PR Lessons from Kellyanne Conway
Like the rest of America, I’ve been closely watching the transition of the Trump Administration into the White House. With his background as a reality TV host and penchant for cable news, there’s no question that the Trump Administration – and President Trump himself – makes for engaging television. From Cabinet picks to every tweet, we’ve all quickly become political media junkies.
After the first couple months in office, I’ve been particularly intrigued by senior Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway and how she handles regular challenging media interviews. As a PR professional, she’s fascinating to watch in action. And regardless of your politics, she’s exceptional at what she does. While she’s recently come off a mini-hiatus from interviews there’s much to be learned just from watching her. More interesting still, these are techniques that any spokesperson can apply to their own interviews.
Here are three key things she does exceptionally well:
Deflect and Bridge: As with any interview, it’s important to stick to messaging. But what Conway does so well – to the consternation of journalists everywhere – is pivot almost immediately to the issue she wants to discuss. This allows her to take control of the interview and ensure that her message is delivered. She typically finds a natural way to transition to her preferred topic based on the question asked, or simply says what it is that she is there to discuss. No matter how she does it, Conway shifts deftly to the topic of her preference with ease by employing this common tactic.
Relentless Adherence to the Message: As Conway has shown a knack for bridging, part of why she does this so effectively is her ability to stay on-message. When Conway pivots from the questions asked of her, she quickly shifts focus to the message she wants to convey. The question itself is almost irrelevant because she finds a connection to what it is that she wants to discuss. Once she’s made that connection, she fully commits to her messaging and delivers it convincingly. Meaning that no matter what Conway is asked, the issues that she’s focused on are heard by viewers.
Unflappable Presence: Because she pivots and deflects so well, Conway is often asked the same questions multiple times or in a variety of ways. Given that, it would be easy for her to get flustered. But Conway never shows signs of frustration or misses an opportunity to convey her desired messages. She’s always poised, and knows how important it is to continue to have a positive face no matter the subject. She keeps that positive attitude and does not show signs of weariness or frustration. She just keeps going, which almost makes her more challenging to interview.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge one “Don’t” from watching Conway. She’s developed a bit of a reputation for being evasive because she doesn’t always directly answer questions. She’s done this with enough frequency that it’s something to watch. It’s critical to balance messaging with being helpful to a reporter by answering their questions. In some cases, Conway’s disrespect for common facts has led to her being barred from interviews by some news outlets.
With that said, there is a lot to learn from how Conway approaches an interview. Keep these takeaways in mind next time you’re in the interview seat.
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