Sax, Dead Eyes and Videotape

The Importance of Media Training

LathamIt was days before the 2004 federal election, and opposition leader Mark Latham confirmed in 3-4 seconds what the electorate suspected. The Latham handshake – perceived as aggressive, intimidating and loutish, proved to millions of voters that he was a schoolyard bully. It was inappropriate body language graphically captured by the media, and for it he was hung, drawn and quartered by an electorate that had favoured him strongly in the polls. His problem? Poor awareness of the power of body language to create emotive judgements, and of the power of media to magnify and project.

In 1993 opposition leader and Tony Abbott’s boss John Hewson lost the ‘unlosable election’ to Paul Keating, not long after being branded ‘dead eyes’ when looking creepily uncomfortable attempting a Clintonesque saxophone act on variety TV slot Hey Hey it’s Saturday. Having no ability to play confirmed this as a high-risk media play, and it backfired spectacularly.

Recently we’ve seen the fall from grace of iconic sports people across Australia – the swim team, whole football clubs and individual players and officials. Internationally, strong, hard-won personal brands have been destroyed by extreme behaviour – Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius are the most obvious examples, following in the wake of Marion Jones, Martha Stewart and Ben Johnson. These though are extreme cases. Whenever we have an opportunity to interact with the media, it’s primarily that – an opportunity to promote your personal brand and that of your business. It’s also – potentially – a trap.

When Stephen Duckett, Australian CEO of Alberta Health Services in Canada was asked for comment in 2010 about budget cuts to the province’s emergency departments, he repeatedly declined to comment on the basis that he was ‘eating a cookie’. His media performance was laughable – amateurish, petulant and childish – and he was subsequently fired. His reality though, was that he’d felt uncomfortable commenting and had been asked not to do so by the office of the Premier. But there are ways of not making a comment that don’t go viral, and this wasn’t one! There’s even an excellent mashup of Duckett and the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

Again in 2010 – a great year for media gaffes – BP’s CEO Tony Heywood said five words that cost him his job, and the respect of a large chunk of the world’s population. In the midst of the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster when 11 men were killed and 17 injured; and 5 million barrels of crude oil were flooding the ocean and beaches causing massive environmental impacts, he was asked about BP’s response. His answer: There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.

It’s amazing how little you need to know about media to avoid such traps and maximise the opportunities the media presents. A little knowledge, practice and coaching can make all the difference, and that, of course, is where REDgum Communications can be your greatest ally!


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James Freemantle

Company founder James Freemantle has worked internationally in communications and training for over two decades, helping people to experience dramatic improvement in their abilities to express, influence and inspire. Professional sportspeople, entertainers and executives rely on him to enhance their abilities in presentation techniques, personal branding and media training.

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