Jeff's Interview with Farmscape on 'When the Headline is YOU'

The recent 2018 Banff Pork Seminar was a great success. I learned a lot about the pork sector and its importance to the Canadian economy. I’m grateful I was invited to speak. After delivering my presentation on dealing with media in a crisis, I was interviewed for Farmscape Radio. The subject, fittingly enough, was what to do when the headline is you

My Time at the 2018 Banff Pork Seminar

I had the pleasure of presenting to 750 delegates at the 2018 Banff Pork Seminar this week. Pork industry representatives from around the world gathered to hear experts discuss genetics, antibiotics, futures - you name it.  Canadian pork supports our agricultural economy and is a key export.  

As keynote speaker, my presentation was less high-brow. I pulled back the media curtain to reveal  how news is made, manipulated, and managed. You see, when media report on the pork industry, it’s usually for a bad news story, like an animal welfare issue.

My 45-minute talk offered strategies to frame the media narrative, especially when public trust is at stake. Special thanks to Ben Woolley for volunteering to be interviewed in front of hundreds of people. Ben did great! 30 minutes after conducting Ben’s interview, my colleague Richard Maxwell  turned the interview into a radio news story.  The audience had opportunity to witness the interview and moments later, hear the precise news story that resulted.  As always, Richard’s rapid turn-around radio report blew the audience away.

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Keynote at the 2018 Banff Pork Seminar

I'm honoured to be keynote speaker Wednesday at the Banff Pork Seminar in Alberta. Hog production is a vital component of Canada's agricultural economy -- and a vital export worldwide. 

At the same time, the sector confronts many tough issues including animal welfare and housing concerns. I'll focus on how the pork industry can best manage its reputation especially when the news isn't good.

The Globe and Mail and it's Fight Against Fake News

Only one third of Americans polled by Gallup say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the news media.  The numbers are likely similar in Canada. Fake news being the concern it is, the Globe and Mail has joined a consortium of international media designed to enhance transparency and trust.

Reporters and their Tactics - Be Prepared for the Focus to Stray

Just because a reporter tells you the focus of an interview beforehand, does not mean she is obliged to stick only to that focus.

When I was working on my investigation of nursing homes I told the administrator of one derelict home that my focus was to heighten awareness of what life is like in a nursing home, in terms of accommodation, food, physiotherapy etc. To ensure I kept to my word I asked questions on those subjects for the first ten minutes of the interview. Then, when the administrator's guard was down, I hit her with questions about abusive staff, stolen property, lousy food, bedbugs and so on. At least she couldn't say I misled her. 

Allegations, Disarming Statements of Contrition, and Social Media's Part in it All

Louis C.K.s expression of contrition threw many people for a loop.

Since the anti sexual harassment campaign ramped up, offering new names every day, we've been hearing responses involving denials and threats of legal action. Louis' response was almost disarming. 

There is absolutely no excuse for behaviour that may in fact be criminal.  What Weinstein, Ratner and Spacey are accused of doing is heinous, no doubt.

But what about allegations against others that may simply stem from mischief making - like current claims against Jeffrey Tambor? 

All it takes to destroy a life these days is an allegation - truthful or otherwise - that can go literally go back decades. 

Recently, a British cabinet minister resigned because in 2002 he touched a woman's knee. Inappropriate as that may be and presuming that's all he did, does that justify ending his career?

Social media (a curse more than a blessing) swiftly produces a groundswell of indignation that immediately writes people off and vilifies them in all ways possible - be they guilty or not. Whatever happened to due process?

Frame Your Narrative

Frame your media narrative before others do it for you.  When reporting controversial news, journalists frequently drive the narrative by casting predictable characters who include the victim, villain, hero, witness, expert and village idiot. By casting characters, reporters are able to to do their research on the run while they write history in a hurry. For example, in the Wells Fargo debacle involving the creation of fictitious accounts, the characters are as follows:

Victim – Wells Fargo clients

Villain – Wells Fargo

Hero – Senator Elizabeth Warren

Witness – Whistleblowers

Experts – Governance, compliance

Village Idiot – CEO John Stumpf

For Wells Fargo to have gotten ahead of the scandal, it should have been quicker in acknowledging the wrongdoing. By the time the CEO apologized, the narrative was firmly set.

5 Critical Media Training Tips

It’s getting harder every day to be an effective spokesperson.

When speaking with a reporter be wary of common tricks they use to get you to say something you shouldn’t. If they ask a question and you don’t know the answer, don’t guess or pretend you know what you’re talking about. A journalist might also ask you a theoretical question, but don’t fall for it. It’s inevitably a trap.

Just because you don’t like the question doesn’t mean you can ignore it. 
Refusing to answer makes a spokesperson look guilty.

Reporters are trained to be disarming, and they might make a spokesperson feel so comfortable that you think you’re talking to a friend. Everything you say, especially the very last question is fair game and can be used against you. Assume the video camera or recording device is on at all times, and be particularly wary of wireless microphones attached to your lapel. Muttering under your breath can be heard, and it counts. Just because the video camera is pointing away or to the ground doesn’t mean the reporter can’t hear you and won’t use the “sound bite!”

It’s OK to ask a journalist to repeat a question if you don’t understand it. They might ask it in a different way that makes it easier for you to answer, plus, while they are figuring out a way to rephrase the question for you, it buys you time to think.

5 Communication Tips from Jeff Ansell to help you be a better spokesperson;

  1. Don’t speculate or answer a hypothetical question
  2. Never say “No Comment!”
  3. There’s no such thing as “Off the Record”
  4. Presume you’re always being recorded
  5. Don’t answer a question you don’t fully understand
    *ask for clarification or rephrasing of the question

5 MORE Critical Media Training Tips

Are you dishonest?

Don’t answer that, because it’s a common
ploy reporters use to trap spokespeople.

You’ll be tempted to address negative words associated with your name or company, but if you don’t know how to answer you will only make matters worse and reinforce the negativity the reporter implied.

If you or your company has done something to harm others, it will be in your best interest to admit that others have been hurt. People want to be heard and know you care. Listen carefully to what a reporter asks of you, respond and add whatever additional quotes and messages you want the journalist to report. Look the journalist in the eye when you answer, but don’t stare or be overpowering.

If the reporter’s questions cause your heart to race, take a slow deep breath and let it out slowly, but don’t sigh. Breathe normally, and keep breathing normally. Listen carefully to questions and be thoughtful in all responses.

5 more communication tips of value for spokespeople by Jeff Ansell

1. Don’t repeat negative words
2. Acknowledge the concerns of the other side
3. Be a good listener
4. Have good eye contact with the interviewer
5. Breathe to stay calm, focused, and in the present moment

5 Critical TIPS for Spokespeople

It’s getting harder every day to be an effective media spokesperson. Newspaper reporters, broadcasters and online media have access to more and better investigative tools, plus, social media has made it almost impossible to hide behind your words.

Spokespeople can’t just show up anymore. You need a plan. It’s up to you as a spokesperson to be able to back up what you say with proof and not leave reporters wondering. Look for others to help back up the argument to your story, ideally specialists who will give your position credibility, but who do not have any connection to you.

It’s also important to not speak over anyone’s head just to sound wiser. Be concise when talking to a reporter and simplify your message. Even though it has to sound like the words are spontaneously rolling off your tongue, the reality is that you need to know exactly what you’re talking about and precisely what you want to say. The secret is to know your information inside out and backwards so you can relax and think clearly.

5 communication tips from Jeff Ansell to help you be a better spokesperson.

  1. Know what you want to say prior to media interviews
  2. Support your messages with facts
  3. Quote third party experts to support your case
  4. Use short, clear sentences
  5. Sound conversational

5 TIPS to be a Better Speaker

If you want to be a better speaker and spokesperson you need to deliver your story one point at a time and not confuse reporters or your audience with multiple layers of information.

Keep it simple. How you speak can be as important as the words you use. Modulate your voice and don’t speak in a monotone. Breathe life into your voice.

Demonstrate your confidence by looking into the reporter’s eyes. Don’t stare them down, instead engage the journalist in a friendly, businesslike manner. Use your eyes and body language to emphasize your words, and be careful to not send mixed messages. For example, don’t say yes and shake your head no, or avert your eyes when you make a statement.

Slow down too. Rushing your words makes it sound like you’re nervous. Put space between your thoughts so the reporter has time to absorb your information, and also so you can buy a little time to think ahead.

5 Important Tips from Jeff Ansell to help you be a Better Speaker

1. Focus on one thought at one time

2. Use inflection and emphasize words to strengthen your message

3. Have meaningful eye contact with the interviewer

4. Use your eyes to match your tone

5. Pause to be thoughtful

5 Essential Tips for Spokespeople


It sounds simple, but the reflexive thing to do when you’re nervous is to hold your breath in preparation for fight or flight! If you breath you’ll bring oxygen to your brain and think more clearly. It will help you concentrate on what you should be saying as you say it.

Use your hands to animate your speech. Don’t be scared to move around a bit and hold your hands up in an open gesture, palms facing forward to help put the reporter at ease. Speak with conviction, but don’t be arrogant. A spokesperson has to convince a reporter that they fully believe the words that leave their lips, because if you don’t believe it, they won’t either.

Here are the last 5 communication tips for spokespeople when being interviewed by a reporter. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you have questions or need more information.

Be well,

Jeff Ansell

Remember …

1. Breathe, especially when listening to or answering a difficult question

2. Focus on what you’re talking about as you talk

3. Use your hands to help you talk

4. Look like you mean it!

5. Say it like you mean it!

Hands Up! Police learn to manage news media effectively.

Talking to a reporter is way harder than it looks on television.

Real life has real challenges. Life would be much easier for law enforcement if the general public was more cooperative and police could solve crimes in one hour.

Here’s an interview I did recently with the Executive Training Institute / ETI 2017 for my April 25th presentation at Supervisor’s Day –  the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference


Thankfully, police officials have a number of tools to make their professions safer and more effective in protecting the public and getting bad guys off the streets.

The most effective tool in a police officer’s kit is communication.

Officers need to know how to “say what you mean, and mean what you say“. A leader who hesitates and stumbles can quickly turn a manageable situation into a crisis.

Narrative is defined as “your story within the story“, and it is framed by a reporter even before a police spokesperson has a chance to speak. It’s easy for reporters to take a paint by numbers approach, which means police officials need communication tools and skills that allow their messages to come across effectively and to be reported in a way that helps keep the peace.

A journalist’s mind is already made up regarding the characters in a story, and their questions often put police on the defensive. The skills required to get a message to the public through news media do not come naturally to anyone. Learning and adopting new communication skills is relatively easy once you know a few secrets.

During my presentation at the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference on April 25th, I’ll share decades of experience on the front lines as an investigative reporter, and give law enforcement officials insight that will ideally help police improve how reporters hear their message, and more importantly how they relay it to their audiences.

Mark Twain wrote,
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

As we’ve all seen recently, a lie does not have to be clearly stated. It can be implied and remain questionable until an untrained spokesperson in authority inadvertently and mistakenly confirms it through an improper statement. Once it leaves your lips it is out of your control and can be repeated over and over until the public believes the lie.

If you’re going to load and aim that mouth, you need to know how to use it responsibly before you pull the trigger on a sound bite that could reverberate around the world.

Spokespeople only have one shot at getting their message right. Speaking to news media is not a casual conversation. It is a performance, and you need to be on target at all times. Reporters are expert at baiting you to let your guard down, and it is at these times where you could say something you regret. Police officials have to come across with authority, but do it in a way that demonstrates concern for public safety.

Bad news is riddled with emotion, so when an incident occurs it’s important to recognize the emotion inherent in the situation. It’s a mistake to ignore how a person feels and instead only focus on the facts. Emotion always wins in the court of public opinion, and it’s where a spokesperson’s battle is fought.

Reporter’s are always on the prowl for an inflammatory sound bite, and will work hard to elicit something you would not normally say. If you recognize the set up you will more easily be able to direct the conversation so it meets your needs.

Social media today allows everyone to be a news reporter. Very often the narrative in social media is also framed first, while mainstream news media try to catch up. It’s a tidal wave game-changer that spokespeople need to recognize and respect. Ignore it at your peril.

It’s critically important to go into an interview knowing what you want to say. Information comes at you fast and furiously so you must be prepared with messages you want media to report. Know how you want to come across.

Media now talk to police in ways they never did before, which makes police feel disrespected and elicits a negative defensive response. Police spokespeople need to identify what words they want used to describe how they want stakeholders to regard their message specific to the particular situation. I address this concept in detail in my book, “When the Headline Is YOU” and call it your “Value Compass“.

My goal during my chiefs of police presentation is to provide law enforcement with a framework to tell their story in media, in a manner that allows them to influence the way journalists edit the story.

Reporters cast characters and very often look for a “star” of the show.

Speaking to the media represents a very unnatural dynamic. I’ll also show and discuss videos related to law enforcement in media, from both a pro and con perspective.

No doubt that talking to reporters today is much more difficult than in the past, but the good news is that managing media effectively and how your message comes across is a skill that can be learned.

I am going to open the Executive Training Institute’s segment, ETI 2017 Supervisor’s Dayof the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference on April 25th at the St. Cloud River’s Edge Conference Center, and expect everyone there will come armed, with questions.


FBI Director James Comey and Jeff Ansell at IACP 2015