When the Headline Is You: An Insider’s Guide to Handling the Media by Jeff Ansell with Jeffrey Leeson

Book Review by Tanicia Bell

Are you comfortable addressing the public at times of crisis? Speaking without thinking or without having a concrete communications strategy could have powerful negative repercussions. The last thing you want is for the media to sensationalize the situation and cast you and/or your employer in a bad light.

Before the Gulf oil disaster, BP CEO Tony Hayward would have been wise to read When the Headline Is You (his infamous response? “I’d like my life back”). Hayward would have known how important it is to avoid looking insensitive or glib when something terrible occurs. Written by Jeff Ansell, an award-winning journalist and crisis communications expert whose unique process for media communication has helped Fortune 500 companies manage high-profile issues (including the Erin Brockovich case), When the Headline Is You contains instructions for addressing the public in a variety of situations.

Ansell presents several real-life examples of PR disasters as well as success stories. He provides communicators with the information needed to really understand what drives the media (drama and conflict!) and how to tell a story effectively. His bottom line is very simple: Be honest and responsive.

Addressing the public is tricky. The smallest word choice, for example using qualifiers like “I think,” affects the way the public will perceive you. Communicators must choose language appropriate to their audience and give “quotable,” clear, and straightforward statements. Ansell provides examples of various volatile situations, straightforward guidance, and walks you through the process using tools like the Value Compass, Compelling Message Creator, and Problem Solution Formula to walk you through the process.

Once you’ve crafted your compelling message, you need to think about presentation.  Ansell provides detailed tips, including how to overcome anxiety with breathing, how to speak slowly, how to have the right body language, and how it’s important to use your hands when you talk.

The book contains a frequently-asked-questions chapter called Twenty What-Ifs in which Ansell answers questions like: what if you don’t want to answer the question but you have to say something?, what if there really is nothing to say?, and what if the question is offensive?

When the Headline Is You would be a valuable addition to any communicator’s library.

Click here for a list of public relations disasters, and here to learn how Taco Bell turned their recent disaster into a success.


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