakers who would have not gone to court or prison if they had told the truth early on in a scandal.

Now, the governor of Illinois is facing impeachment. He's also a master manipulator of the media. In America, he's innocent until proven guilty. But in the jury of the press, if I were his Soundbite Coach, I'd ask him to quit creating news diversions and learn the lesson from the event that happened in his neighborhood 27 years ago: tell the truth.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cool Way to Send a Press Release

One of the public relations companies that routinely pitches guests to me for my daily talk show has started doing something that's definitely different--important with the dozens of books, emails and letters I get each day.

This company is sending its pitch on a thumb drive. To make the pitch even more solid, the logo of the guest's book or product is on the drive, and a video report is included with a press release and photos. I'm impressed. It undoubtedly costs more to make and send these drives than it would to just send a letter or email, but when you consider the cost of advertising or mailing preview books, the investment may be smart.

The drive alone doesn't sell me; the content still has to be right for our program. But in a world where catching attention is the first biggest hurdle, this works.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009 - Media Savvy Resolutions

Happy New Year! I'm excited that this begins the 9th year I've been sending out my montly e-newsletter, called Media Savvy eTips. I always put different advice in the eTip than the suggestions or observations I share in this blog. But I've had such terrific reaction to the latest edition, that I wanted you to benefit from it, too. The eTip urged readers to set Media Savvy goals for each month of the new year. Here are the first five resolutions:

For January, I resolve to create a media contact sheet. It will include names, emails, addresses and phone numbers of local, regional, national and trade reporters and editors.

For February, I resolve to introduce myself as an expert resource to each person on my media contact sheet.

For March, I resolve to raise my profile on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Tweeter, etc.

For April, I resolve to submit myself as a source on

For May, I resolve to improve my ability to speak in soundbites in one of the following ways: getting coaching, joining Toastmasters or recording myself answering questions on a home camera.

If you are not already a subscriber to Media Savvy eTips, please consider signing up. You can do so by going to my website and clicking on the portion on the upper right that mentions the free newsletter. Or you can send me an email with "etips subscribe" in the subject line. And if you'd like the other seven resolutions, just ask.

In the meantime, have a happy, productive new year!