On a recent trip out of town, a participant at one of my training sessions asked me whether I thought my media training program would help Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
I said I didn’t think so. And the reasons are quite simple.
Regardless of whether you come from the traditional school of media training, which teaches people to stay on message or constantly bridge to messages, or a more balanced approach (which I advocate), which teaches spokespeople to manage exchanges with journalists to win-win outcomes, every media trainer I’ve met agrees with Mark Twain.
Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and newsprint by the tonne. Or, in today’s vernacular, don’t pick a fight with someone who has unlimited bandwidth and millions of daily dedicated eyeballs.
In September, 2012, Rob Ford and his brother, Toronto councillor Doug Ford, took to the radio airwaves to spend an hour criticizing Toronto media for their coverage of a variety of issues—the mayor’s economic development trip to Chicago, how he was allegedly using his office’s resources to run the football team he coaches, and his request to speed up road repairs near his family business.
And the brothers were criticizing Toronto’s journalists even before the mayor called the head of the Toronto Transit Commission to ask about buses for his football team, or an Ontario Supreme Court judge ruled that the mayor was in conflict of interest.
There are three or four conditions on which media training could help Mr. Ford. First, he has to realize that he is not above conflict of interest guidelines. Second, he has to wait his turn like everyone else. Third, any media training would need to convince him to stop talking once he’s answered a question (which is generally where he, like most other spokespeople, gets into trouble).
Finally, stop picking fights you simply cannot or will not win.
Copyright © 2013 Eric Bergman All Rights Reserved