Griffin Strategies Blog

Preventing Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Allison Griffin - Monday, June 16, 2014

Rarely has there been a time so rich in valuable PR lessons on what not to do. From the racist rantings of Donald Sterling to the deflating comments by US soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann to the farmer bashing by Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley, recent headlines are chock full of examples of what not to say.

"Well, I'm not that stupid," you are probably thinking. 

But have you ever thought about what you would say if a reporter -- or even a friend -- surprised you with a question about the controversial topic du jour? 

Step One in the prevention of Foot-in-Mouth Disease: Be Prepared. Pay attention to the news and form your thoughts about the hottest topics. Read up on them so you know the facts. You might even jot down some key points you would want to make. But before you speak your mind, be sure to practice... 

Step Two: Filter Yourself. In this era of smartphones and social media, ill-chosen words can create a ripple effect so powerful, it cannot be stopped. Think about what you are about to say. If your words would make your grandmother, your boss, your Sunday school classmates, or your shareholders cringe, then restraint would probably be a good idea. You can also choose to pursue... 

Step Three: Refrain from Speaking at All. Whether you are thinking about railing against someone (the little rabbit Thumper's mom had it right when she taught, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.") or just trying to demonstrate your knowledge of something about which you know nothing (think of Jimmy Kimmel's Lie Witness News interviews), you do have a choice. Speaking out is not a requirement. In fact, you might be well advised to refrain from speaking at all, especially if you are tired or have been enjoying a beer. 

In this world of hidden cameras, social media and viral videos, stick to talking about what you know and avoid talking about what you know could land you in trouble. Your reputation is too important to be sloppy and create your own public relations crisis. 

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