Loose Lips

Bookmark and Share

Gen. Stanley McChrystal may be admired for his direct, warrior leadership style. However, the outcome of his interviews with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone magazine paints a wholly unflattering, lone wolf portrait.  “The Runaway General” article is instructive for anyone trying to manage his or her media image.

When I conduct media training, I draw upon several examples of politicians and business leaders who forgot “the mic is always on” during a TV or Radio interview. Helen Thomas and Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown being among the most recent victims. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview now tops my list of how not to engage the media.

Critically, it will be hotly debated if McChrystal should lose his job as a result of his disparaging remarks about his Commander-in-Chief and other administration officials.

As for his apology, it meets the sincerity and contrition tests for an effective mea culpa.  Yet, like so many others (Helen Thomas, for example), it lacks a critical ingredient — the measure of improvement, the action by which the injured party can evaluate the effectiveness of the apology.

There are several lessons that can be gleaned from this error reputation management.

1) Reporters are not your friends; they are image makers. It’s important to remain consistent in your messaging and presentation.

2) You — and everyone of your staff aids attending the interview — are always on the record.  I’ve pitched similar “follow me” interviews — they can be very effective for sharing process and personality. Be sure to provide media training and guidance not only to the primary spokesperson but also those will be playing a secondary role in the interactions.

3) Define your messages and objectives.  Know what you want the outcome to be and plan accordingly.

4) Rehearse.  We don’t call media role playing a murder board for nothing.

5) Stay positive. (Or “Never let them see you sweat.”) It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting a war, deflecting criticism for an environmental disaster or answering questions about a new product launch that isn’t meeting expectations. Showing your crankiness and criticizing others isn’t effective. Leaders take responsibility regardless.

Finally, remember that controversy is the heart of compelling news headlines.

July 1: An updated version of this post appeared in the Capitol Communicator. And while I did not seek permission to share the cartoon below, I trust Mr. Wasserman and the Boston Globe won’t mind the additional publicity.


Leave a Reply