Don’t Quote Me on That: Why Political Advisors Can Interact with Reporters in Ways that Marcomm Folks Can’t

August 13, 2012 // By: // No Comments

Traditional Media     

If someone gave me a quarter every time I’ve been asked to contact a reporter to review my client’s quotes in an upcoming article— or to ask a reporter to email me a final draft of the article for approval — I’d be playing the slots in Vegas from dusk to dawn.

When our clients and their higher-ups make such inquiries, I politely explain that asking reporters to share such information is tantamount to asking them to reveal their favorite color of underwear or the size of their paycheck. So surely there was some head scratching going on when The New York Times ran a front-page article in mid-July revealing that the press offices for the Obama and Romney campaigns routinely review and edit quotes and have “veto power over what statements can be quoted…”

Hmm… So maybe it is OK to ask reporters about their favorite color of underwear — or to demand that they share final drafts of articles and accompanying quotes with PR and marketing communications folks like me, so we can have final say on what actually gets published.

It sounds like heaven on earth to brand managers and marketers of all stripes: they can insert lots of key messages, mention the brand name at least five times and remove any negative references about product recalls or that class-action lawsuit from ten years ago that just about everyone forgot about.

But back to reality. Even the Obama and Romney campaigns don’t have the power to edit and re-write articles. But hey, re-shaping quotes to remove the slightest hint of anything provocative or silly is a heck of a lot better than nothing. So why can political advisors and strategists get away with this but marcomm pros can’t?

Not surprisingly, it’s all about power. Simply put, who has the upper hand: the marcomm person or the reporter?  In a presidential race, political reporters need access to high-level campaign advisors the way a smoker needs access to cigarettes. Conversely, reporters’ careers do not rise and fall on whether they’re the first to break the news about the latest candy bar to hit the market, or the most recent advances in the fight against gingivitis.

So there you have it: political advisors and marcomm folks play by very different rules when dealing with reporters. That said, the bruising, rough-and-tumble world of politics offers some useful do’s and don’ts on handling media interviews that apply to any marketer — or anyone else sitting across the table from a reporter:

Never repeat the negative: When Richard Nixon was asked if he was a crook, he replied by insisting “I am not a crook.” The word “crook” is what the public heard and remembered.

Instead, accentuate the positive: A picture is worth a thousand words; same goes for a good 54-second Youtube clip. Listen carefully to Tom Brokaw’s provocative questions and statements, followed by Al Gore’s responses.

Don’t commit to a number:  Have you ever told a friend or co-worker that you have three things to say, but then your mind goes blank on that elusive third thing? Surely Rick Perry knows the feeling. So in a television interview, always tell the reporter and viewers at home that you have a few points to make, rather than three points to make. If you forget the third point, nobody will know except you.


About the Author

Jason Winocour

An agency partner at Hunter Public Relations, Jason taps into his 20 years of PR experience in the government, not-for-profit and for-profit sectors in overseeing Hunter PR’s media department.
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