Let me start by saying that this is a non-partisan commentary. On Monday, Paul Ryan was interviewed by a reporter with ABC12 in Flint, Michigan. Like all good broadcast interviews, the topic quickly changed. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his public relations handler didn’t like the direction and instantly ended the interview. See it here on BuzzFeed. I have written about this topic before and am always drawn to the abruptly ended interview. Mostly because it makes the person who walked off look ill prepared and silly.
Mr. Ryan was engaged in an interview discussing gun laws. He successfully talked about the need to enforce the current laws. He called it a crime problem, not a gun problem. He then went on to explain the need for improved services in inner cities and that more should be done to address what is at the heart of the crime problem. All good.
The reporter then asked how that would be possible while cutting taxes. Cue the flak who then interrupted and said that the interview was over. Ryan appeared appalled and accused the reporter of putting those words in his mouth and said that was a “strange question.” Not really. A strange question would be something like “boxers or briefs?”
Ok, you are running for a high profile political office. You will likely have hundreds of press interviews. The topics you need to be prepared to respond to are always going to be, well, everything. If you are the Republican vice presidential candidate, you can safely assume that hot topics will include taxes, guns, abortion and your marathon time. It appears that in this recent interview, Ryan’s prep for a tax-related question was to be pulled off stage.
To be fair, Paul Ryan’s campaign responded to follow-up media queries with the following clarification “Eventually you’re going to see a local reporter embarrass himself.” Well played. Always blame the reporter. I recall that this worked well when Sarah Palin blamed Katie Couric for her tough line of questioning, which included asking what Ms. Palin read on a regular basis.
Let’s apply Ryan’s performance to the business world. When senior executives are going to be interviewed by the media, they need to be prepared for everything that has to do with their company and industry. But they also need to be prepared for anything that is in the public domain, or would eventually become public.
The right preparation for any interview should include the basics of the subject you are scheduled to discuss. But as a business leader or other spokesperson, you need to assess what could be asked. How do we figure that out? First, look at the paper and see what’s being said about you or the firm and your competitors. Next, think about any industry or regulatory issues. You also need to consider what you have talked about in the past. Topics that you have been on the record about are also fair game. Have an answer.
Paul Ryan blew an opportunity to discuss his platform. The word “taxes” was uttered and mics were ripped off. So instead of everyone discussing Romney/Ryan’s proposed budget plan, the story is now Paul Ryan lost his cool, blamed the reporter and now looks like the kid who walked off the playground and took his ball home.
Melissa Daly has worked in media relations and financial communications for nearly 20 years. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a strategic consulting firm, after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents.