The media hasn’t exactly clamored to cover the incredible body of art (ha!) I’ve created in my life. However, I have had enough opportunities to talk to the people in print media and radio/television to understand the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad press.
I’ve also done enough to understand the genius of Robert McNamara’s philosophy of dealing with the press: “Don’t answer the question they asked. Answer the question you wish they had asked.”
The media don’t have the full story when they come to you – if they did, why would they be coming to you? (answer: only if they’re trying to “sting” you or catch you in a lie.) Often, you know more about a topic than they do so don’t be afraid to steer the boat a little. Expecting them to know the right questions to ask in certain situations is unrealistic. The best interviewers familiarize themselves with their subjects beforehand, but many come to the table with a cursory knowledge of the subject – especially when they have a deadline looming. That’s not bad. In fact, sometimes you want to be interviewed by someone who is totally neutral.
Often media people don’t know or grasp your story, especially in today’s sound byte culture. Add to that the fact that journalists get so much stuff that their roles sometimes morph into that of “gatekeepers” simply choosing which press release to print (sometimes word for word) and which to ignore. I’ve found it’s good to determine your message beforehand and make sure it’s said as clearly, succinctly and often as possible (and that it be the last word if possible).
I made the mistake of not following my own guidelines twice in the last month:
One of them was for this interview. I spoke with the reporter for well over an hour about the last 15+ years of bands rescoring silent films in Austin. I gave way too much information with no clear point – just lengthy, rambling answers to her questions. She was left to draw her own conclusions and, like most interviews I’ve done, some of the quotes in it are close to what I said/meant but don’t actually get my idea across.
Example: “Bands were playing their sets in front of an old movie… I knew it could be a cool experience.”
What I actually said was something more like, “Some bands were just treating these shows as a chance to play their rock sets with the movie as a backdrop. I knew the silent movie with live music could be a cooler experience than that.”
Instead, it almost sounds (to me) like I’m saying that I thought it was cool when bands were playing their rock sets in front of an old movie. Total opposite.
In the end, what I thought was going to be a piece on silent film in Texas with other interviewees turned out to just be a profile of my band. If I’d known that, my talking points would’ve been different — that is to say, I would’ve had some instead of talking off the cuff (almost always a bad idea with the press, imo.)
In March, I got a call from KEYE TV asking a bunch of questions about Austin New Year event which was rained out. I could tell it was one of those investigative “chasing the money trail” kind of reports but I didn’t think I had anything to hide so I talked to them. This will make me sound like an opportunist but when they asked at the end of the conversation if they could come interview me with a camera I thought, “There’s no such thing as bad press. Say yes and have your bands’ name on TV!” It sounds totally cheesy but, that’s what I thought. So I said yes but also said I refused to say anything bad about the City because I didn’t think they’d done anything wrong – and still don’t.
I want to add that the reporter and camera guy were totally cool and would certainly be welcome back at my house. Here’s the piece they ran that night*. It had A LOT more of me in it than I expected.
What I said that they didn’t include:
- There’s nothing weird or abnormal about how this went down. Outdoor events are ALWAYS at the risk of weather cancelations. That’s the risk event planners take. It’s not the contractors’ fault that the event cancelled.
- Good event planners understand that most of the time consuming, difficult work for any gig of this nature is done before the day of the event whether the event happens or not. By the time you get there, all that’s left to do is lug in your gear and execute “the show” that you’ve been practicing for weeks.
- I’m glad that the City of Austin put that weather clause in the contract because some entities do not. I learned the hard way twice (two different entities in San Antonio!) and it won’t happen again. (worth mentioning that one of those entities actually asked me to return the 50% deposit they paid me to hold the date when the event was canceled with only a few hours notice and then expected us to do the same event totally free the next year because we’d kept the 50% deposit.)
For this story, I had my talking points but, again, I answered too many questions at length giving them way too much material and forcing/allowing them to draw their own conclusions rather than steering the boat.
Ultimately, the media are the ones in control of the final edit. The less you give them to work with, the less opportunities for your message to be distorted.
(Here’s a great interview with me where my quotes were all nearly exactly what I said because I typed the answers to these questions.)
None of this matters, though, because — there’s no such thing as bad press. ATtworst, that KEYE interview might’ve made it seem like I was wrapped up in a scandal but it still put my band’s name and footage of us on city-wide television. All I heard from anyone about this was, “Hey man, I saw you and the band on the news! Awesome!”
Thank you Melanie and Kathy for interviewing me!
*What I’d like to say in response to the piece:
- I never really heard much else from the City about this and I don’t blame them. Yes, losing $1800 of tax payer money on a band looks bad but — at what point is it no longer worth the City’s time to chase this matter? They named their replacement date knowing not all of us could make it – March and April are always insanity in Austin. I can only imagine that by the time this piece ran, the City had moved on to bigger and more pressing matters. The replacement event happened. The contracted event planners all moved on to other jobs and aren’t technically in the City’s employ at this point. We’d be glad to do a separate date for the City but can’t force them to plan an event just for us. Businesses lose money like this all the time. It’s part of the risk associated with doing business. It’s no different with government – except that their mistakes seem to go public quicker. (Furthermore, I bet the City has put way more money into other bigger, even riskier efforts that didn’t pan out.)
- If anyone felt like I was a jerk for taking the money, consider that I and my whole band held the date, were in town and on the ready all day waiting for a call to say yea or nay. Some of us even cut our holiday vacations short and travelled through serious weather to be back in town for ana event that was likely to get canceled. If the weather had been perfect, we would’ve made $1800. If the weather had been unbearably cold, we would’ve made $1800 and probably been pretty unhappy playing a painful gig and movie our equipment for about 3 hours, but we would’ve done it (and have done it).
- The City’s make up event went off just fine. Austin may not have gotten quite the event it hoped for but it was an equivalent one with way better weather!