It takes a lot to make Jim Rome look at least somewhat sympathetic. Actually, not sure it’s ever been done before. But David Stern found a way earlier this week, delivering the sort of churlish answer that made him look childish and insensitive. And, in doing so, reinforced a key lesson to anyone in the communications business: You can never prepare too much for an interview.
As a refresher, here’s what transpired. On Wednesday, the shock jock asked the NBA commissioner a question that’s been plastered across airwaves for the last couple weeks. Did the NBA have a hand in the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets securing the first pick in the Draft Lottery? Stern called it “ridiculous.” But when pressed further about the issue, Stern responded, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
Pretty classless. Just the type of remark that, uttered by a player, would have yielded a nice little fine from the league office.
You can probably look at this three ways – none of which makes it any better. Either Stern was caught off-guard by the line of questioning, wasn’t in the right mindset for the interview or he knew exactly what he was doing and blatantly failed. Each offers a lesson in what to do and what not to do.
1. Preparation. Even the most seasoned of spokespeople can leap off the rails. Always ensure that they understand the interviewer(s), the topics, the pitfalls and how to transition out of any uncomfortable areas. Stern shouldn’t have been caught off-guard by a topic – regardless of its legitimacy – discussed ad nauseum online and on airwaves. Conspiracy theory or not, Stern should have expected the question. Despite Rome’s pressing, it was, for all intents and purposes, a softball that he should have nailed – in whichever direction he wanted to take it.
2. Focus. Always make sure that your spokesperson is in the right mindset, and is properly focused on the interview. I have a client who – even after initial preparing – likes to clear everything else from his mind about 15 minutes prior to an interview to ensure that he’s focused on the right messages and thinking about how he can deflect any questions back to the story we’re trying to tell. Who knows Stern’s mindset in this case, but an agitator like Rome requires singular focus.
3. Rehearse. It’s not always possible to go through all parts of an interview. But if you plan to deliver a forceful and/or contrarian message, make sure you’ve run it by someone else. Let’s assume that Stern knew what he was doing, that he wanted to deliver a moralistic rebuke to the type of hyperbolic approach practiced by Rome. That’s fair. Pretty sure, however, that if he suggested an analogy marginalizing domestic violence, someone would have hit the brakes. If it’s not enough that one in four women in the U.S. will be a victim of domestic violence, Stern can Google NBA and domestic violence.
The bottom line is you can never be too prepared. Make sure you understand what you want to say and how you want to say it, who you’re saying it to and in what environment. Otherwise, you can end up making Jim Rome come off as the (almost) good guy.