The Press: Don't Hate the Player, Learn Their Game

It's 9:30 am and your candidate is holding a press conference.

It's 9:30 am and your candidate is holding a press conference. Unforgiving lights illuminate the beads of sweat on his un-powdered face as he fumbles with his cue cards, stiffly shifting behind his podium. Questions fly from all sides from bloodthirsty reporters. The next could be the one that takes down your entire campaign and you're powerless on the sidelines. In the PR world, each press interaction can be a homerun or a strikeout for your candidate. The media is the double-edged sword of politicians: spin them the right way and you get your message out to the masses; fumble a PR event, and you can kiss your campaign goodbye. There's no guaranteeing that you won't find yourself in this situation, but if you prep your candidate the right way, you can come out of the fray unscathed."Don't play the game until you know the rules," says Bill Beaman, a strategist with Washington Media Group. He was part of Politics magazine's media training seminar Friday in Washington D.C. His advice: Make sure you research the duration, slant and agreed-upon topics prior to the media event to help your candidate avoid "gotcha" moments. Journalists won't handhold, Beaman says, and they'll go for the jugular whenever possible. If your candidate has done their homework, though, they can turn a media trap into a PR opportunity.That means being upfront about their challenges and successes both personally and professionally. "It's also important to resist the ego urge to have an answer for everything," says Beaman. Don't be afraid to admit what you don't know, but make any question an opportunity to touch on your related talking points.Finally, make it about the people, says Seth Pendleton of 4C Partners, LLC. "Emotional information is hard information," he says. Re-telling the haunting conversation with the uninsured single mother struggling to make ends meet for her sick 2-year-old is more powerful than enumerating your 9-point plan for healthcare reform. Mainstream voters aren't policy wonks, so grounding the issues in personal stories resonates more with the public than complicated policy jargon.So the next time your candidate is in the thick of a media blitz, you can exhale on the sidelines and know that PR wise, your candidate won't drop the ball. Also part of Friday's seminar were Tony Bawidamann, Jennifer Simpson, John Davies, Michael Shannon and Rich Zeoli.Karen Anderson and Lani Lester contributed to this story.

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