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Christine O’Donnell’s Interview with Piers Morgan – How Not to Handle A “Hostile Media Situation”

August 18, 2011

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2011 12:34 pm

    I actually think she did exactly what she should have in this situation. Does she look poorly in the eyes of the general public? Sure. But how long do you have your client sitting there while the interviewer continues to ask the same question? She mentioned that she addresses that topic in her book and that she would rather concentrate on other issues/topics. I think that’s the route you go. You could tell Morgan was digging for her to answer and the interview would have likely gone down the wrong path had O’Donnell answered.

    I think it was a no-win situation for O’Donnell. Get your client out of there and move on to the next interview.

    • communikaytrix permalink*
      August 18, 2011 2:29 pm

      Kasey,

      Thanks for commenting! I understand your point, but disagree. She could have easily eased out of answering the question while sharing her agenda, but as a political figure she needs to be able to speak to the issues. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Piers is going to ask the tough questions. If she didn’t want to go there, she shouldn’t have taken the interview in the first place. She wasn’t prepared, which is media training 101. Calling the interviewer rude isn’t the way to tackle it. I think it was a total fail on her part and the part of her publicist. The question was completely reasonable.

      Rachel

  2. August 18, 2011 1:35 pm

    I don’t understand this expectation of interviews as advertisements. Had she done the things you point out ahead of time, Rachel, I think she could have handled this a little better. With some prep, she could have answered Pierce’s question briefly and moved and segued into what she wanted to talk about. By putting up the wall and walking out, she didn’t get to talk about anything. At least if she’d given a quick answer, it would be Pierce looking like more of the ass here.

    • communikaytrix permalink*
      August 18, 2011 2:31 pm

      Jen,

      Absolutely. It’s unreasonable to believe that CNN brought her on simply to share what she wanted without questioning. That’s basic stuff. You couldn’t have said it better.

      Rachel

  3. August 19, 2011 9:52 am

    I thought it was really bizarre behavior. What I found particularly amusing was that before walking off, she mentioned the event she “chose” to be “a little late” to… which made me wonder about her team’s scheduling abilities, and definitely those on the media training side as well.

    I will say that I didn’t think Piers Morgan was hostile at all (and I know you weren’t implying in that in the headline). I thought he conducted himself really well, actually. Someone like Bill O’Reilly is far, far worse and really can be hostile. But then, the situation wouldn’t have arisen if it had been his show, would it?

  4. August 19, 2011 2:13 pm

    I think she comes off very clueless and definitely not prepared to run in or be in any kind of political office. I am absolutely amazed that her P.R. folks, publicist, media coach or whomever, wouldn’t have prepared her better. I mean just a little basic INTERVIEW do’s and don’ts would have gone a long way for her.
    When you get booked on a show regarding your new book, ALL the topics in your new book are generally up for grabs!!
    And it’s absolutely asinine to think that you can go on someone else’s show and literally direct how they do the interview!
    That is NOT how things work.
    I was a TV NEWS Anchor/Reporter for years and though folks said they wanted interviews to go a certain way, I always let them know that I was going to have to ask the TOUGH questions that they may not want to address but in the long run, it’s always best that you do and in NO CIRCUMSTANCE, unless DEATH is imminent should you leave a LIVE interview. You come off looking childish & downright spoiled and a bit ignorant.
    Also, I think Piers Morgan handled the interview very professionally. Not rude at all.
    Shaking my head in disbelief!!

  5. August 19, 2011 2:43 pm

    Part of handling an interview professionally and well is being prepared for an interviewer’s questions. “Talking points” or prepared questions don’t normally figure into the mix.

    Anyone with a similar background or experience should be able to address presented questions. Part of the preparation is understanding who the interviewer is, the audience, type/format of the program, and how the line of questions may go — in anticipation, for best results.

    I have observed several folks abruptly end interviews on national television quite a lot over the last few years. Not an effective means of communication.

    Clarification Point: My comments are directly strictly at the mechanics of an interview, proper procedure, for effective results — not in any way intended to be political. Adequate advance preparation can avert this from happening, because a polished presenter, speaker, and/or interviewee understands going into any interview situation the only promise or guarantee they have on the outcome of the experience is how they will conduct themselves.

  6. August 30, 2011 12:32 pm

    An elected official (such as me) is always in the public eye — regardless whether this or that topic is the assumed topic to talk about. An author is no different; if you are promoting your book, you are available and willing to discuss anything in it.

    Tsk on her.

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