The only thing we have to fear…

FDR

In their key matchup with the New York Giants in East Rutherford, NJ January 3rd, the Dallas Cowboys trailed by a point with seven minutes left in the game. The Giants had the ball just over midfield facing a third down and long situation. They completed a 10-yard pass (or so it seemed) that put them just close enough to attempt a 50-yard field goal. TV replays showed receiver Dante Pettis may have trapped the ball on the field, which would negate the catch and force the Giants instead to punt. Fox announcers Jack Buck, Troy Aikman and rules guru Mike Pereira all said it appeared the pass should have been ruled incomplete. However, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy decided not to challenge the decision, and kicker Graham Gano made the boot which gave the Giants a four-point lead, forcing Dallas to score a touchdown rather than a field goal to win, and they came up short.

McCarthy defended his decision after the game, saying he feared losing the challenge, which would have cost him a valuable timeout late in the contest when it might be desperately needed.

I’m not going to question the decision-making of an NFL coach with a Super Bowl win to his credit, but McCarthy’s action — or non action– can provide a vital lesson to anyone hoping to improve his or her media exposure.

I’ve seen over the years that many highly-qualified experts, especially those who are just dipping their toes into the world of media interviews, are fearful of being asked questions that are outside of their comfort zone. So instead of jumping into opportunities, they hesitate like Coach McCarthy, concerned their decision to be interviewed could put them in an uncomfortable situation, one they don’t feel their expertise covers.

But the important thing to remember is you’re being invited to the interview because you ARE an expert, and while you may not be completely conversant in everything you’re asked, your overall abilities carry credibility. You can always speak with at least some authority. Don’t fear.

Now, I’m not suggesting you fake your way through, but as long as you don’t “go off the rails” and start talking about things you DON’T know, you will be fine. Just answer the questions within the range of what you already are an expert in.

For example, if you’re an accountant and are asked about Washington politics, you can put the answer in the context of tax policy– what you might expect from Congress, how that could impact people’s taxes, etc. Sports figures are notoriously good at this– they can respond to most any question by relating it to a standout play, game or coach from their career. Military people are also often excellent guests because they’re able to relate personal experiences to current issues.

When media people see that you are able to handle all kinds of situations thrown at you, your value as a guest increases, and you will be in demand. And that’s where you want to be.

Becoming a Media Idol

Fox's "American Idol" XIII Finale - Show

The 13th edition of American Idol just wrapped up with North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson winning the crown.  One thing was clear to those of us who have followed the hit program for years–  this season was a lot better than last.  The 2013 version of the show was almost painful to watch.  The animosity between first-time judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey was so blatantly on display that it was distracting. Veteran judge Randy Jackson spent much of the season playing referee for them, while the other judge, newcomer Keith Urban, just tried to ignore it all and stay focused on the show.  To call the situation uncomfortable would be an understatement, and the ratings were hurt.

So the producers acted.

Minaj and Carey got the boot, replaced by Harry Connick, Jr. and former judge Jennifer Lopez.   When the new season kicked off, it was obvious the atmosphere among the stars was SIGNIFICANTLY better.  Gone was the sniping, replaced by good-natured kidding and, especially with Connick, some outstanding musical critiques of the contestants.  The final show even featured the three judges and Jackson (now with more of a mentor/observer role) jamming together onstage, something that would have been unheard of the season before.   2014 was just more fun to watch.

There’s a very good lesson here for you and your effort at “getting noticed” in the media.  Sometimes the best laid plans–  like pairing two divas in a music show–  just don’t work.   You may have what you think is a surefire media plan that falls flat or just gets left out of the mix.  If that happens, it’s REALLY important to shift gears and find one that does work.

The best (and most watchable) guests I’ve dealt with as a TV producer are nimble on their feet.  They don’t just stick to their “thing” no matter what.  They watch what’s going on and adjust their performance to that (and let’s face it, you are performing when you make a media appearance).  They see the reactions of interviewers and other guests and react accordingly.  Being a “one-trick pony” may get you an initial shot with an anchor or reporter, but unless you can bring more than that to the party, you won’t likely be very impressive…or invited back.

Now, that’s not to say you should try to be something you are not, but unless you can see how your specialty fits in the bigger picture, your value as a source is limited.   You won’t be able to react to a shift in the conversation.

I have often cited the phrase by the great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden:  “Failure to prepare is preparation for failure.”  To succeed in the media you need to be prepared–  not just for what you will be talking about but where the discussion might lead…and be ready to change direction if needed.

That ability can make you a rock star in the media world.