Archive for the ‘Media Training’ Category

10 suggestions to succeed in your relationship with the press

March 10, 2010

By Pablo Gato (published in the February 2010 issue of Revista Politics en español)

The relationship with the media is very important, it can often be decisive.  A bad interview can sink a political career. However, knowing how to deal efficiently with the press can raise your prestige and reputation exponentially.  Those who don’t understand the power of the press and the need to be well prepared for that relationship are bound to pay the price of their impudence, arrogance or ignorance.  And even though this may seem obvious, especially for professional politicians, the truth is that there are many in this field that are still not adequately prepared for this relationship with the press.  That relationship, by its very nature, is many times an adversarial one, but often it doesn’t have to be necessarily confrontational.  If you understand how it functions, what they want and how to help the media, you will already have won an important battle before it even starts.

Even President Barack Obama has said that not knowing how to communicate his message well has been one of the key factors in the recent and serious setbacks for the Democrats.  One of the most significant being the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts, which during almost five decades had been a bastion of the Democrats and, more concretely, of the Kennedy family.  This has brought about a quick demise of the President’s health care reform plan since the Democrats no longer have the 60 Senators needed to pass the bill, even with all the Republican members in opposition.  This problem that the White House is currently facing is not limited to its relationship with the press.  It encompasses a wider strategic communications framework.  Polls show that the majority of Americans do not understand the President’s health care reform plan or how he’s going to meet his economic plan’s goals.  Therefore, there is a structural communications problem.  Nevertheless, the relationship with journalists is an essential part of this communication.

First suggestion.

Take the media and journalists very seriously.  Do not underestimate them and do treat them professionally and respectfully.  Understand that they’re doing their job.  If you treat them with respect, they will do the same with you, something that will undoubtedly be reflected in how they cover you.  Unless they have been unprofessional when dealing with you, make sure you grant interviews to everyone.  President Obama has decided to ignore conservative network FOX and this is letting conservatives give their opinions without the Administration being able to respond.  That is, the White House is allowing its opponents to define the debate and the message in some forums.

Second.

Do not repeat your talking points regardless of what the press asks you.  If you do so, journalists will think you think they’re stupid or that you have no idea what you’re talking about and this will be obvious in their coverage.  It is understandable for you to try to convey your “message for the day,” but you must be careful to do it in a smart way.  Using the appropriate techniques, but without ignoring the reporter’s need for information.  A good communicator will know how to convey his or her message effectively, regardless of what he or she is asked.

Third.

When you give an interview, be very aware of the audience whom you’re speaking and tailor your message to that audience.  The reporter is a conduit to reach that audience, not an end in and of him or herself.  Give examples about what you’re talking about to stress your message and make it credible.  Just because you say something doesn’t make it true.  Giving concrete examples does.

Fourth.

Simplify your message.  Don’t speak in a confusing manner.  Do it in a correct and clear way.  So that anyone can understand you.  Don’t use jargon or abbreviations unless you explain their meaning as well.  If the journalist covering your story is not an expert in your field, he or she could not understand what you’re saying and will probably misquote you.  If that happens, don’t complain because you were partly responsible for the misunderstanding.  You did not convey your message clearly and simply.  You did not make sure that you were understood.

Fifth.

Don’t improvise anything.  Practice.  Even the best communicators have acknowledged that their success has been based on practicing.  Former President Bill Clinton is among these.  During the Democratic Party Convention prior to his nomination to the presidency, Clinton received the loudest applause during his speech when he finally said “and in conclusion…”  People were bored listening to him.  He didn’t know how to communicate well.  He later became one of the Presidents who best communicated with the people.  Communication is an art and it must be practiced constantly.

Sixth.

Learn techniques that will enable you to answer any question effectively.  Any person in the public eye must take media training classes.  These techniques will help you to answer any question, regardless of how difficult it is.  When you practice these techniques you will not even notice that your answers are following a concrete methodology.  If you don’t master these techniques, your answers will seem mechanical and not truthful.   I am not talking of being manipulative but of communicating effectively.

Seventh.

Don’t lie.  Telling the truth about some subjects can raise many an eyebrow among some politicians, but if you lie, in the end, will make things worse.  If you make a mistake or there is a crisis, show your empathy and promise to learn from your mistake so that it won’t happen again.  If you lie and the media finds out, they will hound you and destroy your public image.

Eighth.

Don’t improvise your relationship with the press.  Don’t call reporters only when you need them.  You need to keep this relationship alive.  If the relationship is there, you will always have more access when you need them.

Ninth.

Understand the workings of the media.  They usually need access to you quickly and have a deadline to write their article or air their report.  You need to adapt to this or you will not be part of the report, which will make you miss the opportunity to convey your message to the audience.

Tenth.

Never say “no comment,” no matter how bad the situation.  This makes you seem guilty or like you’re hiding something, even if that’s not so.  Journalists want an answer to their question, but if for any reason you cannot answer give them something they can use.  If the press can get a quote, the pressure will diminish.

Obviously, these are just a few basic suggestions.  There are many more, although the most important thing is to learn the methodology in depth.

Sadly, journalism is becoming more superficial by the day.  It’s a daily struggle to see who is the most sensationalist.  That said there are still serious and professional journalists around.  You are under no obligation to grant interviews to those who are not, but if you do be extremely ready so that it is you who is in control of the interview.  The reporter can ask whatever he or she wants, but you control what comes out of your mouth.  Stay focused on your message.

Many times it has nothing to do with defending yourself from the press, but about understanding how it works and what reporters need.  Once you understand this and are thoroughly prepared, the benefits of maintaining a constant relationship with the media will be enormous.

You, your spokespersons or communications specialists must be trained to communicate well.  It’s not enough to think that we can communicate well or even the fact that we have been journalists.  The specific methodologies must be learned.  It isn’t the same to ask a question as it is to answer one.

Surprisingly, many well-known politicians and public figures never get this training.  Later, they pay the prices, whether during a media debacle or not knowing how to maximize the free benefit to their reputation that is provided by the media.  If you had to play a tennis match with Rafael Nadal, would you train ahead of time or would you merely show up at the tennis court for him to make mincemeat out of you?  It’s the same with the press.  You must be ready to ensure you succeed.

——– 

Pablo Gato is the CEO and founder of Gato Communications.  He has a 30-year long journalism career, with 22 of those years on television as a national and international correspondent, producer and news director.

 

Toyota podria haberse ahorrado cientos de millones de dólares: el valor del Media Training

February 26, 2010

A veces me pongo en contacto con un posible cliente y la respuesta es esta: “¿Media Training? Lo siento, no tengo presupuesto para eso”. Bien, si el presidente de Toyota, el señor Akio Toyoda, hubiera sido entrenado por expertos en Media Training hace un año, su compañía podría haberse ahorrado cientos de millones de dólares. Por ahora, la crisis ya le ha costado a Toyota dos mil millones de dólares y las pérdidas aumentan continuamente.

Uno de los conceptos fundamentales que se explican en el Media Training es que lo peor que se puede hacer es mentir a los medios. Se puede decir que uno no está seguro de algo, que está intentando averiguar la causa de un problema o que simplemente no sabe la respuesta. Sin embargo, si miente y luego la prensa lo descubre, se cebará en usted hasta destruir su reputación. Y, por lo general, tarde o temprano, todo acaba sabiéndose.

Toyota tiene un problema mecánico o eléctrico que, con o sin Media Training, habría traído un gran dolor de cabeza a la empresa. Sin embargo, la masa crítica contra la compañía japonesa se creó en Estados Unidos cuando la prensa comenzó a investigar y descubrió que Toyota no había sido todo lo sincera que  hubiese debido ser respecto a la existencia del problema. En ese momento, la prensa centró sus cañones en Toyota y comenzó a lanzar toda su artillería pesada contra la corporación japonesa. El daño que ha sufrido su reputación podría incluso provocar que su presidente tenga que renunciar. Una persona que es nieto del fundador de la compañía, que lleva apenas un año en el cargo y que entró en Toyota cargado de nuevos planes para modernizar a su empresa.

Cuando el señor Toyoda testificó frente al Congreso estadounidense, no cabe duda de que, entonces sí, ya había sido entrenado por especialistas de primer orden mundial en Media Training. Hizo un buen papel. Mostró pesar, aceptó responsabilidad, pidió disculpas inmediatamente y lamentó cualquier accidente causado por sus coches. Eso consiguió que la nota sobre la comparecencia ante el

Congreso apareciera el día siguiente hundida en la página 16 del Washington Post. Si no hubiera sido entrenado y hubiese seguido negando la existencia del problema, la nota estaría en primera página y la prensa seguiría con su implacable labor de acoso y derribo, dañando aún más si cabe la imagen de la Toyota. Y ahora muchos americanos se preguntan: ¿Es seguro conducir mi coche Toyota? Una empresa modelo en el mundo y que había duplicado su producción en apenas unos años, ahora está contra la espada y la pared. Pagaron muy caro el no entender cómo funcionan los medios de comunicación. Como suele decirse, se ahorraron el centavo para gastarse el dólar. O ni siquiera comprendieron jamás el valor del Media Training.

El Media Training tiene un enorme valor estratégico para cualquier compañía, organización o gobierno. No sólo porque tarde o temprano se enfrentará a una crisis y tendrá que encarar a los medios de comunicación, sino porque, en circunstancias normales, ofrece formas efectivas para elevar su perfil público y reputación de forma  gratuita y creíble.

Muchos líderes públicos y empresariales nunca han recibido ningún entrenamiento de este tipo. Los ejemplos del precio que hay que pagar por no entender la importancia de este tema son innumerables y no cabrían en la memoria de mi computadora.

Los más conocidos son los más anecdóticos, como por ejemplo el hablar cuando hay un micrófono cerca y asumir que está apagado.

En el debate de presupuestos de España en el 2003, un micrófono abierto permitió escuchar al entonces responsable de economía del Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), Jordi Sevilla, decir a su jefe José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: “Se te nota todavía inseguro. Has cometido un par de errores, pero son chorradas”, aunque consideró que “con dos tardes” el entonces Secretario General del PSOE tendría suficiente para aprender “lo que necesitaba” sobre economía. Hoy, con España en una seria crisis económica, su oposición le recuerda este tema a menudo, diciéndole que mejor hubiera dedicado más de dos tardes al tema económico.

El 11 de octubre del 2008, en vísperas del día de las Fiesta Nacional, un micrófono abierto permitió escuchar en un acto del Partido Popular (PP) las quejas de su presidente, Mariano Rajoy, por tener que acudir al día siguiente al “coñazo” del desfile militar. Un comentario no muy apropiado teniendo en cuenta que hay tropas españolas jugándose la vida en lugares como Afganistán.

Recientemente, la presidenta de la Comunidad de Madrid, la conservadora Esperanza Aguirre, se alegró de haber podido conseguir un puesto en la entidad financiera Caja Madrid al partido Izquierda Unida quitándoselo así “al hijo puta”, refiriéndose a Fernando Serrano, un miembro del su propio partido, el PP, pero aliado de su contrincante político, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, también del PP. Sus palabras se filtraron a través de un micrófono mal cerrado. El tema, lógicamente, trajo tensión al partido.

En marzo del 2008, el presidente del Gobierno español, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, admitió tras una entrevista con el periodista Iñaki Gabilondo y sin saber que su micrófono todavía estaba abierto, que “nos conviene que haya tensión”, en referencia a las futuras elecciones. Minutos antes había urgido al diálogo para, precisamente, evitar la tensión.

El ex presidente uruguayo, Tabaré Vázquez, creyendo que la cámara ya no estaba rodando tras una entrevista con la cadena Bloomberg dijo “todos los argentinos son una maga de ladrones, desde el primero hasta el último”. El tema creó una tensión diplomática de primer orden y Vázquez tuvo que ir a disculparse personalmente a Buenos Aires.

Este es realmente un tema que afecta a todos los partidos políticos.

Sin embargo, los ejemplos de los micrófonos abiertos, aunque originan situaciones graves, son en el fondo anecdóticos porque lo único que se requiere para evitarlos es ser consciente de que nunca hay que hablar de algo confidencial si hay un micrófono cerca.

El Media Training es algo mucho más complejo que eso. Se trata de ser capaz de transmitir de forma efectiva el mensaje que se quiere dar y eso requiere preparación y práctica. Y en tiempos de crisis como estos, eso se vuelve mucho más importante aún, ya que comunicar lo que ocurre y por qué es vital para garantizar estabilidad.

Estoy seguro de que el presidente de la Toyota, el señor Akio Toyoda, entiende ahora perfectamente el valor del Media Training y jamás se le ocurría decir: “¿Media Training? Lo siento, no tenemos presupuesto para eso”.

Toyota could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars: the value of Media Training

February 26, 2010

Sometimes when I talk to a prospective client they tell me:  “Media Training?  I’m sorry; I don’t have the budget for that.”  Well, if Toyota’s president, Mr. Akio Toyoda, had been trained by Media Training experts a year ago, his company would have saved itself hundreds of millions of dollars.  For now, the crisis has cost Toyota two billion dollars and the losses continue to pile on.

The effect of lying to the press is one of the basic concepts taught by Media Training experts.  You can say that you are not sure about something, that you’re trying to find out the cause of a problem or that, simply, you don’t know the answer.  However, if you lie and the media finds out about it, it will hone in on you until it succeeds in destroying your reputation.  And, in general, sooner or later, the truth always comes out.

Toyota’s cars have mechanical or electrical problems that, with or without Media Training, would have created huge headaches to the company.  However, the overwhelming criticism of the Japanese company arose in the United States when the media started to investigate and discovered that Toyota had been less than candid regarding the problem.  At that time, the press aimed its guns at Toyota and started to use its heavy artillery against it.  The damage to Toyota’s reputation could even bring about the resignation of Toyota’s president.  The grandson of Toyota’s founder, who has been on the job for little over a year and who assumed his position full of plans to modernize his company.

When Mr. Toyoda testified before the US Congress it was clear that, this time, finally, he had been advised and trained by first-class Media Training experts.  He displayed sorrow, accepted responsibility, immediately apologized and expressed his regret over any accident caused by his cars.  This ensured that the next day the story about his testimony was buried on page 16 of The Washington Post.  Had he not been well-prepared and trained and continued to deny the problem, the story would have been front page news and the press would have continued its relentless pursuit, damaging even further Toyota’s image.  And now, many Americans wonder:  is it safe to drive my Toyota?  A model industry in the world which, had doubled its production in just a few years, was now between a rock and a hard place.  They paid a very high price for their lack of understanding of how the media works.  As they say, penny-wise, pound-foolish.  Or they never understood the value of Media Training.

Media Training has a huge strategic value for any company, organization or government entity.  Not only because sooner or later it will have to deal with a crisis and face the media, but because, during day-to-day activities, it offers effective guidelines for how to lift your public profile and reputation credibly and for free.

Many public political and business leaders have never had Media Training.  The examples of the price to be paid for not understanding the importance of this training are countless and wouldn’t fit on my computer’s hard drive.

The best known ones are the most anecdotal, such as, for example, when there’s a microphone in the vicinity and assuming that it’s not on.

During the 2003 budget negotiations in Spain, an open microphone broadcast the comments by the economic advisor for the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Jordi Sevilla, when he told his boss, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero:  “You still seem unsure of yourself.  You’ve made a couple of errors, but it’s no big deal,” and that in “a couple of days” the PSOE’s then General Secretary would be able to learn “what he needed to know” about the economy. Today, with Spain mired in an a serious economic crisis, the opposition frequently brings this incident up, telling him that he should have devoted more than two days to the economic situation.

On October 11, 2008, on the eve of Spain’s National Holiday, an open mike betrayed the comments of the chair of the PP (Popular Party), Mariano Rajoy, during a party function: his complaint about “what a pain in the butt” it would be to attend the next day’s military parade.  An ill-advised comment in light of the fact that Spanish troops are risking their lives in Afghanistan.

Recently, the president of the Madrid Regional Government, conservative Esperanza Aguirre, rejoiced when she was able to secure a seat on Caja Madrid’s board for a member of Izquierda Unida (United Left), snatching it from that “son of a bitch.”  She was referring to Fernando Serrano, a member of her own party, the PP, who is an ally of her political opponent, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, also a member of the PP.  Her words were also broadcast by an open mike.  The incident obviously created tension within the party.

In March 2008, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, stated after an interview with reporter Iñaki Gabilondo, and unaware of the microphone still being on, that “it’s convenient for us when there is tension,” referring to the upcoming elections.  Only minutes before, during the actual interview, he was urging dialogue to prevent tension.

Former Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez, thinking that the cameras were not rolling after an interview with Bloomberg Television, said “all Argentineans are a bunch of crooks, from the first one to the last one.”  The comments created a diplomatic crisis and Vázquez had to personally go to Buenos Aires to apologize.

This is something that affects all political parties.

However, the open mike examples, even though they create serious problems, are really just anecdotal because the only thing that needs to be done to prevent them is to remember that the microphone is always on.

Media Training is much more complex than that.  It’s being able to effectively communicate your message and this requires preparation and practice.  And, during times of crisis like these, it becomes even more important because communicating what’s going on and why it’s important to ensure stability.

I am sure that Toyota’s president, Mr. Akio Toyoda, now understands perfectly the value of Media Training and would never say:  “Media Training?  I’m sorry; we don’t have the budget for that.”

Autencidad es parte de la ecuación

February 21, 2010

El célebre golfista Tiger Woods hizo el mea culpa frente a las cámaras. Fue la madre de todas las admisiones de culpa.

No cabe duda de que Woods se asesoró de muy buenos profesionales del mundo de las relaciones públicas. Todo estaba perfectamente coreografiado, bajo control.

No había periodistas que pudieran hacer preguntas incómodas. Sólo un equipo de camarógrafos. El deportista leyó un guión muy elaborado, donde se responsabilizaba de todo lo ocurrido. Mostró emoción. Pidió disculpas. Aceptó que tiene un problema y que está intentando superarlo.

Todo esto era necesario para comenzar su rehabilitación corporativa. Ha perdido muchos patrocinadores y era necesario poner freno a la situación.

No cabe duda de que el evento tuvo efecto y estuvo muy bien preparado. Parecía incluso que en el guión tenía señalado hasta dónde debía parar de leer y mirar a la cámara, como un verdadero político profesional.

Sin embargo, creo que estuvo demasiado preparado y controlado y por lo tanto perdió autenticidad. No dudo que Tiger Woods sienta arrepentimiento por lo que ha hecho, pero me parece que podría haber actuado de forma más natural, como un ser humano normal. Hasta el beso con su madre al final del acto pareció algo que se veía preparado de antemano. No espontáneo.

Tiger podría haber dejado el guión durante unos segundos y hablar con lo que le saliera del corazón. Mostrar algo de espontaneidad. Incluso permitir un par de preguntas para que no se viera un evento tan controlado. Entiendo que él y su entorno no quisieran convertir su primera comparecencia pública en un circo mediático, pero pienso que se les pasó la mano. El resultado ha sido poca autenticidad y por lo tanto menos credibilidad.

En ese tipo de circunstancias, donde te juegas tu carrera, me parece muy inteligente pedir asesoramiento a expertos en manejos de crisis. No obstante, no puedes dejarte manejar completamente por esos expertos. No puedes perder tu personalidad. La cámara lo capta todo, lo magnifica todo. Si dejas de ser auténtico, esos lentes lo captarán y será la imagen y la percepción que reciban las millones de personas que te ven.

Authenticity is part of the equation

February 21, 2010

The world’s most famous golfer, Tiger Woods, did his mea culpa before the cameras.  And it was the mother of all apologies.

Without question, Woods received the advice of some of the best public relations professionals around.  Everything was perfectly choreographed and under control.

There were no journalists to ask difficult questions.  Only a team of cameramen was present.  He read from a well-thought out script in which he accepted responsibility for his actions.  He showed emotion.  He apologized.  He admitted he has a problem and that he’s trying to overcome it.

All of this was essential to begin his corporate rehabilitation.  He has lost many sponsors and he had to put a stop to this situation.

The event was, without a doubt, effective and well-planned.  It actually seemed like the script had stage directions to indicate when he should stop reading and look at the camera.  Just like a real professional politician.

However, I think that it was overly staged and controlled which led to its losing authenticity.  I have no doubt that Tiger Woods is sorry for what he did, but I think that he could have been more natural, more like a normal human being.  Even when he kissed his mother at the end of the event seemed part of the script.  It seemed as if it had been planned in advance.

Tiger could have diverted from his script for a few seconds and spoken from the bottom of his heart.  This would have lent a needed degree of spontaneity.  Even allowing a couple of questions from the press would have made it seem less of a controlled event.  I understand that he and his advisors didn’t want to turn his first public appearance in three months into a media circus, but I think they went overboard.  The result has been very little authenticity, resulting in less credibility.

In this type of circumstances, where your career is at play, the intelligent thing to do is to ask for advice from crisis management experts.  But, you cannot allow yourself to be completely managed by these experts.  You cannot stop being who you are.  The cameras capture and magnify everything.  If you stop being yourself, those cameras will relay that image, which will become the “you” that millions of people will end up seeing.

The White House Learns a Lesson the Hard Way

February 18, 2010

President Obama has recognized that his Administration is not communicating well.  According to him, this inability to communicate effectively with the American people has been one of the main reasons for the Democrats’ most recent setbacks.  Poor communication equals big problems, be it in the political or business arenas.  Does this sound familiar?

The Democrats are still in shock after the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts that during almost five decades was a Democrat stalwart, and more specifically a Kennedy seat.  Republican Scott Brown’s surprising victory put an end to the Democrats’ super majority and, more importantly, with Obama’s healthcare reform proposal.  That is, the proposal the President wanted.

The White House stresses that the plan isn’t at fault; the problem is that the American people have not been told clearly what the plan entails.   The Administration is now retooling its communication strategy.  It will now include quicker responses to political attacks, a more stringent control of messages and more public appearances by the President.  The White House has said that its communication team allowed the opposition to take the lead with its message and failed to counterattack effectively.  Some examples of the new strategy include Vice President Biden’s appearance in two network Sunday shows.  After seven months, President Obama held a press conference last week – another example of the new strategy.

The conclusion is clear.  The White House has taken the offensive to be able to ensure the same support it had during the presidential campaign.  Everyone recognizes that the campaign communication strategy was one of the pillars of its successful run for the White House.

Another important part of the new strategy is getting the President out of the White House, to enable him to be seen in other scenarios where he is not surrounded by “Washington suits.”  If he is going to speak about the environment, he’ll go to a national park.  If he’s going to announce an initiative about the automobile industry, he’ll do so at a car assembly line in Detroit – the perfect photo op.

You can never let your guard down when it comes to communicating.  You must be proactive and sell your message constantly.  You must define your message and not let others do it for you.  If you do so, you’ll pay a very heavy price.  The White House has understood this all too well.

Bad Communication in Massachusetts: A Recipe for Disaster

January 22, 2010

I recently wrote about the Haitian government’s failure to communicate during the tragic times it is going through.  Today we will see how this doesn’t just happen in poor countries without resources, but also in the wealthiest ones.

The US political world is still astonished by Republican Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts in a special election to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat.  Massachusetts is a bastion of the Kennedy family and the Democrats.  Up until a few weeks ago, the Democratic candidate led her Republican opponent by more than 20 percentage points.  Nevertheless, she lost.  After practically five decades in Democratic hands, the seat now becomes Republican.

This change has national repercussion because the Democrats lose their 60 seat majority in the Senate, needed to prevent Republican filibusters.  The immediate result is that the Health Care Reform Plan, one of the pillars of President Obama’s domestic agenda, is in danger of not being approved.  Or of being approved without most of the provisions the Democrats wanted.

What happened?  President Obama stated it clearly:  bad communication.

President Obama said that even though his Administration’s programs are good, there has been a failure in not communicating and explaining well to the American people the projects’ benefits and advantages.  “We were so busy doing our work and managing the immediate crises at hand that we neglected to speak directly to the American people,” said Obama during an interview with ABC News.  During the 2008 campaign, even Obama’s detractors praised his communication strategy, singling it out as innovative and one of the main keys to his final success.  This is precisely why the experts are so confounded about this failure.  If they had such an effective communication plan during the campaign, why did they stop using it?

There were communication missteps at both the national and local levels.

The first misstep, the local candidate’s.  Be it due to arrogance, excessive confidence or a rather imprudent underestimation of the Republican candidate, many Washington Democratic leaders predicted that the election would be a “cakewalk” for Martha Coakley.  But did they ever have a rude awakening.  These same Democrats openly admit that Coakley neglected her campaign.  For example, from December 23 to the 30, she made no public appearances.  Before she aired her first TV ad, Scott Brown had already aired two.  In addition, the Republican candidate took much better advantage of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Some Republicans say that the Massachusetts election became a national referendum of President Obama’s Health Care Reform Plan and the money that is being spent in it and other programs.  The second misstep was at the national level, which Obama himself has admitted.  According to him, the message regarding the Plan’s benefits was not properly conveyed to the middle class.  Republican analysts state that the plan created uncertainty and unhappiness among the middle class and that this unhappiness carried over to the Massachusetts election.

Once again, poor communication at the highest levels causes devastating damage.  The political consequences for the Democratic Party and the Administration could be very painful.  Those who do not understand the value of knowing how to communicate are destined to fail or to succeed incompletely.  Even professional politicians forget the most basic rules: constant communication, conveying a clear, ongoing and easy-to-understand message.  Don’t become distracted from your message.  Know the audience to whom you’re speaking.

And now, there is even talk of Scott Brown as a possible Republican presidential candidate.  Until a few days ago he was a true unknown in the national political arena.  Now cameras follow his every move in Washington as if he were a Hollywood star.  He is a lawyer, handsome, young, a good communicator, not easily intimidated, who knows how to highlight his virtues and how to best expose his opponent’s weaknesses.  In addition, he understands very well the importance of communicating and especially of social networks.  Is he presidential candidate material?  Who knows! There still is an eternity left in political terms to know the answer to this question. His political experience is limited to having served as a state legislator.  But Obama was also unknown barely three years ago.  What we do know is that the last person to underestimate Brown paid dearly for having done so.

Spain, a racist and xenophobic country?

September 20, 2008

 

If all public figures were like Rafael Nadal, I would be unemployed. What is my profession? I advise individuals, governments and public and private corporations how to communicate better and more effectively.

In general, you have to train, teach, public figures how to maximize their press appearances, how to transmit more efficiently their message and, especially, how to ensure that they don’t make monumental mistakes that can ruin their image and career.  However, Rafael Nadal doesn’t need any of that training.

Nadal is an example of what needs to be done.  Despite being the number one tennis player in the world, he has always been humble when he speaks and never disrespects his opponents.  He thanks everyone who has helped him reach the top, he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal.  He makes himself accessible to the media and to his fans.  While other elite athletes were staying at luxury hotels in Beijing, he preferred to stay at the Olympic Village with the other athletes.  For him, this meant having to deal with long lines of admirers, something that took away a lot of his time. Time he could have used to rest. But Nadal was happy with his decision.  He is an open kind person who emanates professionalism, sincerity and respect towards everyone.  When he plays badly, he recognizes his faults and praises his opponents.  He is such a nice person, that even his most fierce opponents have kind words for him.  As is customary, those who know the most are the most humble.  He has shown that you can be polite and a fierce warrior at the same time.  Every time Nadal speaks, he makes Spain look good.  Aside from his triumphs on the tennis courts, he is an unbeatable ambassador for the country. He seems impeccable.  Perfect.

However, there are others who need urgent training in how to behave before the worldwide media outlets that we have nowadays.  This is what we call Media Training.  Some athletes, with their comments, have gravely tarnished not only their own image, but Spain’s.  Because, whether or not they want it, in and outside our country, they are viewed as the country’s ambassadors or representatives.  A little piece of all of us.

Some incidents have made many people around the world wonder if Spain is a racist and xenophobic country.  From what they have seen and read, and from another nation’s perspective, I am not surprised that they reached this conclusion.  The saddest thing is that this is as far from the truth as can be, but some unfortunate incidents and comments have exported this damaging perception.  And the consequences are extremely grave.

The fact that Spanish Olympic athletes are featured in a photograph making gestures to make their eyes look Chinese is not considered an insult in Spain, just an anecdote, a joke with no intention of harming or insulting anyone. These photos, of course, were never made with the intention of offending the Chinese.  It’s the same as if the Olympics had been held in Spain, no one would have been offended if the Chinese had gotten their picture taken dressed as flamenco dancers.  Even so, I still can’t believe that no one in Spain realized the mistake they were making.  The number one rule in media training is not doing in public anything that you don’t want to see published on the front page of newspapers around the globe.  How is it possible that they were not advised by a media specialist that this could be offensive to the Chinese, who are very nationalistic? How is it possible that no one in Spain realized that this picture would not bee seen in China as a simple and harmless joke?  How is it possible that no one remembered that until a mere few decades ago, the Chinese were banned by the European powers stationed over there from entering certain areas in their own country?  Don’t they know that there used to be posters that read “Dogs and Chinese not allowed”?  Many Chinese feel that they are not getting the respect that they deserve and now, as they become an economic world power, all issues dealing with nationalism are extremely delicate for them.  In other words, it isn’t advisable at all to go to the Olympic Games being held in Beijing to make jokes about the Chinese that they could interpret as offensive.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t have the same connotation in Spain.  What is important is how it is going to be perceived in other countries.  In this case, in China. With this, unquestionably, Spain’s image was damaged in the so-called Asian giant.  It wasn’t on purpose. The athletes of course didn’t mean that. It happened out of ignorance and a lack of expert advice on the subject.  The Spanish athletes and coaches were not advised correctly.  The photo of the Spanish athletes slanting their eyes felt for many Chinese like a punch in their stomach. And I don’t think that it is necessary to expand on the idea that it is not advisable to create a controversy that makes you look bad in a country of 1.3 billion people.

The personal and public performance by the Spanish teams during the Olympics was impeccable, but an incident such as this one was enough to tarnish their image before many Chinese.

Photo:  The Guardian, text of photo: “Spain’s basketball team posing for photo. Public Domain.”

But the problem is that the issue doesn’t stop there.  There have been several recent incidents of this nature that have added more fuel to the fire.

When Luis Aragonés was the coach of the Spanish national soccer team, EFE reported that during a training session he told José Antonio Reyes, a team member, to “Tell that black guy (referring to Thierry Henry, his teammate at the time in the British club Arsenal) that you are better.  Tell him I say so.”  The English newspaper The Guardian, wrote that what Aragonés actually said was “Tell that shitty black guy that you are better than he is.  Tell him that I say so.  You are better than that shitty black guy.”  Aragonés later vowed that he was not a racist, that some of his best friends are black and that it was only a joke to motivate Reyes.

Leaving this incident aside, I don’t have any reason to doubt Luis Aragonés when he says that he is not a racist, but had he been living in Great Britain or the United States, he would have had to immediately resign from his position.  And not just that, but, probably, he would have been sued for millions of dollars in court.  His comments were published throughout the world.  The coach of the most important team in Spain calling Thierry Henry a “shitty black.”  Another blemish for Spain’s world image.  Luis Aragonés should have boarded the first plane to London to personally apologize to Henry.  Explain to him in no uncertain terms that he is not a racist and that he was extremely sorry for what he had said.  That everything had been a misunderstanding.  A terrible joke that backfired.  But he didn’t do it and the problem just became bigger and bigger.  Aragonés needed to understand that it didn’t matter that he hadn’t meant to be offensive, but that the reality is that he was. And not only to Henry, but to many others, no matter their skin color.  In addition to the valuable lesson that one should never utter words that can insult others, there is another one: you can’t talk before the press in the same way that you would do with your friends while drinking a beer in a bar.  A bad joke goes to a very different level if the press gets a hold of what you said.

In Spain, as was the case with the photo prior to the Olympics in China, many people would not consider this an insult.  “He said it just as he could have said anything else to motivate Reyes,” they would say.  But there are two problems with this way of thinking.  The first one is that we live in a global community where anything you say is heard everywhere.  Literally.  And secondly, that those words denote a total lack of sensibility and understanding of other cultures.  Because those are very hurtful and offensive words.  If you say that someone is a “shitty black guy” in a country such as the United States, those could possibly be the last words you’ll ever utter.  Losing your job would be the least of your worries.

A mere few decades ago, blacks had to ride in the back of buses in the US, couldn’t use the same toilet facilities as whites and had to serve in segregated military units.  Nowadays they still suffer great discrimination and ethnic violence because of one simple fact:  the color of their skin.  A racial insult to someone from any racial group is always inadmissible, but to do so against a group that has suffered and continues to suffer such recent discrimination is even worse.  Anyone who hears Aragonés’ comments outside of Spain would think that he is a racist.  And if Spain keeps him as its coach after what he said, that person will also think that Spain is a racist country.  Connecting the dots on this issue is immediate.  And the saddest part of this story is that probably Luis Aragonés is not a racist at all.  But he made the mistake, first of all, of saying it, and second of all, of not apologizing personally to Thierry.  The sports authorities should have taken control of the situation and made him get on that plane to go apologize to Thierry.  Once again, lack of sensibility towards others, ignorance.  Again, Spain’s image damaged before the world.  And all because Luis Aragonés never had media training.  Both from a technical as well as a cultural sensitivity sense.  How would he have felt if someone from London had called him a “shitty Spaniard”? I wonder if the Spanish people really understand the consequences of these incidents.

Eto’o, a member of the Barcelona soccer team, was once about to leave the field, furious at the racist insults uttered against  him.  Something that clearly indicates the delicate nature of this issue.  Perhaps the fans use these racist epithets only because they know that these insults will unbalance the player and break his concentration.  If yelling out “torero!” had the same effect, that would be what they would yell.  But they need to stop and reflect carefully, that for individuals such as Eto’o, this is not a joke.  It’s an insult.  No one likes to be disrespected.  And these are precisely the details that the international press pays attention to.  Fans yelling out racist heckles, the coach of the country’s premier team calling someone a “shitty black guy,” photos of Olympic athletes mocking their Chinese hosts.  When there are so many incidents, people abroad ask:  is Spain a racist and xenophobic country?  The answer is NO, because it sends huge amounts of aid to third world countries.  The answer is NO, because its rescue workers are the first ones to help any nation in the third world that has suffered a natural disaster.  The answer is NO because its citizens mobilize en masse to collect funds to send to third world countries after, for example, they have been ravaged by a devastating hurricane.  The answer is NO, because it has received with open arms a true exodus of immigrants that have come to Spain in search of a better life.  And those are certainly not the actions of a racist country.  These are the actions of a country that wants to help others regardless of the color of their skin.  But the most eye-catching story in the international media isn’t that the Spanish rescue workers arrived before anyone else at the site of a disaster in Central America, but that Luis Aragonés called a black soccer player a “shitty black guy.”

And the examples continue to multiply.  Not only because of lack of knowing how to act in public and before the cameras, but also due to a lack of sensibility towards others.  Such as when tennis player David Ferrer, during this year’s US Open, and unhappy with a call from a female umpire told her:  “That’s to be expected, you’re a woman.  And women can’t do anything right, nothing.  They can’t do anything.”  Ferrer apologized immediately after saying this, but what was published in the newspapers were his denigrating words against women, not his apology.

Let’s look at another example of the lack of media training and the total lack of understanding of the consequences that everything we say can have.  After this year’s basketball Olympic finals between Spain and the United States, Spanish center Marc Gasol said:  “They were shitting in their pants.  If they deny it, they’re lying,” referring to the US team.

The US players, who are carefully trained to maximize their exposure with the press, only had words of praise for their Spanish opponents.  My question is, then:  Does Marc Gasol realize the consequences of his comments?  Marc Gasol is going to play with the Memphis Grizzlies next year, the very same team where his brother, Pau Gasol, used to play.  What kind of reaction does he think he would get from the Grizzlies´ fans if they knew what he had said about their national team?  Is it advisable to say that the US players were “shitting in their pants” when his salary is going to be paid by Americans?  Is it advisable to say something like this when he is being welcomed with open arms by the best basketball league in the world?  What would have been the reaction in Spain if the US players (who, after all, won the game) had said that the Spanish players were “shitting in their pants”?  Marc Gasol is very young and just said the first thing that came to mind, without giving it a second thought. It was a youthful indiscretion.  He didn’t mean to cause any real harm. But he needs to understand that it isn’t the same to say “we had them against the ropes and almost beat them” (which is true) than “they were shitting in their pants.”  These kinds of comments can put an early end to his career in a country such as the United States.  He needs urgent media training to prevent future major mistakes such as this one.  Especially if he is going to play and live in a country that is different from his own and with which he is not familiar.

Of course, this last incident is nothing compared with what Bobby Knight, the former US basketball national team coach, did.  In 1979, during the Panamerican Games in Puerto Rico, he was kicked off the court.  As he was leaving, he fought with a policeman and punched him in the face.  The Puerto Rican government asked that Knight be extradited to Puerto Rico to try him, but he, with an expert legal defense, never had to face charges.  He told Sports Illustrated, referring to Puerto Ricans:  “F—’em, f—’em all.… The only thing they know how to do is grow bananas.”

In closing.  Setting aside those who are clearly racist and that need psychiatric treatment, elite athletes need media training just as much as a politician or a business executive who are constantly before the cameras.  Not only for their own good and their team’s benefit, but for their country’s as well.  Not everyone is Rafael Nadal.

By:  Pablo Gato, Gato Communications

 

 

España, ¿un país racista y xenófobo?

September 20, 2008

 

Si todas las figuras públicas fueran como Rafael Nadal, quienes nos ganamos la vida asesorando a personas, gobiernos y empresas públicas y privadas sobre cómo comunicarse mejor, nos quedaríamos sin empleo.

Por lo general, hay que dar entrenamiento, enseñar, a los personajes públicos para que sepan maximizar sus apariciones ante la prensa, transmitan de forma eficaz su mensaje y, especialmente, que no cometan errores garrafales que arruinen su imagen. Sin embargo, Rafael Nadal no necesita nada de todo eso.

Nadal es un ejemplo de lo que debe hacerse. A pesar de ser el número uno del mundo, siempre habla con humildad, nunca le falta el respeto a sus oponentes. Agradece a todos los que le ayudaron a llegar ahí, no se pone en un pedestal. Es accesible tanto para los medios como para los aficionados. Mientras otros deportistas de élite se quedaban en hoteles de lujo en Pequín durante las Olimpiadas, él prefirió residir en la Villa Olímpica junto a los otros deportistas. Eso significó para él tener que estar atendiendo constantemente a una larga lista de admiradores, algo que le restó mucho tiempo para otras actividades o para descansar. Pero Nadal no dudó en hacerlo. Es una persona abierta, amable, que desprende profesionalidad, sinceridad y respeto para todos. Si tuvo un partido malo, reconoce sus fallos y alaba las victorias de otros. Es tan buena persona que hasta sus más fieros competidores siempre tienen palabras de elogio para él. Como siempre, los que más saben son los más humildes. Lo cortés no quita lo valiente. Cada vez que Nadal habla, deja bien a España. Aparte de sus hazañas en el campo deportivo, es un inmejorable embajador para el país. Impecable. Parece perfecto.

Sin embargo, hay otros que necesitan entrenamiento urgente para saber comportarse frente a unos medios de comunicación globalizados como los que tenemos hoy en día. Es lo que se llama Media Training. Algunos deportistas, con sus declaraciones, han empañado gravemente no sólo su propia imagen, sino también la de España. Porque, quiéranlo o no, tanto dentro como fuera de nuestro país, se les ve como representantes de España. Un trocito de todos nosotros.

Algunos incidentes han hecho que muchos en el extranjero se pregunten si España es un país racista y xenófobo. Por lo que han leído o visto, y desde la perspectiva de otra nación, podría parecerlo. Lo más triste es que no hay nada más lejos de la realidad, pero algunos desafortunados incidentes y declaraciones han exportado esa percepción tan dañina. Y las consecuencias son muy graves.

En España, que los deportistas olímpicos se hagan una foto poniendo ojos de chinos no es un insulto, sino una mera anécdota. Una gracia. Esas fotos, por supuesto, jamás se hicieron con ánimo de ofender a los chinos. De la misma forma que, si las olimpiadas hubieran sido en España, nadie se hubiera ofendido en nuestro país si los chinos se hubiesen hecho una foto vestidos, por ejemplo, de flamencos. Pero aún no puedo creer que nadie en España se diera cuenta del error que estaban cometiendo. La ley número uno del entrenamiento de prensa es no hacer en público nada que no quieras que salga en la primera página de los diarios de todo el mundo. ¿Cómo es posible que ningún especialista les advirtiera que nadie en China, un país tan nacionalista, se iba a reír con ese chiste? ¿Cómo es posible que nadie supiera que hace apenas unas décadas los chinos no podían entrar en lugares de la propia China porque les estaba prohibido por las potencias coloniales europeas? ¿No saben que había carteles que decían ¨Prohibido el paso a perros y a chinos¨? Los chinos se han sentido muchas veces infravalorados y ahora, surgiendo como gran país y poder económico mundial, todo lo que son temas relacionados con su nacionalismo son enormemente delicados. En otras palabras, no es muy aconsejable ir a unas Olimpiadas en Pequín y hacer chistes sobre los chinos que ellos puedan interpretar como un insulto. No importa que en España no signifique lo mismo. Lo importante es cómo van a interpretar esos chistes en otros países. En este caso, China. Con eso, sin duda, se dañó la imagen de España en el llamado gigante asiático. No por mala fe, sino por ignorancia y falta de expertos en ese tema. No se aconsejó debidamente a los deportistas y directivos españoles. La foto de varios equipos nacionales haciendo los ojos de chinos sentó en China como una patada en el estómago. Y no creo que haya de extenderse mucho en la idea de que caer mal en un país de mil trecientos millones de personas no es algo precisamente aconsejable.

La actuación personal y pública de la representación española fue impecable durante las Olimpiadas, pero basta que haya un incidente como éste para que quede empañada frente a los ojos de muchos en China.

        

Foto:  The Guardian. Texto de foto: “Equipo español de baloncesto posando para foto. Dominio público”.

Pero el problema es que la cosa no acaba ahí. Últimamente ha habido varios incidentes de ese tipo que han echado aún más leña al fuego.

Cuando Luis Aragonés aún era el entrenador del equipo de la selección nacional española de fútbol, la agencia EFE afirma que durante un entrenamiento le dijo al jugador José Antonio Reyes ¨Dígale al negro (por Thierry Henry, su entonces compañero en el Arsenal) que usted es mejor. Dígaselo de mi parte¨.  El diario inglés The Guardian afirmó que lo dicho fue ¨Dile a ese negro de mierda que tú eres mejor que él. Díselo. Díselo de mi parte. Tú eres mejor que ese negro de mierda¨. Aragonés afirmó después que él no es ningún racista, que algunos de sus mejores amigos son negros y que eso fue sólo un chiste para motivar al jugador.

Si exceptuamos este último episodio, yo no tengo ningún motivo para dudar de que Luis Aragonés no es un racista, pero si él hubiera vivido en Gran Bretaña o Estados Unidos, hubiese tenido que renunciar inmediatamente a su puesto. Y no sólo eso, sino que, más que probablemente, lo hubieran demandado frente a los tribunales por una cantidad millonaria. La noticia fue reproducida en los medios de todo el mundo. El entrenador del equipo deportivo más emblemático de España calificando a Thierry Henry de ¨negro de mierda¨. Otro duro golpe para la imagen de España. Luis Aragonés tenía que haber cogido el primer avión a Londres y pedir disculpas personalmente ante Henry. Explicarle que no es un racista y que lamentaba las palabras que había usado. Que todo fue un malentendido. Un chiste malo que salió por la culata. Pero no lo hizo y el problema se agravó aún más. Aragonés tendría que haber pensado que no importa si él lo hizo sin mala intención o no, eso es algo inadmisible y que ofendió a Henry y a muchos otros, sin importar su raza. Aparte de la clara lección de que nunca hay que expresarse faltando al respeto a alguien, hay otra: no es lo mismo hacer una broma sin ánimo de ofender a nadie en un bar junto a un amigo mientras te tomas una cerveza que hablar cuando hay periodistas frente a ti.

En España, igual que en el caso de China, muchos no tomarían eso como un insulto. ¨Dijo eso como podría haber dicho cualquier otra cosa para motivar a Reyes¨, dirían. Pero hay dos problemas. El primero es que vivimos en un mundo globalizado donde todo lo que dices se escucha en todas partes. Cuando Aragonés hablaba, sus palabras no sólo se escuchaban en España, sino en todo el mundo. Literalmente. Y segundo, que esas palabras muestran una total falta de sensibilidad y entendimiento de otras culturas fuera de la suya propia. Y es que esas palabras son muy ofensivas. Si calificas a alguien como ¨negro de mierda¨ en un país como Estados Unidos, pueden ser las últimas palabras que articules en tu vida. La pérdida de tu trabajo seguramente sería la menor de tus preocupaciones.

Hace apenas unas décadas, los negros tenían que viajar en la parte de atrás del autobús, no podían entrar a lavabos para los blancos y tenían que hacer el servicio militar en unidades separadas del resto de los soldados. Hoy en día aún sufren enormes discriminaciones y violencia étnica sólo por un motivo: el color de su piel. Cualquier insulto racial a cualquier raza es siempre inadmisible, pero hacerlo contra una que tanta discriminación reciente ha sufrido y sufre es peor aún. Cualquiera que escuche esas palabras de Aragonés fuera de España, pensará que es un racista. Y si España lo mantiene como entrenador después de semejantes declaraciones, pensará que España es un país racista. La asociación de ideas es inmediata. Y lo más triste es que Luis Aragonés seguramente no es ningún racista. Pero cometió el error, primero, de decirlo y, segundo, de no ir a pedir disculpas personalmente. Las autoridades deportivas tendrían que haber tomado cartas en el asunto y obligarle a coger ese avión para disculparse. Una vez más, falta de sensibilidad hacia otros, ignorancia. Otra vez la imagen de España empañada. Y todo por no haber dado media training a Luis Aragonés. Tanto técnico como de sensibilidad cultural. ¿Qué tal le sentaría a él que lo calificaran desde Londres como ¨español de mierda¨? Me pregunto si los españoles son realmente conscientes del daño y consecuencias que crean estos incidentes.   

El propio jugador del Barcelona Eto’o estuvo a punto de abandonar el campo de juego furioso por los gritos racistas que recibía. Algo que indica de forma muy clara lo delicado del tema. Quizás los aficionados realizan gritos racistas única y exclusivamente porque es eso lo que molesta al jugador y lo desconcentra. Si gritar ¨¡Torero!¨ surtiera el mismo efecto, entonces sería torero lo que gritarían. Pero tienen que pararse a pensar un poco en que eso, para personas como Eto’o, no es ningún chiste. Es un insulto. A nadie le gusta que le falten al respeto. Y esas cosas son las cosas en las que se fijan los medios internacionales. Aficionados gritando consignas racistas, el entrenador de fútbol del primer equipo llamando a alguien ¨negro de mierda¨, fotos de los deportistas olímpicos parodiando a los chinos. Cuando son tantos incidentes, desde el extranjero se preguntan: ¿es España un país racista y xenófobo? La respuesta es NO porque envía muchísima ayuda social a países del tercer mundo. La respuesta es NO porque sus rescatistas son los primeros en llegar a cualquier país que ha sufrido un desastre en el tercer mundo. La respuesta es NO porque la gente normal y corriente se moviliza en masa en España para recaudar fondos de ayuda a países del tercer mundo tras, por ejemplo, el paso de un devastador huracán. La respuesta es NO porque ha abierto sus puertas a un verdadero éxodo de inmigrantes que llegaron a España en busca de una mejor vida. Y eso no lo hace ningún país racista. Sólo lo hace un país que quiere ayudar a otros sin importar el color de su piel. Pero la noticia más llamativa en los medios internacionales no será que los rescatistas españoles llegaron antes que nadie y se están jugando la vida para salvar la vida a gente enterrada tras un terremoto en Centroamérica, sino que Luis Aragonés llamo ¨negro de mierda¨ a un jugador de ese color.

Pero los ejemplos se multiplican. Tanto por falta de saber cómo actuar en público y frente a las cámaras como por carencia de sensibilidad hacia otros. Como cuando el tenista David Ferrer, durante el último US Open y descontento ante una amonestación, dijo a una mujer árbitro ¨Es normal, tú eres una chica. Las chicas no pueden hacer nada, nada. No pueden hacer nada¨. Ferrer se disculpó inmediatamente después, pero lo que salió en los diarios de todo el mundo fueron sus palabras denigrantes hacia las mujeres, no sus disculpas públicas.

Veamos otro ejemplo evidente de la falta de media training y de total falta de entendimiento de las consecuencias que tiene todo lo que uno dice. Tras la final olímpica de baloncesto entre Estados Unidos y España, el pívot de la selección española Marc Gasol declaró: ¨Estaban cagados. Si no lo admiten, mienten¨, refiriéndose a los jugadores estadounidenses.

Los jugadores estadounidenses, que reciben un entrenamiento muy bueno para maximizar su imagen ante los medios, sólo tuvieron palabras de elogio para España. Mi pregunta es: ¿es consciente Marc Gasol de las consecuencias que podrían tener esas declaraciones? Marc Gasol va a jugar el año que viene en los Memphis Grizzlies, el mismo equipo en el que jugó su hermano, Pau Gasol. ¿Qué reacción cree Marc Gasol que tendrían los aficionados de los Grizzlies si supieran que él dijo eso de sus compatriotas en Pequín? ¿Es aconsejable decir que los americanos ¨estaban cagados¨ cuando él va a comer del dinero que le van a pagar los americanos? ¿Es aconsejable decir eso cuando le están abriendo las puertas para entrar en la mejor liga del mundo de baloncesto? ¿Qué reacción cree él que hubiera habido en España si los jugadores americanos, que al fin y al cabo ganaron el partido, hubiesen dicho que ¨los españoles estaban cagados¨? Marc Gasol es una persona muy joven y simplemente dijo lo que le vino a la cabeza, sin pensarlo dos veces. Un pecado de juventud. No lo hizo para realmente herir a nadie. Pero tiene que entender que no es lo mismo decir ¨los tuvimos contra las cuerdas y podríamos haber ganado¨ (que es cierto) a que ¨estaban cagados¨. Ese tipo de comentarios pueden acabar con su carrera en un país como Estados Unidos. Necesita Media Training urgentemente para evitar futuros males mayores. Especialmente si va a jugar y vivir en un país muy distinto al suyo y con el que no está familiarizado.

Eso, por supuesto, no fue nada comparado con lo que hizo el entrenador de baloncesto de Estados Unidos, Bobby Knight. En 1979, durante la celebración de los Juegos Panamericanos en Puerto Rico, Knight fue expulsado del campo. Al irse, se enfrentó con un policía y le pegó un puñetazo en la cara. El gobierno puertorriqueño pidió su extradición para juzgarlo, pero el entrenador, con expertos abogados, jamás regresó a encarar los cargos. En la revista Sports Illustrated, Knight afirmó refiriéndose a los puertorriqueños: ¨Que se jodan, que se jodan todos. Lo único que saben hacer es plantar bananas¨.

Conclusión. Dejando de lado algunos que son obviamente racistas y lo que necesitan es un buen tratamiento psiquiátrico, los deportistas de élite necesitan Media Training tanto como un político o un empresario que salen constantemente frente a las cámaras. No sólo en su propio beneficio y el de su equipo, sino en bien de la imagen de su país. No todos son Rafael Nadal.

Por:  Pablo Gato, Gato Communications

 

Russia-Georgia: Who won the information war?

September 1, 2008

Russia decisively won the war against Georgia, but on the international stage, it was Georgia that won the information battle against Moscow. The military action was backed by a large segment of Russian public opinion. This means that, on a domestic level, the Kremlin authorities came out strengthened. However, internationally, Russia did not organize a powerful information campaign as one would have thought in order to defend its stance. At least that’s my humble opinion as I watched from Washington, DC the continuous coverage of the crisis. The result has been that Russia’s image has been seriously damaged, especially in countries such as the United States.

Georgia did the opposite. Its young president, Mikheil Saakashvili, immediately understood that the battle would not only be waged with rifles and tanks, but also with microphones, so he quickly went into action. Saakashvili didn’t only study in the former Soviet Union, but also in the United States. He has a law degree from Columbia University in New York. He lived in the United States for several years, understands very well the power of the media in this country and in addition to other languages, he speaks English fluently.

Georgia’s president didn’t waste any time and became immediately available to all US media outlets that wanted to listen to him. He also gave interviews to journalists from other countries, especially from Europe. He gave his point of view in a simple and plain language that anybody could understand. He spoke of agression, concentration camps, a holocaust and ethnic cleansing by the Russian Army. He compared the current Russian leaders with Stalin and said that Georgia’s cause was one of democracy against dictatorship, a cause that everyone should support. A message that he repeated constantly. Tirelessly. Every day. On live television.

Russia, on the other hand, didn’t understand how important it was to effectively convey abroad its point of view. Saakashvili practically monopolized the message on the airwaves and also on the Internet. Pro Saakashvili organizations immediately posted their support on the Web. Posters, articles, pictures, blogs. 

You name it.  Only once in a while did the Russian ambassador show up at the United Nations to speak on behalf of Moscow. No doubt he was a very skilled diplomat and a very eloquent spokesperson. But his press appearances were very few. Some US media also interviewed politicians in Moscow, but as in the case of the ambassador their appearances were very sporadic. Russia never understood that it should have had an army of English-speaking functionaries available 24/7 to the US, European and worldwide news organizations. The objective would be clear: to counterpoint what the Georgian president was saying.

Moscow should have been proactive. They should have called continously all the international media to give their point of view about what was happening, which was completely different from Mikheil Saakashvili’s. And not doing this was a grave mistake. Why? Because Georgia’s president was extremely effective and with his continous interventions in the media, was able to make his message the dominant one, for example in the United States. The result: his version of events was, on a popular level, the most accepted one. In the meantime, the Russians were nowhere to be found in the media.

I emphasize that this reflection is not about who was at fault in the war or who started it, but only about how the message was managed by both sides. From my point of view, Mikheil Saakashvili took advantage of every second given to him by the press and promoted his cause extremely well. Russia, on the other hand, didn’t know how to effectively react before the international public opinion. It didn’t offer spokespersons, it wasn’t proactive in distributing its message and it was never able to defend in an efficient and continous way its decisions before the world. If the Kremlin had a communication strategy, I never saw it.

It is true that Vladimir Putin and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev spoke a few times very effectively in front of the cameras when they said that they were only responding to an act of agression by Georgia. However, the Kremlin cannot expect that the international audience is going to be watching television 24/7 waiting for these few ocassions when the Russian leaders gave their point of view.  That message cannot be expressed only two or three times. It has to be repeated over and over to the point of exhaustion to ensure it is heard. Georgia did it, Russia did not.

In a globalized world such as ours and with a subject as important as this one, it is not enough to believe that you are right. You have to know how to communicate your point of view. Russian authorities vindicated themselves before the Russian people, but they lost the battle to successfully share their message with millions of common people in countries such as the United States.

And that brings negative consequences for Russia. Europe is talking about sanctions against Moscow. Poland signed a missile treaty which it had previously been hesitant to join. Former Soviet republics put pressure on NATO to join the organization. Many US politicians are saying that Russia is becoming a new threat for the United States’ national security and that measures have to be taken against Moscow. How much of this could Moscow have avoided with a massive and efficient public relations campaign? Did the Kremlin handle this crisis well?

By: Pablo Gato, Gato Communications