THE BIG PITCH: How did Gary Condit do during his recent interviewwith ABC's Connie Chung?

PETER HIMLER, Managing director, Burson-Marsteller, New York



Mr. Condit's thinly veiled campaign to spin ABC's Connie Chung (and

Vanity Fair, Newsweek and People) has produced a backlash of more

questions and suspicions. Why? The reason lies in the differences

between a publicity agent and a PR exec. We all know that in this

frenzied media environment it doesn't take much to "convince" a news

organization to interview someone in Mr. Condit's predicament. The real

PR challenge lies in how well the interviewee, and the interviewer, is

prepared. His handlers appeared to fail on both accounts. The media saw

it as a whitewash and reacted accordingly, while Mr. Condit did not come

armed with effective and credible messaging or delivery. Arranging the

interview is the easy part. Managing the process through which the

public derives its perceptions is where true PR pros diverge from the

myriad celebrity handlers, who sadly have come to define our

industry.



SANDRA SOKOLOFF, SVP, Crisis communications/media relations, Magnet

Communications, New York



While Condit's media trainers certainly hammered some key messages into

his head, what they failed to realize is that messages are a means to

help frame answers to questions, not a tactic to avoid them. Effective

messages are not memorized word for word, but rather used to portray the

interviewee's vision and mindset. And, if properly crafted and

delivered, messages should have meaning for journalists as well. Condit

should have been told that when a reporter keeps coming after you with

the same line of questioning, then the message isn't working for the

reporter. Condit's lesson is one we can all learn from. Far too often

clients are drilled on messages rather than being counseled on how to

internalize key points and own them. Too many clients seek spin and

crave magic words rather than strategic thoughts that explain a

rationale, a benefit, or a cause of action. Condit's messages did not

achieve any of this. Rather than reaching out and appeasing, his

messages just raised another layer of suspicion and negativity.



MATTHEW FELLING, Media director, Center for Media and Public Affairs,

Washington, DC



Congressman Gary Condit missed a golden opportunity in his interview. He

had the ball and could have made up a lot of points, but nonsensically

decided to run out the clock. He made it seem more perfunctory than

taking out the garbage. (No, that's wrong. Condit makes news even when

he throws out garbage.) Apparently, one of the tactics employed by the

Condit camp was to elicit sympathy from the viewers by portraying him as

a victim of the media. Despite the fact that the media is an easy

target, he failed miserably. Choosing Connie Chung was a horrible ploy.

Picking a Mike Wallace-type would have solidified his victim image.

Wallace would have been offensive (in both senses of the word) and

malicious. Instead, Condit ended up irritating a likable reporter, and

therefore the audience as well. Condit followed an explosive DDT

formula: Deny, Delay and Transfer blame. If you wanted a textbook

example of what never to do, this is the bible of blowing it.



ED CAFASSO, Senior vice president, Morrissey & Co., Boston



I must be the only person in the world who thinks Gary Condit did

extremely well in handling both Connie Chung and People magazine. You

can dislike the content of his responses, but his presentation, delivery

and focus were excellent. After asking the "did you have sex" question

10 different ways, Chung began to look foolish. Given the lack of any

evidence linking the affair with Chandra Levy's disappearance, the only

reason to keep hammering him for details was perverse voyeurism. Condit

also did a nice job of rebutting claims that he has failed to cooperate

with investigators. And it was bizarre for Chung to accuse him of

"stonewalling" when he's giving her 30 minutes in prime time. In the

end, there was nothing Condit could do to sway those already convinced

of his guilt, but by finally providing his side of the story in a

forthright manner, he undoubtedly moved many others back onto the fence.

I hope the person who prepped Condit was well-compensated.



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