Keeping Your Cool in the Media "Hot Seat"

by Lynn Porter
July 11, 2013

Candace K. BelAir is a former reporter and producer who has been training people in media, crisis and presentation skills for more than 15 years, with a client list that includes Microsoft,, Nintendo, Starbucks, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. BelAir was formerly with KIRO-TV, Newsweek and CNN.

“The best way to handle a crisis is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place,” BelAir said. She said people call her to help them prepare in advance for a crisis situation. But she also gets calls from people who didn’t prepare and need damage control.

“I can help in either case but I’d much rather, for their sake, that they call me before anything happens.”

BelAir’s seminar, “How to Stay Cool on the Hot Seat” will be held Sept. 10 in Seattle. To register, visit or call (800) 574-4852. The DJC asked BelAir for tips for people in real estate. Here’s what she said.

Q: Some projects face opposition. How do you get neighbors and the press on your side?

A: The time to get the neighborhood on your side is before the project starts. With a proven track record of actively participating in — and contributing to — your neighborhood, you’ve established yourself as a “good neighbor” who cares about and takes pride in the neighborhood. Get involved, roll up your sleeves, donate services and expertise, offer help before you’re asked. Go the extra mile to show you’re committed to the well-being of the neighborhood. When you take the time to develop good relationships with your neighbors, they’re far more likely to support you in your projects. Similarly with the media, establish good relationships before they show up on your property. Follow individual reporter’s stories, and — if you feel they’ve done a fair job — let them know it. Better yet, let their boss know it. Give them a “head’s up” about future story ideas. Return phone calls/emails promptly. Offer to be a resource. Make introductions. Suggest a meeting with the editorial board to discuss industry trends, patterns, projects. Over time, as you develop rapport with the media, you become known to them. A good position to be in, should a controversy later arise.

Q: How can people in real estate get their message across?

A: First, they need to formulate their three key messages. These should be succinct, free of jargon, and answer the question “What’s in it for me?” That’s what readers, listeners and viewers want to know. Remember that reporters have an agenda, which may not be the same as yours. It’s therefore imperative that you know how to stay on message. You do this by a technique called bridging: “I can see why you’d think that; however, the real issue here is …” Or, “That’s one point of view; here’s another …” Or, “That’s an interesting observation; you also want to remember that …” The other useful technique for staying on message is flagging: “What’s important here is that …” Or, “The key point I’d like to make is …” Or, “If there’s one thing that matters most it’s …”

Q: Should the approach change whether the story will run in print, online or on TV or the radio?

A: Print and online are forgiving if your sentences are long and ponderous; the reader has the luxury of reading your words more than once, for comprehension. With radio and TV, there isn’t that luxury of time. The listener or viewer has just one chance to understand what you say, so you better make it simple. Speak conversationally. And remember, television relies on visuals, so be sure to supply plenty for the TV news reporter.

Q: When should an interviewee say “off the record” or “no comment?”

A: I tell my clients to assume everything is on the record. I don’t care if your kids play soccer together, the reporter is not your “friend” when he or she is on the job. Don’t say anything you don’t want splashed across the front page. As for “no comment,” I don’t know of a better way to get reporters on your doorstep, shovel in hand. They’re ready to dig for dirt. “No comment” implies guilt, or you’re hiding something. If you cannot comment, explain why: “I can’t comment because we don’t have all the facts.” Or, “The matter is still under investigation, so it would be premature to comment.” Or, “That information is proprietary, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment.” There’s usually a good reason why you cannot comment; level with reporters and they’ll back off.

Q: If you don’t know the answer, what should you say to a reporter?

A: The common response is, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” That’s a mistake, because you’re ending on a deficit. Instead, say: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out. What I do know is …” Or, “Because that’s not my area of expertise, I’m not comfortable answering. What I can tell you is …” Or, “Since I don’t have all the facts, I can’t answer your question. What I am sure of is…” By adding what you do know or what you can say, you end on a surplus.

Q: How should executives respond during a crisis?

A: Tell the truth and tell it fast. The executive needs to be visible, responsive and sympathetic. He or she needs to show concern for those affected; offer sympathy, support and resources for the victims; express gratitude to those who have helped; and demonstrate that they’ve taken action and are cooperating with authorities (if applicable).

Q: What should they say if there are problems with something they designed, built or developed?

A: Own the problem. The American public has a great capacity for forgiveness; this has been shown over and over again. What they won’t forgive is finger pointing, passing the buck, pinning the blame elsewhere. Admit your mistake, fix it, and go the extra mile to make sure it never happens again. More important than the court of law is the court of public opinion. As scary as it is, a crisis can have a silver lining: it’s an opportunity to enhance your reputation through behavior that exceeds expectations.

Latest Testimonial

“The feedback we received is that your presentation was the best part of our conference. You addressed exactly what we needed. Thank you so much for customizing your content for our audience.”
—Nancy DiFrancia, Director of Human Resources, Comcast

Free Speaking Tips

Sign up for FREE monthly speaking advice from BelAir Training.


You can reach Candace by phone
or email.

T: 425.670.8408

Visit also our social profiles:

Scroll to top