Lessons from the Cluetrain: Imperatives for presenters
Presentation documents and writing for non-writers

Pitching in the "no-spin era"

Appearing on a TV show to talk about your product is a lot like making a presentation to an audience of potential clients. It's an opportunity to pitch. In chapter three of Art of the Start (The Art of Pitching, MP3) author Guy Kawasaki says "The gist of pitching is to get off to a fast start, explain the relevance of what you do, stay at a high level, listen to audience reaction, and then pitch over and over again until you get it right." Keep it short, simple, and effective. And, of course, in both cases authenticity, transparency, and honesty are key.

Torie_stewart_1 Torie Clarke, an expert in communications and public relations, is smart and experienced. So when Clarke appeared on Jon Stewart's Daily Show (see video) last week to plug her book, Lipstick on a Pig, I expected her — like many guest authors who appear on the show — to have a little fun but also to give a clear and concise picture of what her book was about and why I should read it. Instead, I saw one of the oddest, most uncomfortable TV interviews I have seen in a long time. Yes, the Daily Show is not a news program, but Stewart does have real people on to talk, albeit briefly, about real issues and promote their idea or pitch their book. Clarke is an experienced CNN analyst so I thought she would do very well in this kind of situation. Did she? You judge for yourself.

Surely I was not the only one who thought this was a bizarre interview. After I watched the clip (twice), I went immediately to Amazon to checkout what people were saying about the book. At that time there were eight "reviews" (comments), yesterday it was up to eleven. Yet only one person had apparently read the book. The rest of the "reviews" were mostly from people commenting on her poor performances on the Daily Show and on MSNBC's Hardball (see video from crooksandliars.com) and on how her credibility was at best dubious based on those TV appearances. Oddly, Amazon has erased all of the "reviews" except for one. Amazon does have rules for people submitting reviews, although if you search deep in Amazon you will find many 1-star ratings, for example, from people who clearly did not read the book and have a personal grudge, political or otherwise. In this case, Amazon seemed to act very quickly.

In the book The Articulate Executive (recommended) author Granville Toogood devotes an entire chapter to speaking with the media. His advice: "Clarify and instruct. Give vivid examples...convey your answer and/or point of view in the most helpful way you can." Clarke did not give good examples to support the claim that "we're in a no-spin era" except to say that calling the NSA wire-tapping issue the "terrorist surveillance program" was not an example of spin, as Stewart suggested, but rather a "more accurate description."

Appearing on the Daily Show has to be one the easiest interview settings to pitch a book there is (in the US). Did Clarke take the interview too lightly? In the end, I really was not sure what her book was about or what she believed in. You appear on a TV show because you have a story to tell. If you do not, why go on the show? (The same can be said for presenting for your team or at an international conference, etc.)

Stuff happens. No worries — get it right the next day in your blog.
We can forgive mistakes and blunders on live TV. One's blog, however, is a great opportunity to tell the truth, explain your mistakes and detail what you should have said, what you actually meant, etc. From chapter one of Clarke's book (excerpts available at Amazon) she says "...when you screw up, say so — fast!" Clarke urges us to be transparent, honest, and be ready and willing to explain our story in clear, simple terms. All of this makes sense, of course.  So I go to Clarke's blog (set up about a week ago to promote the book) expecting to see an open, transparent, from-the-heart discussion on her appearance on the Daily Show. Her only comment on her less-than-stellar performance was this:

"Jon Stewart -- funny of course, but also some very thoughtful observations about the NSA wiretapping story, Congressional malfeasance and the wonder of new babies."

Fine, the only problem is that I actually saw the TV appearance. Her words paint a quick sanitized version of the event. Does her description of the interview itself sounds like "spin"?

Wouldn't it be more transparent and honest if Clarke said something like this: "I had fun on the Daily Show, but I could have done a better job of explaining my book. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking at the tape later that day, I realize that my message sounded muddled and contradictory. That's my bad. So let me clear things up here and explain what I mean when I say 'we're living in a no-spin era'...." Then give us links to the CBS interview (which was better) or the Hardball interview (which was worse though not all her fault). As she says, put the spotlight on the mistakes, put the spotlight on "the good stuff and the bad stuff."

Torie Clarke is a communications expert. I hope she will take her own communications advice with her blog and make it fresh, transparent, honest, from-the-gut, and completely unsanitized by any of her own PR folks. I suggest Clarke take Robert Scoble's advice in the Corporate Weblog Manifesto: Tell the truth and post fast on good news or bad. I suggest she read this book, Naked Conversations, as well.


Joe Weaks

I didn't know who Torie Clarke was, but I am a faithful Daily Show watcher, and it's a nice affirmation to see you post on the interview, because while I was watching it last week, I had similar thoughts--she was embarassingly off-kilt and weird and incoherent.
It looked to me like she had determined this was the largest position she was going to have to publish a book, so she went for it--but I found nothing that would make me interested in whatever her points were. I would never waste time on pages of her book after the interview.


"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." (Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects)

The corollary to this is that the greatest act of spin is to convince the world that spin doesn't exist.

According to Clarke's own words spin is pervasive in this no-spin era. Welcome to the wonderful world of PR.


I love this blog! Garr, I use your great ideas and observations every day. I respect you as a clear communicator and value the advice you share. That said...I think you're missing the point here. The reason you and others thought the interview was akward and indirect was because it was an ACTUAL INTERVIEW, unscripted, with a host who commonly rejects (and usually mocks) the day's talking points. Where other TV journalists ask the question, accept the pat answer, and move to the next question, Stewart actually *listens* and adjusts his next question accordingly.

When he felt Clarke was spinning her concept, he simply let her hypocracy embarrass her. It was awkward because he dared to challenger her ridiculous thesis, and she didn't have an answer for it. Stewart would be the first person to admit it's very, very sad that a comedian with a fake news show, in segments no longer than a couple minutes, tends to conduct more intelligent, respectful, and informative studio interviews than virtually anyone on the major network news shows.

It was a brilliant moment. A PR person unable to defend her own book. How could she not know what was coming? I love your point about her spinning the appearance on her own blog (probably fake). But that's they only way she can hope to salvage her reputation after the appearance.

Shawn Lea

I think she recovered a little in the end, but her the big mistake (which led to the other smaller ones) was saying that we live in a no-spin era and getting Stewart's shackles up. But after you listen to her talk for a while, you see that what she means is that we live in an era when a no-spin rule is the only valid one. With information everywhere, your "spin" will just be ridiculed and picked apart and laughed at. And she's right about that. (Disclaimer: I have not read the book at all. I am commenting solely on her Daily Show interview.)

Kare Anderson

Torie was part of a panel at a conference at which I spoke so it was synchronistic to search and find your pithy commentary and your fascinating blog. As a panelist, she did not answer several questions directly, made five references to her book by name (the other panelists/authors did not) and told one questioner that his question was off the point of the panel topic. I was startled. Am going to refer to your blog in my Say it Better ezine
- another new fan of PZ

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