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. 

If you can't laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?

Katie Simon - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Every once in a while, there are moments so humiliating and reputation damaging that it’s difficult to foresee any possible way to fix the viral media sensation you’ve created. Last Sunday, the country cringed in unison as 2013 Miss Utah Marissa Powell gave quite possibly the worst response to a Miss USA interview question since the “everywhere like such as” answer Miss Teen USA South Carolina gave during her interview in 2007.

In case you missed Sunday’s round of Miss USA events, Powell was asked to answer a seemingly simple question: A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society? Her response:

“I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to... figure out how to create jobs right now. That’s the biggest problem and I think, especially the men, are, uh, seen as the leaders of this and so we need to try and figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.”

It was certainly not Miss Powell’s brightest moment. Was it personal humiliation? Absolutely. Could she have let it define her, and thus potentially ruin her future career? No doubt about it. But let it define her, she did not. Three days later, TV personality Jimmy Kimmel invited Powell onto his show, where she cleverly redeemed herself – in song, and she had the chance to explain her fumbled answer on the “Today” show.

How you handle a situation is how you define yourself, and in this case, Powell set a perfect example for how PR professionals should handle their clients’ not-so-shining moments. Rather than hide from it, bury it and hope everyone forgets (they won’t), or let it build up beyond the point of no return, Powell decided to tackle her slip-up head on, and that’s exactly what we as PR professionals sometimes have to remind our clients -- and ourselves -- to do as well. Be honest, explain yourself without over-excusing yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. As Tiger Woods said after his far worse moments of humiliation, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?”

 

Always Assume the Mic is On

Allison Griffin - Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Makes you cringe, doesn’t it?

Imagine if someone had broadcast some of the off-hand comments you’ve made to a close friend or colleague over the years. Yikes. Fortunately for you, the mic wasn’t on.

Unfortunately for some very high-profile people lately, the microphone was on and their comments were broadcast loud and clear across the nation, making millions of us cringe. (Think: California Assemblyman Mike Duvall. Former Obama Administration official Van Jones. Congressman Joe Wilson. Kanye West – though he actually grabbed the mic on purpose.)

Whether out of arrogance or sheer stupidity, public figures – particularly politicians –seem to have forgotten some important cardinal rules of public life: “Someone is always listening.” And, “If your grandmother would gasp, you probably shouldn’t say it.” It’s a point I drive home with clients, especially the high-profile ones.

But this PR advice isn’t reserved for the famous and powerful. Even people who aren’t in public life should take these cardinal rules of communication to heart.

Think about the inquisitive ears of children and the things they’ll repeat on the playground.

Think of your colleague who may secretly deplore the casual way you talk about your intimate life.

Think about the inappropriate email you sent and where it got forwarded (with your name still attached).

Or think of that risqué photo your teenager texted to her boyfriend that somehow ended up all over the school and Internet. (BIG cringe.)

In the words of Lyle Lovett, “I realize there are things you say and do that you can never take back.” Yep. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

When it comes to communication -- whether verbal, written or electronic -- use your brain. Don’t create a public relations crisis for yourself. If the words or images would make your grandmother cringe, refrain from saying or sending it. And ALWAYS ASSUME THE MIC IS ON.