Block the football, not the press

February 4th, 2013

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh refused to speak to the media following his team’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 47. The millions of viewers anxious to hear from him got nothing. That would come as a surprise unless you knew his track record with the press. The Wall Street Journal investigated 258 press-conference interactions with Harbaugh and found that he answered only 38% of the questions reporters asked him.

But that’s not to say that’s worse than when he does choose to speak to press. His clear obstinacy to answer questions comes through in his rhetoric. Take a look at one of his postgame interviews and you’ll undoubtedly see at least a couple of his five strategies highlighted by the WSJ in action:

1) it’s the questions fault
2) when in doubt, speak gibberish
3) a question for a question
4) “um, no”
5) “well, maybe, possibly, kinda”

These tactics send the wrong signal to viewers, fans and sports pundits, leaving many to ask questions such as, “is he a sore loser?”

Despite his wanting to control his environment, his unwillingness to cooperate with media could backfire quite easily. If only Jim could learn the art of blocking and bridging, rather than just blocking, he could be a much more likeable, sympathetic, even admired figure. So you might be asking, what in the world does bridging and blocking have to do with an interview? This is a tactic in which the interviewee’s every response should address the intent of the question and transition to key messages supported by the story.

While Jim dodges the tough questions using what we call the personal opinion pitfalls, he doesn’t bring the topic back to his main point, leaving him open for more questions that could lead to a sticky situation. But arguably his biggest media pitfall is his taste for senseless jargon! There’s nothing like trying to decipher what, “Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers,” means (seriously, that is not a made up quote!). Having a skeleton of answers for generic questions, and sticking to them, could save him from reverting to his own dialect of gibberish.

When you step in front of the media, are you going to score a touchdown or fumble?

Posted Under: Media Relations, Media Training, Public Relations
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