Ten Rules for Press from 20 years ago

I did the new eight rules because I couldn’t find my old ten rules — they’re essentially the same because the underlying truth (keep your mouth shut unless you know what you are saying) remains constant. Still for those who prefer an aged version, here are the Old Ten once known as Words of Wisdom.


Credit to Caitlin for finding these first but she’s not the only one.

Eight Rules for Talking to the Press

EightRulesforthePress  (PDF version)

I’m at University of Michigan for a semester, teaching as Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence, and was invited to speak to a workshop on talking to the Press.  I wrote up Eight Rules, based on a paper of ten rules I did twenty years ago when Mike McCurry took over the podium at the State Department. I couldn’t find the original so I put together an updated version below (the first comment is that you don’t need ten rules to fill out the space; say what you need to say and then stop):   

Ten Eight Rules for Speaking to the Press

1 70% Looks,20% Sound,

10% Content

➢     Comb your hair➢     Talk slowly

➢     Watch yourself with the sound off.

➢     Don’t mumble; speak on a good connection.

➢     Free your hands; lift your chin; look at the camera, lean forward.

2 Think with your mouth shut. ➢     Stop saying…Uh, well, So, OK.➢     Pause and think.

➢     Silence (in small doses) makes you look thoughtful.

➢     Finish sentences with your mouth closed.

3 Know who you are (The Simba Rule) ➢     Only say what you know you know.➢     Do your homework.  Study, rehearse.

➢     Know your main points and make sure you make them.

➢     Practice a sound-bite — 9 seconds (about a Tweet).

➢     If an answer is more than 40 seconds, it better be good.

➢     Anticipate questions.  You can probably figure out 70%.

4 They will write the story. ➢     Tell a story, not just facts.  Use examples.  What happened, why, how and what it means.➢     Do you want to be in the story or not?

➢     Can you help the reporter get it right?  Even if you don’t have a point of view, don’t end up fixing errors tomorrow.

➢     Treat their questions with respect; they get the last word.

5 Make the rules clear. ➢     On camera, on-the-record, background, off-the-record.➢     Live?  Taped?  In its entirety?  Right to approve quotes?

➢     You state the rules:  “We’re on background here, right?”

➢     The more up front you are, the more credible you are.

6 Talk to your mother. ➢     Small words, big thoughts.➢     If your mom understands, others will too.

➢     If you can’t convince her, you won’t convince anyone.

➢     She’ll be excited to see you on TV.

7 Always tell the truth ➢     Everything can be searched and checked –forever.➢     You don’t have to tell all the truth, but everything you say must be true and not designed to mislead.

➢     Admit mistakes.  Make the story about how you are fixing the problem, not about the problem.

8 Talk to the crisis ➢     First reports are always wrong!  Don’t forget this!  Ever!➢     Keep cool, your first job is to build confidence.

➢     Use action verbs:   “We’re investigating.”  “We’re contacting” “We’re examining” “We’re preparing”  “We’re searching” Not:  “We’re waiting for more information.”

Perhaps some of this might be useful for future spokespersons or those thrust forward in a crisis.