Publicity stunt or poor planning?

Christine O'Donnell on Piers Morgan Tonight

The kerfuffle over last week’s Piers Morgan interview with former Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell has many communications professionals chatting about publicity stunts and protocol for live on-air interviews. 

Some speculate that O’Donnell and her PR team had planned her hasty exit all along.  If you missed the segment last Wednesday evening, you can catch it on YouTube, which has nearly 400,000 views to date.  The interview got heated when Morgan pressed O’Donnell on the issue of gay marriage.  She agreed to appear on the show to discuss her new book, “Trouble Maker: Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again,” but clearly became irritated when the topic of gay marriage, an issue which is covered in her book, was addressed. O’Donnell lashed out at the urbane British journalist and accused him of being “a little bit rude.” 

I find it hard to believe that O’Donnell hadn’t anticipated this difficult question.  Is it possible that her seasoned PR team would have secured this top-tier interview and not prepared her with a response should this topic arise?  As with any news program – especially one on an established national cable network – it’s important to anticipate and prepare answers for all potential questions the interviewer may ask.

When one of our clients is scheduled to be interviewed by the media, we prepare them with mini-media preparedness sessions.  The session is critical to test out key messages and responses to difficult questions.  Participants in our media preparedness sessions are familiar with our refrain: an interview is a choreographed exchange of information, not a conversation.  It is critical to anticipate the answers to questions before they are even asked.  Either O’Donnell didn’t heed this advice or her dramatic walk-out was in fact part of the strategy.

Since this particular political commentator is not a media novice, I believe there were other factors at play here.  I think she knowingly went into the interview prepared to exit if the interview made her uncomfortable.  Since she was interviewed via satellite it was easier to walk off the show than if she were on set face-to-face with Morgan in New York City.  Regardless, I don’t think she’ll be booked on another CNN program any time soon.  However, we are still talking about the incident and Morgan devoted a good portion of a subsequent show to O’Donnell’s walkout.

Was this a publicity stunt or poor spokesperson planning?

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