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Media and Crisis Management

Tom Cruise Shows Businesspeople How Not to Talk to the Media

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Tom Cruise Shows Businesspeople How Not to Talk to the MediaCrisis Communications – From archives

Tom Cruise was dropped by Paramount for eccentric actions that dragged down the profitability of his movies. So, his behavior in 2005 proved to have consequences in spite of his being tops at the box office. Here is what I wrote in 2005:

Tom Cruise gave us business folks a case study in what happens when you wear your heart on your sleeve as you talk to the news media. It may feel good at the moment to “let her rip “around cameras and notepads, but there is no predicting the consequences.

You probably know that the actor took heat for an exuberant, jump on the couch, and kneel on the floor expression of affection for fiancé-to-be Katie Holmes on Oprah. Some thought it juvenile, some a publicity stunt. While discussing his belief in Scientology he criticized actor Brooke Shields’ taking anti-depressants for post partum depression. As he defended his remarks with Matt Lauer on the Today show, Cruise called psychiatry pseudo-science, condemned psychiatric abuses of Ritalin and shock therapy, and accused the routinely well-prepped and tough Lauer of not knowing what he was talking about. With an in-your-face tone Cruise accused Lauer of being glib.

While this may seem mere couch potato sport, there are three teachable moments from the Cruise walkabouts that matter to you and me.

One, his actions and words eclipsed what he was supposed to be doing – promoting his new movie “War of the Worlds”. (Director Steven Spielberg must feel like he’s swimming with sharks.)

Two, his anti-psychiatry remarks could cost him credibility among thoughtful fans.

Three, dressing down reporters is dicey although Lauer remained remarkably restrained.

Sure, for this world-class superstar these events will probably pass like a ship in the night. He’s got the wealth and box office clout to shrug it off. No such luck for you and me if we acted like Tom Cruise just did. We don’t a have a Cruise cushion if we err when talking to the media. We cannot chance rhapsodizing about our feelings or wasting opportunities to sell our services, products, and professionalism. We sure can’t poke fingers in the eyes of reporters like a Matt Lauer.

I remember a bank executive client who prepared diligently to talk to reporters about a big embezzlement and what was being done to prevent a recurrence. He did well. The story was balanced. However, a story a day later was not helpful, largely because of the executive’s quotes. I asked him what went wrong. He said he forgot what he was trying to accomplish with the interview and talked too much to the reporter. You could say he suffered a Tom Cruise moment.

Elsewhere, an executive for a huge client who had considerable press experience made offhand remarks in an interview that were embarrassing to the company. What happened? He began talking extemporaneously instead of remaining focused. Another Tom Cruise moment.

What makes spilling your guts to the media so attractive is that our culture admires people who speak their minds. I remember a woman I worked with who would flat tell you exactly what she thought regardless whether it hurt your feelings. She was not mean; just blunt. Because she was not malicious, most of us respected her uninhibited style. I think most people secretly would like to be like that: always candid and truth-telling no matter the fallout. In fact Cruise himself got good press from The New York Times for his tête-à-tête with Lauer. Journalist Alessandra Stanley said, “Mr. Cruise seemed unbound, and perhaps even a little unsound, but there was something enjoyably bracing and bold about his outburst.” She added, “It was not the agreeable, affable Tom Cruise that viewers are accustomed to, and that alone made it worth a glance: an actor who has kicked the publicist habit.”

Ms. Stanley may think it’s great that Cruise was bold, and it sure made for entertaining viewing. Nevertheless, while many of us business professionals would like to be as charismatic, successful, and unrestrained as Tom Cruise, it is not wise for us to talk “unbound” to the press. That is risky business we cannot afford.

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