B²: He Said, She Said

A lot of people tuned in to witness Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton strike the careful balance between policy talk and entertainment television. Americans want to know where the candidates stand on the issues, but also demand a meme-able moment…or 7.

Last night delivered. With a one-on-one split screen that just wouldn’t quit, the candidates were on full display. And a non-existent moderator allowed both to trade unassisted monologues and attack each other without limitation.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, in a debate without a moderator to interrupt or apply a timeline, how do you defend yourself?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “<Insert Hillary’s attack on tax returns>.”

B²: “<Dismiss tax return claim and quickly pivot to Clinton Foundation>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, very quickly discredit the claim and then attack your opponent. When Hillary mentioned Trump’s tax returns, the best response would’ve been to dismiss it and then attack her on the Clinton Foundation. A worthy attack he didn’t take advantage of, which seems to be the theme of the night…on both sides. In a debate, you always want to move from defense to offense. In. Every. Answer.

3 Ways to Talk About Conservatism With a Liberal

“As the mantra of ‘Don’t discuss politics or religion’ repeats like a drumbeat in your head, you settle on ‘How about that game?’

Your desperate search for the safest question to ask a colleague as you wait for the morning coffee to brew is understandable. But you can find a way.

If conservatives refrain from engaging in the narrative, we let the media and politicians (ahem, President Barack Obama) paint us as crazy people who cling to ‘guns or religion.'”

President of DMG Beverly Hallberg is debuting a column in The Daily Signal to help you talk to the people in your life (think neighbors, co-workers, family, friends) about conservative issues. Check out the first installment!

B²: “No comment.”

Blame it on the holiday weekend, or DMG’s goal to rid every client of all the bad habits, but this week’s B² (block and bridge) is less issue-specific and more best practice.

Few things in life are guaranteed like responding “no comment” in a media interview and writing your on-the-record statement.


Because so many have used it and abused it. “No comment” doesn’t mean “no comment,” or at least no one thinks it does. Instead, the phrase is an undeniable WARNING that you are guilty or clueless. Either you did it, you know who did it, you legally can’t share information that confirms that accusation, or you have no idea what the reporter is talking about.

Happens to the best of us. So what’s the right way to answer a question you absolutely don’t want to answer and not make headlines?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “<Insert probing/accusatory question you don’t want to answer>.”

B²: “Here’s how I’d put it – <rephrase the question> <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, know that you have options. It’s ok to refuse the interview if you fear the reporter asking you questions you don’t want to/can’t answer. You can also rephrase the question. Your goal should always be to control the interview, and that goal doesn’t change if you’re asked a “gotcha” question. Be mindful of the reporter or host and his/her angle, then decide if the interview is beneficial to your organization, cause, or candidate. If not, politely refuse. If so, proceed with a B² in your back pocket.

But whatever you do, don’t say “no comment.”

Special Offer!

If you don’t already subscribe to DMG’s monthly newsletter, you’re missing out.

Last week, a really great offer was made to all subscribers – a free media critique! If you have a recent clip of an interview (radio or TV) that you want feedback on, DMG is happy to provide a critique for free (a $100/clip value). To get yours, email info@districtmediagroup.com, put “media critique” somewhere in the subject line, and include a link to your interview. That’s it. A few days later, you will receive personalized feedback on how you did and how you can improve visually, vocally, and verbally.

To make sure you never miss a DMG newsletter (and notification of all future special offers), sign up here.

How to Debate Like a Presidential Frontrunner

In today’s Washington Examiner, DMG President Beverly Hallberg discusses why debates matter, the Trump factor, and how the participants in tonight’s Republican debate on Fox News can be remembered for all the right reasons:

“No, it isn’t about the length of airtime (120 minutes tonight for the main debate). It’s about the sound bites that circulate in the 24-hours news cycle and on social media tonight, tomorrow and (potentially) for years to come. Those 10-second clips are why debates, even primary debates, matter.”

Here’s what the candidates, including Trump, need to keep in mind if they want to be remembered for the right reasons this debate season. Read the full article here.

Give the Answer You Want

DMG President Beverly Hallberg offers advice on how to make the most of your media interviews in The Heritage Foundation’s latest edition of InsiderOnline:

“It’s no secret that many dread the unknown of reporters’ questions. The reason? Even the friendliest reporters are doing their job when they play devil’s advocate. But the true horror lies in hostile reporters trying to trip up their “guests” with the sole goal of shaming them in a never-to-forget clip.”

The good news? “There is a strategy that works…and it is the true art of interviewing well.” To find out how to give the answer you want (not the one a reporter wants), click here.

Blurred Lines: When the tie doesn’t make the man

They say “the tie makes the man,” but too often the tie competes with the man.

Ties with small patterns cause movement and appear blurred on screen. If a man wears a small-patterned tie, he risks shifting the audience’s focus from his main message to his “dancing” tie.

The technical term is “The Moiré Effect,” but the important point is that small patterns cause big problems on the TV screen. Thankfully, this problem is easy to avoid: Don’t wear a tie with a small stripe, dot, or pattern. Wear a solid, or keep the stripe but make it large.

“What difference does it make?”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is typically on message.  Notably, the man never misses an opportunity to state his disdain for the Koch brothers.

But Mr. Reid was off his game in a recent interview.  While answering questions on the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, he uttered the words that have been played over and over in the media, and not because they worked.  He repeated Hillary Clinton’s infamous phrase, “What difference does it make?”

While most of us won’t recycle Hillary Clinton’s words, we often say things that do anything but make us sound relatable and likable.

When we say…

  • “Kick the can down the road” – We sound cliché (and like a politician).
  • “First Amendment” – We sound out of touch (sadly, not everyone knows what the First  Amendment is).
  • “That’s a great question” – We sound like we’re stalling (and we probably are).

Instead, we should use words that make us sound like, well, a real person.  For example, say…

  • “We can’t delay any further” – It means the same thing, but without the Washingtonian jargon.
  • “Free Speech” – Who isn’t for free speech?
  • “Let me put that into perspective” – It’s never a great question anyway.

So, do your words really make a difference?  Yes.  Your words can determine whether someone tunes in or changes the channel.

Wardrobe Malfunctions: fur coats and lapel pins

Besides the complete one-sided play of Superbowl XLVIII, the other story of the big game was Joe Namath’s coat.  While only 49 degrees, Mr. Namath decided to dress for the Arctic. 

His over-the-top fur was the talk of sports shows and news shows alike and not just because PETA was less than amused.  We were all left wondering, what was he thinking?

But most wardrobe malfunctions are not due to a complete departure from sanity.  Most are due to clothing that may make sense in person, but have no place on TV. 

In comes Mitt Romney – a man known for anything but over-the-top and flashy.  A man known for a navy blue suit, white shirt, and red tie – the true Republican uniform.  But even the most vanilla can make mistakes on TV.

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney chose to wear an American flag lapel pin complete with a secret service star in the center. 

While in day-to-day conversation this lapel pin is easy to discern, problems arise on TV.

During Mitt Romney’s first answer in his first of three presidential debates I, like so many others, Googled “what is on Mitt Romney’s lapel pin?”  Through the lens of the camera, it was impossible to know what the dot was and our attention was focused on figuring it out.

The main rule of TV clothing is that clothes should enhance but never distract.  If the audience is focused on what you wear more than what you say, it is a wardrobe malfunction.

Vocals Matter: Howard Dean vs. Edward Snowden

In 2004, Howard Dean effectively ended his campaign for the democratic nomination when he gave the infamous “I have a scream” speech.

His campaign wasn’t over because of his platform.  He didn’t use words he shouldn’t have.  His campaign was over because of the way he used his voice.  That scream, which was replayed over and over, made him sound crazy.  Essentially, Howard Dean didn’t seem presidential.

Now, to Edward Snowden.  Whether a traitor or a hero, one thing is true – he was in control of his first U.S. TV interview.

He didn’t rush his words.  He didn’t raise his voice.  He calmly but strongly defended his actions.  His vocal delivery alone made him sound sane instead of crazy.

How you use your voice matters.

  • If you sound angry (and it isn’t for a good reason), people won’t like you.
  • If you sound defensive, people won’t trust you.
  • If you speak too quickly, people will think you’re nervous (and possibly have something to hide).

How you say something is just as important as what you say.  Don’t make the same mistake as Howard Dean.