My Keynote at the Progressive Dairy Operators Triennial Symposium

I had the great pleasure of speaking at the progressive dairy operators Triennial Symposium on the topic 'When The Headline Is You'. 

You can read the Ontario Farmer’s news article written by Ian Cumming on my Keynote below —

How to keep your cool when you become the headline; The truth is not good enough when dealing with mob media, speaker says

Ontario Farmer 

Tue Mar 12 2019 

Page: A10 

Section: News 

Byline: Ian Cumming 

Source: Ontario Farmer 

Toronto -Jeff Ansell trains people how to act and what to say when the media is focused on them, usually as a group and in a profoundly negative way.

Speaking here at the Progressive Dairy Operators Triennial Symposium, on the topic 'When The Headline Is You'Ansell is renowned around the world as a top media coach, mainly because he used to be one of those top “vultures” on the media side, he said.

Famed for uncovering Nazi war criminals, doctors dealing drugs to addicts, or vulnerable foster children, "being a vulture started to bother me," he said. The defining moment came one night during a slow news day; there was nothing profound to lead with and grab the local TV audience's attention.

A child had been in an accident that day and 10 minutes before they were to go on air the producer burst into the room and said, "good news, the child died. And the room cheered," recalled Ansell.

"I quit that night." Carving out a new career, "training people to deal with people like me," he said.

“The truth is not good enough," when dealing with mob media, said Ansell. "An accurate story is a happy coincidence.”

When the dairy industry is hit with events like Chilliwack in the media, all the components are there for the media to highlight it, said Ansell.

"Taking the Hollywood approach," you had your victim, the cows. You had your villains, which were the people working on the operation and you'll expand on your report with the witness, the animal welfare expert and try to find "the village idiot, who'll take that problem and make it worse," he said.

Ansell, through video clips, provided several examples of where the 'village idiot', either a company CEO, a supposed expert sent out to counterbalance the horrible narrative being presented, totally failed, because either they were not empathetic to the situation, were combative, and said very stupid things in the heat of the moment, while on the air.

He noted the long-term consequences of these companies who didn't handle the media correctly when explaining pollution, a terrible work site accident, or a bad product, ended up losing their businesses.

He also provided examples where the right image and honest words were presented in similar cases, the story went away much quicker, with the company "still able to be in business," said Ansell.

If you're confronted with a bad news story, "get on the front page, take your shot in the kisser, it will be the bottom of the bird cage tomorrow night," said Ansell.

Reporters will not go out of their way to mislead people on what you say, said Ansell. If caught, for that reporter, "it's a matter of personal shame," he said.

However what a reporter is good at, is getting you to say something that you wished you hadn't said, that they can run with to a headline, said Ansell.

When a reporter calls or confronts you, "they want you to drop everything, now," he said. However, if called, have questions for the reporters, such as the objective, the audience, the timeline, which, when known, gives you time and can help you focus on what to say, said Ansell.

“Don't yap fancy," advised Ansell. "Stack em, pack em, rack em.”

"Simply report your message," said Ansell. If there are multiple media involved, "find different ways and words," when speaking to the same subject, he said.

In the 1960s the average TV and radio sound bite was 40 seconds, today it's eight seconds, said Ansell.

When a person is confronted with the press for the first time, "they have racing brain syndrome; it happens to everybody," he said.

So get yourself composed, "carefully listen to the reporter and listen to the answer you give when talking back to the TV," said Ansell. "It's not a confessional."

Always remember "that a reporter can talk to you, like no one else can," said Ansell.

"It's too easy to get angry" back at them, said Ansell. When in that situation "you take on the perception of fight or flight; all you're thinking about is survival," he said.

This “out of body experience” can be mitigated by holding your breath, stopping and listening, and concentrating on how are you going to answer that, said Ansell.

The ideal village idiot, who will make a situation much worse, makes it all about them, said Ansell. "It's been a long day, I'm tired and want to go home, so let's wrap this up," was in one video where a company CEO met reporters for the first time, after there had been a catastrophic accident at a company.

You portray you and your company's value compass, and filter that through the message, that you want to do the right thing, said Ansell.

He used the Starbucks example of being visibly hurt and upset, plus doing the right thing, when some of their employees really disrespected a couple of African American customers.

As far as social media, trying to win there is hopeless, said Ansell. "About 99 times out of 100 you will lose. The best you can expect is to break even. Don't jump in every time folks say something."

Ian Cumming
Agricultural Journalist
Ontario Farmer