#114. Broden Communications coaches figures ranging from C-suite executives and athletes to celebrities and job applicants on persuasive communication and media skills. We talk with founder Dan Broden about his work training executives on how to best navigate the press. Pressed Juice, a podcast by Loose Threads, talks with the journalists and PR leaders navigating this fast-changing industry about what warrants coverage today, how the media goes about covering it, and how both journalists and PR professionals define their relationship with brands throughout the process.

Check out the full transcript below.

Dan: [00:00:02] The point is no longer be heard, because you’re gonna be heard. The point is, be heard accurately. Get the message that you want to get across that impacts your audience.

Richie: [00:00:17] That’s Dan Broden, founder of Broden Communications, which coaches executives and public figures on persuasive communication and media skills. After teaching English to Japanese executives and attending law school, Dan’s nearly-ten-year career as a broadcaster and legal analyst on Court TV led him to the world of media training.

Richie: [00:00:34] I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:54] This is the first episode of Pressed Juice, the fourth show in the Loose Threads Podcast Network, where we talk with the journalists, editors, and PR leaders navigating the consumer economy. As the space rapidly evolves, so has the role of the press, going from a brand’s gatekeeper to now one among many channels it has to grow. Even so, the press still plays an important role, and I was excited to talk with Dan about his work training executives on how best to navigate the media landscape, given his experience on both sides of the table.

Richie: [00:01:21] Welcome to the world of media training.

Dan: [00:01:23] As far as I remember, it was a landscape in which the consequences of either saying something negative about one’s company or positive were not nearly as powerful as they are now. And it was a new idea to actually prep people for facing the media. And, in fact, it was somewhat looked down on, the idea of you can prepare for a Q & A. Questions get lobbed at you and somehow you should be prepared, especially to tell your own story, regardless of the questions. And at the time, that was really looked down upon, because it immediately made people think that this is a profession that teaches people to be like politicians, or like the politicians who drive us nuts when they don’t answer questions. They evade. And that was happening a lot at the time, and it drove us all crazy to watch folks on TV being interviewed, Sunday morning talk shows, what have you. Don’t like the question? Don’t even acknowledge its existence, go over to something else that they want to talk about.

Dan: [00:02:32] So it was around that time that this idea of preparing people, so that they don’t come across like that, they don’t come across as evasive, and that they are actually taking advantage of every one of these opportunities. That was born right around then. I probably got into the field five, six years after the whole concept began.

Richie: [00:02:53] If you went back and looked at transcripts or news articles before this time—which I guess is kind of end-of-the-20th-century-ish—would it sound like people were more honest or transparent, or was it almost so they were on the extremes? In terms of, they were either incredibly honest to a fault or they were so evasive that they didn’t…Do you see that when you go look back at commentary and discussion?

Dan: [00:03:13] I do. I see much more of an extreme back then. And this was also a time when—even though the media still has not looked at in the best light these days—that there was even more of a negative bent, meaning that the media was thought of as a thing to avoid. Because reporters like to trap, journalists like to trap you, to get you to say things that you never wanted to say, that you shouldn’t say. To twist your words. We’ve always heard about, “I got misquoted. My words got taken out of context.”.

Dan: [00:03:45] That happened much more when I got started with this, where it was a reporter’s job to trap. And I remember that when I first got into the field I was taught to teach people that there were a number of different kinds of trapping reporters, and we gave them labels, like “the machine gunner,” the one who asked several questions all at once. “The paraphraser,” the one who puts things in his or her own words, usually not accurate, and you say “yes” and you get misinterpreted. “The pauser.” That’s the one who after you answer a question of theirs, they stay silent, and we’re so uncomfortable with silence still that we usually fill, and say something that we never planned on saying. So those traps were very existent back then, and it was part of a journalist’s job to do that in order to get one of the extremes that we’re talking of.

Richie: [00:04:44] Did you feel that in your own work at Court TV, previously?

Dan: [00:04:47] I did. I felt a pressure—not necessarily from my bosses, but from other reporters—to do that in order to get somewhat of a sensational response. I will always remember there was a time that I was with a fellow reporter. We were together covering a trial in some small city, and I’m not going to even give this person a gender, but this reporter interviewed a lawyer, and after the interview was quote-unquote “over,” the cameraman walked away. But, as I found out later, the reporter told that camera man, “Keep your camera trained on this lawyer,” and in the next three, four, five minutes this reporter made this interviewee, this lawyer, say things that he never would have said because he thought this was all off the record. Post interview, that kind of a thing. And this reporter used it against that lawyer. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But that happened—not all the time, but that happened, and it was actually one of the main reasons I got out of that field into this one, because it was such a turnoff to me.

Richie: [00:06:02] What do you think about that moment? Because anyone around any sort of recorded medium always experiences it; which is, you know, the second someone hits record you stiff up and the second you hit pause everyone relaxes again. And it always feels like—even on this show, and often with a lot of founders—the second you stop, the conversation gets so good.

Dan: [00:06:20] That’s exactly right, and that’s what this colleague of mine took advantage of, and it still happens. And it’s why I, and just about any other media trainer you will meet, will always advise clients never to say anything off the record, that there’s no such thing as, “off the record.” There is, if you establish a good relationship with a journalist, and you can trust them, of course. But back then especially we were always advising folks to never accept the quote-unquote “off the record” admonition from the reporter because anything you say could be quoted.

Richie: [00:07:01] It seems like also when you look back—and feel free to dispute this—that there was, though, from the executive side, very much [an] almost more precise use of media. The example that comes to mind, of course, [is] Donald Trump calling as a fake person into the tabloids to say stuff about specific people.

Dan: [00:07:20] Yeah.

Richie: [00:07:20] And that’s obviously an extreme example, but there are times where you go to the Wall Street Journal and you want to get a point across or send a shot across the bow or whatever kind of these things are. Today it feels like the goal is just to get press, the more the merrier, and it kind of builds on top of each other. Do you agree with that description of back then? And did you find it effective to do more of this like, pinpoint kind of strategy versus more of like a “spray strategy?”

Dan: [00:07:46] Yes to the latter. Definitely felt it was more necessary then than it is now to have, as you refer to it as, a pinpoint strategy.

Richie: [00:07:55] Because there are also just less publications right? Like, there’s less distribution, effectively, and so you’re using them more precisely.

Dan: [00:08:01] Exactly. The flip side is that now, because there are infinite outlets, it’s much harder to be heard and it’s much harder to stand out as it was back then, so a large part of what I have to teach is how to be heard and how to stand out. The insanely short attention spans that we all have now for obvious reasons, journalists included. When a journalist is asking the question, half of them [are] listening and half of them [are] thinking about the next question. So it’s that much harder, even though back 20 years ago there were fewer publications and it was important to pinpoint the executives. Now the big challenge is how to be heard and how to stand out.

Richie: [00:08:44] When you first started doing this what was the response from executives and so forth of, “Hey this guy’s here to like, tell me how to talk about my business.” How did that go? I’m curious if there are any anonymized interesting examples of that.

Dan: [00:08:56] Plenty, and that’s one of the most fascinating changes. 20 years ago or so when I first started getting into this, at least every other executive that I worked with—and I also worked with celebrities and athletes as well—would either say to me or it was obvious they were thinking, “Why am I doing this? I don’t need this.” And this was when I was young, and I was relatively young person for this field, I was in my mid-thirties. And most of my colleagues in this field—again a new field—were at least ten to 20 years older. So I didn’t have that gravitas. And here’s a kid telling a CEO or a celebrity entertainer, “I’m gonna teach you how to speak.” More precisely, how to deliver messages and get them across in a limited time frame with the reporter. So at least half of them would say, “I don’t need this. Why are you here? This is nonsense.”

Dan: [00:09:55] I will tell you one anonymized story. This is not an executive but an old timer actress. She was hired by the PR firm I was working for at the time to be a spokesperson for a certain product. So she was tasked with going on the morning shows and somehow weaving into her discussion about her career and anything else messages around this product. That’s where I came in. I was asked to help her deliver those messages in a very casual, comfortable, non-evasive and certainly non-commercial way. Not obvious.

Dan: [00:10:37] The training session actually took place in her home because she refused to come to us, and from the moment I sat down she was glaring at me and said, “Why are you here?” And this was, by the way, with about ten other people in the room. Her handlers, her publicists, her agent, my employer, my colleagues. This was a big deal. Presumably she had been told that this interview was going to happen and that there was a reason—and I’ll tell you, she really needed it, desperately. She couldn’t understand this idea of weaving in these corporate messages into regular conversation.

Dan: [00:11:20] But the whole thing lasted maybe 20 minutes, it was supposed to be at least an hour. I think I helped her a little bit, but yeah. Back then this was a whole new idea, not just with the celebrities who think, “Why do I need this?” but with executives, who also said, “I got to my position for a reason. I’m a decent communicator. I don’t need to be taught by someone twenty years my junior how to speak.”.

Dan: [00:11:44] These days, completely the opposite. I rarely encounter anybody who says anything akin to, “Why am I here?” or, “I don’t need this.” They will say, “You know, any great athlete is out there practicing every day. I want to get better. I know I can get better no matter what level I’m at.” So that, I would say, is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in all this time.

Richie: [00:12:05] Yeah. Was there a point where you said, “Oh this is different now?”

Dan: [00:12:10] Yes, in one regard. I would, in the first however many years, felt I always had to what I called “disarm the critic” in the first five, ten, 15 minutes of every training session. I know what you might be thinking about this session, the negative thoughts you might have about what you’re gonna go through, so I would spend those first however many minutes trying to explain the need for this as best as I could. And it’s interesting because one of the many things I train my clients is never to do what I used to do, to bring up a negative before anyone else has brought it up. Because I was probably wrong half the time, those clients were starting to have the realization that I had or that I wanted them to have, which is that this is super necessary and everyone can benefit from it.

Dan: [00:13:01] But it was very defensive for a while, and then that started to change. Every time I would say something along those lines of, “This is why it’s necessary,” and I’d get the looks of, “Yeah, we know. Oh yeah we’re totally on board,” and I realized I don’t have to say that anymore. So that’s what I saw changing and that was just a phenomenal feeling, that now it wasn’t a, “Let me teach you how to beat the system,” and more about a win-win. How can you improve your own skills but also make the whole thing that much better for the media as well? And that’s one of the easiest sells that I can make now, that everybody wins from this kind of a training session.

Richie: [00:13:41] Do you have any rough estimation, year-wise, when that started to happen?

Dan: [00:13:45] I would say that was about late 2000s.

Richie: [00:13:48] Which is interesting because Facebook barely exists then, Google exists. You know, The New York Times is still generally a print business, there’s no Instagram. What do you think changes in that time before all of these platforms and everything kind of happened?

Dan: [00:14:05] I’m not sure. Maybe in anticipation of a changing media landscape maybe in clients of mine and of everyone because media training was now a thing. Spreading the word that, as I teach almost every day, this is about offense not defense.

Richie: [00:14:24] Did you find more people coming to you for offense or defense?

Dan: [00:14:28] Absolutely. Again, the first chunk of years it was defense. “I’m afraid of the media. They’re going to misquote me. They’re gonna take my words out of context. They have agendas.” That was very, very typical, and so the thought was, “Teach me to do whatever I can not to fall in those traps.” And so, right around the time that I was mentioning is when I started to see what I was trying to espouse, but failing for a while, that everyone saw, “Oh, this is more about proactive and not reactive.” Offense not defense.

Dan: [00:15:04] Opportunity. That’s a word I say all the time. Media interviews are opportunities to tell your story. Many of my prospective clients would decline my services because they would say, “We see no upside.” And as much as I tried in those early years to say, “But you can control the narrative. I’m gonna teach you a number of ways to be able to control the outcome more than you think. Vastly more. And that you can look at these as opportunities to get your story out to a huge number of people.” Still, the response was, ‘They’re out to get me. I can’t take that chance.”

Richie: [00:15:47] So as social media platforms start to grow—Twitter comes into existence, Facebook continues to grow—did you feel this ability for companies [and] celebrities to now communicate directly with their audiences? Did you feel that in your business, did you feel that change, versus having the press effectively dis-intermediate them from their audience?

Dan: [00:16:05] A little bit. To be fair, the vast majority of my clients, the c-suite folks at big companies, were not open to the idea of communicating directly to their customers certainly not them. There might be someone in the corporate communications department who would send out a tweet about a certain product, but my clients rarely did. And when they had the opportunity to, at least early on when the social media came into existence, there was a fear. First of all, I have to say everything in 140 characters, I have to be as pithy as possible, and there is no intermediary. There’s nothing in between to help siphon whatever I might say, and that was really scary to the clients of mine who did have the opportunity or want the opportunity to speak directly to their constituency. But for me, most of my clients didn’t want those opportunities, at least back then. They were scared of them.

Richie: [00:17:04] Yeah. What about on the celebrity side, or the athlete and so forth side?

Dan: [00:17:07] Yep, much more so. And they loved it. I would say most of the celebs and athletes never wanted to go through an intermediary, they loved the idea of speaking directly to their fans. We’ve seen plenty of examples where even though they think it’s a great thing they mess up, of course say things that they never should have, but we don’t see that as much nowadays, people are much more careful. But yeah, that was a huge distinction. The folks whose lives were so built on their audiences love the idea of direct communication. The vast majority of the folks I trained who never spoke directly to their constituents didn’t like it.

Richie: [00:17:47] Do you find that via that juxtaposition the ones that did were more in touch? Because there seems to be, if you’re sitting behind your desk all day and you’re just going through intermediaries like, you have no clue what’s happening.

Dan: [00:17:59] Yes the few execs who started to realize the benefit of this direct communication, they were the ones who already were more connected. I’m gonna leave that word out there, “connected,” not “connected to someone specific,” because that’s a personality trait that you’re mostly born with, but I do teach connection. That’s a huge theme throughout my training sessions. How do you connect with your audiences? How do you bridge the gap, the literal and figurative gap between you and your audiences? I do a lot of presentation training, Richie, so I work with executives and others to stand up in front of huge audiences, small audiences, and present, and I always say, “Look you’re up there on the proverbial stage. There is a gap between you and your audience.” Partly literal but mostly figurative. How do you bridge that gap and make everyone in the audience feel that you’re connected to them? And the executives who already had that ability to connect, to be conversational, those are the few that loved the opportunity that social media provided. The vast majority never knew how to connect, and thus were afraid of that opportunity.

Richie: [00:19:09] It seems one of the other things that’s changed too is, there has been a massive swelling of publications, not all of them journalistic, right? So there’s a lot of promotional places, call them “fluffy places.” Generally have positive spin on things, generally looking for things to write about. That sounds great, but there are reporters in certain industries that are known for just like, they’re the first to write about the new thing. And it’s never critical, it’s always just really positive and fun, like, “Hey, here’s this cool thing,” and so forth. That gets to the point, though, where if everything is cool and new that nothing is, and it’s like that kind of dichotomy where press is not necessarily scarce anymore to the degree that it was.

Dan: [00:19:48] My response is going to be a bit tangential, because it brings up—not to give away too many trade secrets here, Richie—one of my favorite concepts to teach. It comes in the form of an acronym, five letters: W-I-I-F-M, “What’s in it for me?” “Me” being the audience. A large part of virtually all my training sessions is the crafting of the story. So you might think folks in my field mostly are about teaching how to use your body or your eye contact or your hands, or how to drive messaging. A large part is what’s your story to begin with. And given that there are so many more outlets out there, some media, some quote-unquote “media,” how do you get the right story out ,especially when some of these quote-unquote “journalists” are so friendly.

Dan: [00:20:44] The point is no longer be heard, because you’re gonna be heard, the point is be heard accurately. Get the message that you want to get across that impacts your audience out there. So, on almost a daily basis I have to ask that five letter question, what’s in it for me? Let’s focus on the audience. You’re talking about a certain product. You’re talking about a certain platform that your company has decided to take. How does the end user, as so many of my clients like to say, the ultimate audience, benefit? It’s the benefit test. If you don’t think about that, you don’t think about, again, what’s in it for me—or another acronym we like as WHAM, W-H-A-M, what here applies to me— then, even though your message or messages might get across in one of these millions of media, it may not be the right message, and it may not be what your constituency cares about anymore.

Richie: [00:21:46] You ever have prospective clients that like, want you to do something, and you’re just like, looking at this thing being like, “Why?” Or, “No?” Or like, if a tobacco company comes to you and goes, “Hey we want to more effectively communicate.” Like, how do you manage that?

Dan: [00:21:58] It’s amazing that you said that, because as you were asking me before you mentioned “tobacco company” I was thinking, “Oh, I had a tobacco company come to me not too long ago.” That’s a whole different story because that brings in personal feelings, of course, and my own politics. I struggled with that. I actually had conversations with my wife and with friends of mine around—it’s a slightly different question that you’re asking—do I want to help a company?

Richie: [00:22:30] It’s kind of a question like, what is your criteria?

Dan: [00:22:32] Right. It came down in the end to I am not here to help them sell products, I’m here to help them communicate properly. I’ve also been asked, for fun, would I work with Donald Trump if he asked me to, which he never would. That’s even more extreme but I would take the same approach, which is not, “Am I helping this person or this company sell a product or disseminate into the world something that’s harmful, but am I helping them communicate their story better, or can I?” And if the answer to that latter question is yes, then I generally would take the work.

Richie: [00:23:16] Where does truth cut into that, though?

Dan: [00:23:18] Correct. It’s a great question. I will say the tobacco company in mind did not hire me. And maybe they picked up the sense that I had a hesitancy. I didn’t try to sound hesitant when speaking to them.

Richie: [00:23:33] But like, are you thinking or vetting these things you’re hearing from people. I’m just making this up directly: if you had a financial organization that sells only subprime loans, and they came to you and said, “Hey, we want to go communicate to low income people how great our loans are.” How does one think about that?

Dan: [00:23:48] Right. That’s much more direct. If that happened now, for example, with the knowledge that we all have, I would decline in a second.

Richie: [00:23:56] You’ve watched The Big Short and so forth.

Dan: [00:23:57] Exactly. Back then. Well, of course, if I didn’t know the damage of subprime loans, if we were pre-2008, I of course would have taken it on not knowing the damage. But yeah, if I’m presented with something, that there is a damaging product in some way, and the company very specifically wants to have me help them get a message across to the constituent who will be damaged by that company? No way.

Richie: [00:24:28] So like, the crisis control stuff is less the interest.

Dan: [00:24:30] Correct.

Richie: [00:24:30] If you look at this into the future from a more macro-perspective, does this ever get any easier? Or are we on like a runaway train of more information, shorter attention? At what point does it become a fool’s errand?

Dan: [00:24:46] I wonder that myself. I think we’re okay for a while. In almost every session I do I ask the group or the person I’m working with if they are familiar with the results of a study that Microsoft did a couple of years ago in Canada around attention span, around focus. Where, in addition to many other findings Microsoft came up with a number signifying the amount of time that the average person can focus either on a task or on spoken word before they drift and think about something else. And the answer is eight seconds, it’s very depressing.

Dan: [00:25:20] I used to have—just two years ago when this came out—my clients answer that question when I quizzed them by saying, “Two minutes? Five minutes? A minute?” Nobody came close to eight seconds, and now most will say something less than 30 seconds. And, in fact, a client just the other day told me they read something, [a] recent study that said that’s now down to six seconds. And then we got to discussing where can this go, how much, can you go into negative territory? So look, I think that at some point it will either flatten out, or perhaps attention spans will start increasing. Maybe with the change with companies like Apple being much more focused on helping consumers not be distracted the entire day with their phones, as Apple did recently with a software update, maybe we’ll see a change for the positive. I don’t think it’ll be all that great, but I also don’t think that we’re anywhere near where you say, “It’s not worth it anymore, people don’t listen, so why even try?”

Richie: [00:26:26] The other interesting trend that’s happening that kind of blends both of your worlds is more celebrities are becoming business people.

Dan: [00:26:31] Yes.

Richie: [00:26:31] I’m curious, what are both the opportunities and the issues that start to arise when, effectively, authenticity is smashed together with the need to be commercial?

Dan: [00:26:44] And that’s similar to what I did at the beginning of my career, working with celebrities who did have to hawk products, right? There is that balance there as well. It’s hard for me to say right now where that balance is. You talk about celebrities turning into business people, it brings to mind Ashton Kutcher. Used to do a lot of acting, I don’t think he does much anymore. He’s a venture capitalist now, he was one of the substitute sharks on Shark Tank, and I play a video of his in most of my training sessions. It’s a speech that he gave about eight years ago at the Teen Choice Awards and I’d recommend anyone listening, check it out. “Ashton Kutcher Teen Choice Awards.” He was in a small Steve Jobs movie back then. He won an award, I think it was—

Richie: [00:27:38] I think it was the only award that movie won.

Dan: [00:27:40] Exactly. Probably the only one. And maybe it was best actor in a movie about Steve Jobs. He gets up on stage and everyone’s expecting what everybody does at these shows: a thank you speech. He then speaks for about three minutes—not ten seconds, three minutes, and has the audience rapt the entire time—about lessons that he learned before he became an actor. And he crafts the entire speech around the power of three, which is a huge part of my training sessions, I’m a big believer in the power of three. The speech is so beautifully executed and memorable, which is another big thing that I’m about—how do you make your messages stick, how do you get kids in the audience to remember what some random actress said during a speech at an awards show—And he nailed it, in every sense of the word. And it did make me think maybe that’s what it takes to be successful in the business world, if you’re first an entertainer.

Dan: [00:28:39] What’s the that? Smarts. Knowing your audience really well. I’ve been told Kutcher is a super-smart guy, but your impression of Kutcher will change completely when you see this speech. That’s the best I can give you along these lines, ’cause I don’t have additional insight into—because I worked with so few celebrities and it was a while ago—as to how things have changed for them, the ones who at least have turned their jobs into something else.

Richie: [00:29:07] Yeah. I mean the Kardashians, of course, come to mind, as they go more into the product realm and so forth.

Dan: [00:29:11] Correct.

Richie: [00:29:11] The point before brings up an interesting question also about the attention spans in that, where you’re starting to see almost this reverse where the ability to, not be longer-winded, but if everyone is so focused on the tweet-length thing, going in the total opposite direction actually is maybe where some the opportunity lies. If he could speak for three minutes not ten seconds—

Dan: [00:29:30] If it’s done right.

Richie: [00:29:31] Right. It’s not just rambling.

Dan: [00:29:34] Exactly. And that’s yet another reason why I show a three minute video in a training session. That’s a lot of time, even for my sessions. I have colleagues who would refuse to play any video that’s longer than ten seconds because they’re concerned about attention span, right? I don’t remember a time that I have played this Kutcher video and seen any of my clients distracted, yawning, bored, looking at their phones. This is almost guaranteed a time that they’re gonna be listening. And it is in large part because of the structure of this speech. It is so beautifully structured and formatted in a way that is I think the only way to be able to speak for longer than a tweet length amount of time and still keep, in this case, teens attentive, and they are attentive throughout.

Dan: [00:30:28] Now he does use a couple of smart ideas to hook the audience. I’ll give you one piece of it at the very beginning when he says he learned three things, and he uses the number three when, before he became an actor that make him into who who he is today. He teases one of those three things at the beginning saying one of those three things is being sexy. Of course he’s got his audience. You don’t find out until about a minute and a half in that what he means is that the sexiest thing in the world is being smart and thoughtful and honest. Great tactic to pull this attention-span-lagging audience in at the beginning, keep them until that point and then surprise them as well. But the reason that this works even such a lengthy speech is the structure. Once again he builds it all around threes. He uses beautiful examples to bring his ideas alive. That’s another key balance, Richie, in being a great communicator; it’s not just facts, it’s story as well. Find a balance between fact and story. He does that as well.

Dan: [00:31:31] In the end he gives a little, what I call, closing argument. I have a legal background so I think about a great ending to a great speech, a great ending to even an interview should sound like a closing argument to the jury. Give them a summary of what you’ve said over the course of this thing, and you can only do that if you have a limited number of takeaways, right? Just to get off this for a second, another thing I teach I call “message math.” Three times three does not equal nine, nor does nine times one in the world of communication skills. Three times three actually equals one or two. Meaning if you deliver three points three times, reinforce three points, at least one, maybe even two of those will stick with the audience. If you deliver nine pieces of information nine themes nine messages once each. Nothing sticks. So nine times one equals zero.

Dan: [00:32:27] And so, to full-circle to your question, if you don’t have the “three times three” approach, nobody’s gonna listen and nobody’s gonna remember a thing you said. So if you’re gonna go into this direction of, you know, maybe I’m going to turn the corner here, and instead of speaking tweet-length responses I’m gonna speak more at length, the only way you’re gonna do it is to have a limited number of key takeaways that you reinforce often. And that’s what he does. That’s why it’s so successful.

Richie: [00:32:55] So there seems to be a kind of this chicken-egg between, you can work with people to help them better communicate, but if there’s no one to listen to that communication, what is the point? Generally it would seem that there is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship that you and our media trainers have with PR and communication staff, which is, you want to put this work in and help train someone and then somebody needs to go hear that message. Has that relationship between, call it the codifying of that communication, and then the distribution of that communication, changed over the 20 years we’ve been talking about?

Dan: [00:33:27] It has a little bit, if I understand you correctly. Here’s how I take it. In the first half of my career, whenever a PR firm hired me to work with somebody, the messaging that they would come to this training session with—which is what I always ask, I say bring whatever messages you have—was almost in every case terrible. It would be what they would call “talking points,” which are very different from key takeaways, key messages. And back to this nine-times-one-equals-zero notion, it would be nine, 15, 20 talking points. So it was, a huge part of my work was bridging that gap, telling this PR firm whose job it is to create stories and create platforms and create messages that their messages are no good. And who am I to do that? Especially in the first half of my career when I was so new to this, and I often questioned myself, because I said, “Is it really possible that so many firms are in my estimation clueless about what makes effective messaging?”

Dan: [00:34:34] And I definitely had the wrong attitude about it, but I had to. I couldn’t take those messages and use them in this training session with a spokesperson. It just would not work. So a huge part of my work would either be prior to the session or, unfortunately, during the session, to change that whole mindset. Here’s how you’ve gotta take these 20 messages, turn them into three, make them more powerful, make them more audience-focused. Bring story to it, which was often missing. Now much, much less. I also don’t work with [nearly as] many PR firms as much more of a direct relationship, but everyone seems to get it now, that the prep that they put in message-wise is so much more akin to what I think is appropriate.

Dan: [00:35:20] Still, there is a bit of a disconnect, and still I feel very strongly about my methodology for creating powerful messages, so I always have to bring that to the table, but the struggle is so much less than it used to be.

Richie: [00:35:33] If you were to give advice to journalists or writers about making their job more successful from everything you know from being on both sides, what are one or two things that come to mind?

Dan: [00:35:42] I like that.

Richie: [00:35:43] Success in their eyes, not in an executive or celebrity’s eyes.

Dan: [00:35:46] The answer is actually success for both. I so strongly believe that the discipline I’m in is a win-win. It helps my clients but it helps the audience and, in this case, the media just as much. So the answer to the question is, focus much less on your agenda, focus much less on crafting the right question, ’cause it really shouldn’t matter. If the folks you are interviewing have a good story, just let them tell you that story.

Dan: [00:36:19] More and more of these folks who are trained by people like me come in with really good stories, and it’s very disappointing to me when I see such a disconnect, where a reporter feels that in order to get a good story they’ve gotta ask very specific questions, they have to have a very specific agenda, and so it becomes this game throughout of, how can we find the middle ground? The middle ground is where you want to be from the beginning. So I wish reporters would just look at their—especially print reporters, where there’s a lot of time—just tell me your story.

Dan: [00:36:54] And I remember Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame once saying that the very best interviews he did were the ones that were spontaneous, where he never asked the question that he came prepared to ask. He just followed the interviewee, the person, the subject of the interview, because it was so much more organic and so much more spontaneous. And that’s one of the things I teach my folks, get the reporter to drop that list of questions to make them think my questions don’t matter nearly as much as this person’s answers. That’s where the goods are. I don’t wanna have to play a game to get at the good stuff, they have the good stuff, but most folks don’t know how to get the good stuff out when the questions have such an agenda behind them, and it’s so tricky to get that good story out.

Dan: [00:37:42] So, again, back to that big piece of advice, just ask everyone to tell them what the great story is not have to fish around for it or play games to get there.

Richie: [00:37:53] Have journalists asked to work with you before? Or not really?

Dan: [00:37:57] Never. I have been asked a few times to work with up-and-coming broadcasters just on their physical body language skills. What does it take to sit in an anchor desk, how do you look at a camera, how do you read teleprompter. I do plenty of that. What’s the right presence. But not how to be a better journalist.

Richie: [00:38:19] That’s funny.

Dan: [00:38:19] Never.

Richie: [00:38:19] All right. Can we play a game?

Dan: [00:38:21] I love games. Let’s do it.

Richie: [00:38:22] The game is I want to watch how you play these things.

Dan: [00:38:24] That’s beautiful.

Richie: [00:38:25] You said on your website that you’ve worked with Kris Jenner before. What did you do with her and what was she like?

Dan: [00:38:31] She was terrific by the way. And I have to say that as soon as my twin, now-17-year-old, daughters [were] 12 at the time, found out I was working—not that I’m saying my daughters are big Kardashian fans but, of course, who doesn’t know Kris Jenner—they were thrilled. She was hired as a spokesperson for a pharmaceutical product. Yeah, it was EpiPen, because she, or maybe it was someone in her family, has a very severe allergy to something. She was tasked by this, again, middle-person PR firm to be a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company that makes EpiPen. I was asked to be the one to help her first of all craft messages around it and, more importantly, deliver those messages in an interview on Good Morning America about her being the matriarch of this family. How do you get that in? And that’s a lot of fun, to show the light of, you can do this and you can do it in a very natural way, in a way that never sounds like you’re hawking a product or being a commercial.

Dan: [00:39:27] So, I love that. I don’t do that nearly as much now but that’s where Kris came into the game, but a really lovely person. Very connected, which I love. She asked me my name at the beginning. She referenced me by name which I always teach my clients, that’s a very simple way—

Richie: [00:39:41] You’ve done that a lot today. I’ve noticed.

Dan: [00:39:44] You’ve noticed. Did I do it subtly?

Richie: [00:39:46] Yeah. Yeah, it was unexpected the first time, and then I was like, “Oh.” It made sense after.

Dan: [00:39:50] I love it, because I do get push-back. A lot of my clients say, “Use the name of a reporter I’ve never met?”

Richie: [00:39:56] It’s like the tone, right? Like, “Well, Dan,” versus, “What I was saying, Dan.”

Dan: [00:40:00] Correct. Exactly. I call it “name-dropping.” Drop the name in the middle of a sentence somewhere. Very subtle, very soft. Much different than, “Well, Richie. I’m glad you asked that.”

Richie: [00:40:13] 2018 profit margin and what do you want it to be in 2019?

Dan: [00:40:19] Can’t give specifics for obvious reasons. Very pleased with how things went last year. The last couple of years a surprisingly amazing increase, which is wonderful. I’m at a place I never expected to be, but it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that this stuff seems to be working because now my business runs on its own. I don’t do any advertising. I don’t do any marketing. I don’t go to any networking events because I don’t like them. I used to. I don’t need to. The business comes. It’s reputation but it’s not just me, it’s that I think people are getting it, that this is necessary these days. It really helps, it makes everyone I work with a better daily communicator, and that’s what I say at the beginning of sessions, “I hope that you take away from this much more than just how to handle tough questions from a reporter, but more how do you be a powerful communicator every single day.” And it seems based on how things have been going for my business that people get that now, they really want that, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Richie: [00:41:22] Who is the worst client you’ve ever had, and why.

Dan: [00:41:25] The worst celebrity client is the actress that I referred to earlier.

Richie: [00:41:32] What’s her name?

Dan: [00:41:34] Obviously not going there. What I can tell you is that she is no longer with us. She was a great old time actress, and it was too bad because her reputation in my mind is tarnished by these 20 minutes in which she was quite nasty to me, but it’s so few and far between. And to talk about a change also over the course of this time, very few people are bad. Everyone comes in wanting to learn. And I’ve always said that one of the key drivers to a successful communications training session is humility. And it used to be that that was hard to find, and now everybody comes in saying, “I can be better.”

Richie: [00:42:18] Besides people not putting the work in, when does this not work, or when does it fail? Besides the fact that no one tries, when is communication not enough?

Dan: [00:42:28] It’s attitude. And again, it sounds weird to say, but it almost doesn’t fail anymore. It’s almost like it’s built into the process that you can’t fail. You might not get much better but there is zero downside to any of the stuff that goes on in these sessions. Even if you hate 90% of what I say and it doesn’t apply, which is impossible because I believe in the power of WIIFM, W-I-I-F-M, what’s in it for me, teaching my clients stuff that applies to them. But even if you say 90% of it is not for me, there’s gonna be 10% that does help and takes up your skills one notch. So, failure doesn’t happen much and it only happens with closed-mindedness and a lack of humility, saying, “I don’t need this.” Which again happened a lot at the beginning, rarely happens anymore. If you get the right mindset this is going to work for you, either a little or a lot. And practice of course.

Richie: [00:43:29] OK. Game over. I have one final question, thank you for partaking in that.

Dan: [00:43:32] Love those games.

Richie: [00:43:33] What’s the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned doing this over the last 20 or so years?

Dan: [00:43:39] To be nice.

Richie: [00:43:41] Is that cheap? The cheap one?

Dan: [00:43:42] That’s the—oh, I see, the cheapest and most expensive.

Richie: [00:43:45] As in, two separate answers, if you wish. Or it could be both.

Dan: [00:43:48] Got it. It really is both. It is both, and I’ll tell you why it was cheap, because it was literally cheap. I’ll tell you the story quickly. This was before I opened up my own shop. I was working with an Olympic skater, former Olympic skater. She went on to do what’s called a satellite media tour, where you do 20 interviews in a day, going around the country via satellite. I was there to do what’s called mid-course corrections, after I give an interview, give her some thoughts. She, in my mind, was not taking my advice. She, in my mind, was not doing the proper job in these interviews. And even though I repeatedly told her to do whatever I thought was right, she wasn’t doing it, and I let my frustration be seen, and I came across as condescending. I’m right, you’re not. How can you not be getting this? I can’t believe I did it, at all. I certainly can’t believe I did it with a famous skater, but I did, and it was obvious to me at the moment how powerful the negative that experience was.

Dan: [00:45:03] It was also the most expensive lesson because I believe it is a large part of what led to me leaving the PR firm a year later. And so that was an enormous lesson, 18 years later. I keep thinking about it. Not every day, but I come back to it, and I come back to the notion that people have hired me to help them be better, people have hired me to give them positive but constructive feedback, not to be torn apart, not to be told where they lack. I never in any of my sessions say, “What you didn’t do well is…” It’s always what can you do better. Here are a few things that can help you take it up a notch, always. And, of course, plenty of “What you already do beautifully is…” You’ll hear me say both of those things often. Back then it was, “You were not doing this.” And I’m, even though I’m 35 and a nobody, telling you what the right thing is to do and I’m frustrated that you’re not doing it my way. What a lesson.

Richie: [00:46:06] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

Dan: [00:46:08] Richie. See how I used your name? My pleasure.

Richie: [00:46:14] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope that you tune in next week.