Christine O’Donnell’s Interview with Piers Morgan – How Not to Handle A “Hostile Media Situation”
I want to preface this by saying this is not a political post – I’ll leave that to the pundits. Gawker posted an excerpt from a failed interview between former senate candidate Christine O’Donnell and CNN’s Piers Morgan. Morgan dared to ask O’Donnell some
hardhitting obvious questions about her stance on gay marriage. Not only did she refuse to answer the questions, but she accused Morgan of being, gasp, RUDE!
O’Donnell said she was there to promote her book and talk about the things she wanted to talk about. It’s hard to believe a politician would think she could avoid questions about one of the most debated topics in our country today, but from a PR perspective it’s disheartening that she was so ill-prepared to respond to the line of questioning in any manner. The interview serves as the perfect opportunity to remind PR practitioners and spokespeople how to handle challenging media situations.
• If You Only Want to Talk about What You Want to Talk About, Buy an Ad – O’Donnell said “Don’t you think as a host if I say this is what I want to talk about, this is what we should address?” Sometimes at night when I’m tossing and turning in bed I dream of the day when I get to supply only the questions I want reporters to ask my clients, and they do so with enthusiasm! And then I wake up. Interviews (particularly political interviews) are designed to generate discussion and controversy. Reporters are looking for a story. If you decide to accept an interview request, you don’t get to pick and choose your questions.
• Prepare for Sensitive Questions – It couldn’t have been the world’s greatest mystery what questions may have come up in a national interview. This is really a failure of O’Donnell’s publicist, to have not helped shape messaging in anticipation of a question about one of the most debated topics in politics today. Her response was a cop out and made her appear unprepared, bumbling and lacking in conviction. It did nothing to advance her views or portray her passions. Always arm your clients and spokespeople with strong messaging and practice it ahead of time.
• Answer + Agenda – The line of questioning could have served as a great opportunity for O’Donnell to share her own agenda while still providing an answer to Morgan’s question. After being up front about her stance on the issue (we all know what that is anyway), she could have taken the opportunity to reiterate the goals and intentions of the tea party and provided some intriguing tidbits that would entice viewers to pick up the book to learn more. Instead, she wasted the opportunity to sell potential readers on the book, which was her reason for taking the interview.
• Don’t Walk Out of an Interview – The fact that O’Donnell walked out of the interview says she probably wasn’t very candid in her book either – not a good way to promote a book that should be politically charged. In addition, the move shows she’s not confidant in her views and makes her look like she has something to hide. Take a stance and own it, but come prepared.
How do you think O’Donnell could have handled the interview better? What should her publicist have done to help her prepare? I’d love to her your comments below.