Media training with Harry Belafonte
It’s in every media training session from every PR agency: The requisite “what not to do” videos of interviewees falling flat on their faces on live television. Cliche as it may be, it’s still a crowd pleaser. Nice little icebreaker for the nervous first-time corporate spokesperson. And really, who ever gets sick of seeing Steve Ballmer’s classic freak out on stage? Not this guy.
Which brings us to Harry Belafonte. This little gem yesterday fell from the sky and into the PowerPoint decks of media trainers everywhere. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the clip in all its viral glory:
But if you think I’m here to further embarrass ol’ Harry for seemingly falling asleep on live TV, you’re sadly mistaken. Come on, he’s Harry Friggin’ Belafonte for crying out loud. He’s also an 80-something year old human rights activist, so cut the man some slack.
What’s more, I’m totally buying in on his defense that he was just meditating and not off in dreamland. Seriously. As an occasional meditator myself, I applaud his discipline. If I’m stuck on the train or waiting in line at the RMV, it takes all my willpower to resist a Foursquare check-in and just use the free moment to clear my head. So kudos Harry for using your downtime time wisely. And well played, uber PR guy Ken Sunshine, on the spin.
So instead of more cheap laughs at Harry’s expense, how about we use this as a PR teaching moment. Here’s a run down of some classic tips that all media spokespeople are taught. Does Harry heed this sage advice? He actually did better than you think.
Tip #1: Try to relax
Easy one here. Dude is in the zone, doesn’t have a care in the world. We often tell our clients to imagine their audience in their underwear to put themselves at ease. Here Harry’s so deep in the zone that I imagine he’s probably picturing himself on a white unicorn riding through a field of lollipop flowers. Nerves of steel. Day-O, indeed.
Tip #2: Practice makes perfect
How many media appearances do you think Harry has done in his lifetime? I don’t think Factiva goes back far enough to track them all. If some poor flack had to draft a briefing page for every time Harry did an interview, it would have killed a small rain forest and poked a new hole in the ozone layer. Harry’s one smooth operator, you can’t deny that.
Tip # 3: Stay on message
Not sure on this one. Some believe he might be in cahoots with the International Napping Association to promote the health benefits of snoozing. Personally, I think this is a great PR opportunity for an avant-garde celebrity Zen blogger like Brad Warner to rail against a society that doesn’t understand the benefits of a good quiet sit session. If I somehow stumble upon Harry’s briefing page for this appearance and it looks something like this – “Key message: zzzzzz” – then he’s got this category nailed cold. Otherwise, we can only wonder just how on message he really was.
Tip #4: Bridge to another topic when faced with a difficult question
Ok, so the anchorwoman’s opening question “Hey good morning Harry,” really wasn’t a question, nor was it particularly adversarial. Yet Harry froze her out anyway. The man had his reasons I guess. But if Harry was my client, I would remind him to gently redirect the question toward a key message. Perhaps Harry was having a bad morning, what with his sadistic press people forcing him to plow through 59 interviews of inane local morning show banter in one satellite sitting. That would make anyone grumpy, no? A better way to bridge the comment might have been to say, “Well Leyla, it may be a good morning where you are, but where I am, I’m looking forward to this evening, when my new HBO documentary will debut tonight!” Missed opportunity there.
Tip #5: Control the interview
Well if this isn’t a power move by Harry to control an interview, I don’t know what is. It was obvious from the immature banter and giggling from the KBAK anchors (“Harry….wake up Harry?”) that they were just gonna sandbag him, right? So I’m going with the theory that somehow Harry knew and just took preventative action. [Seriously though, the production crew totally knew Harry was lights out before they flipped the switch and put him on the live feed, right? What jerks. Karma will get those guys.]
But wait a minute. Could the joke be on us?
I mean really. When was the last time Harry Belafonte was in the news this much in recent years. And now because of all this, I’m actually interested in watching his HBO documentary. Before it wasn’t even on my radar. New book, new TV show and a viral video that spread like wildfire around the globe? Could it be that he’s not just another sleepy old man but really a PR super genius in disguise?
And I fell right into his trap. You’ve done it again, Harry Belafonte. You’ve done it again.