Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
My first job in the media business was as a sports journalist, where when reporters questioned mangers and coaches most answers were given in what was then called “coach talk.”
Reporter to baseball manager: “How long are you going to go with Tommy at shortstop, given that he’s lost a couple of steps and can no longer hit the fast ball?’ Answer: What he brings to the clubhouse is immeasurable.”
Reporter to football coach: “Are you considering benching Phil because he no longer can throw a long pass? Answer: “His knowledge of the game makes up for his loss of arm strength.”
“Coach talk” is Gobbledygook.
After a few years as a reporter and editor, whose beats, in addition to sports, included entertainment, and politics and the police and courts, I landed my first PR job, with a political firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns.
What I learned there was that for many politicians what they said was not what they really believed. That wasn’t gobbledygook but outright lying. (In our business, many statements by PR people or clients during a crisis are gobbledygook.)
Eventually, I joined Burson-Marsteller, where I toiled for almost a quarter of a century, climbing the ladder to become a vice president/senior counselor, responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and nonsports programs and traveling the world as a media advisor for high-ranking government officials. Gobbledygook was never part of my strategy.
At B-M, gobbledygook was used by desperate a.e.’s trying to convince unhappy clients that the sun will come out tomorrow, as they made excuses for failed media efforts. (Supervisors of programs that achieved good results didn’t have to learn the language of gobbledygook. The results spoke for themselves.)
Throughout the industry, media trainers convince clients that they can teach them how to turn a reporter’s negative question into a positive; crisis specialists convince clients that they have the magical wands to make bad press go away. And naive or desperate clients become believers, only to learn that reporters will ignore their rose-colored gobbledygook answers and that the negative news stories continue.
But no where has gobbledygook been more evident than during the two years discussions on cable news about the Mueller report that was released on April 18.
Four important take-a-ways:
- Throughout the investigation the cable reporters and pundits reported about how connecting the dots showed that Trump colluded with the Russians. The special counsel’s report said it didn’t, said the Attorney General.
- Throughout the investigation, the cable reporters and pundits reporting said that statements made by the president were evidence of obstruction of justice. The special counsel’s report did not determine that there was obstruction n of justice, said the Attorney General.
- The Attorney General’s press conference was immediately disparaged by the cable reporters and pundits, saying much of what he said was gobbledygook.
- In effect, the report vindicated the president, said the Attorney General. What the ongoing Congressional investigation uncovers is still to be determined.
Until the actual report is analyzed by the Congressional committees and the Congressional investigations are concluded, the gobbledygook coverage on cable TV will continue. Only then will we know whose gobbledygook is worse – the cable entertainers or the Attorney General’s.
However, there are valuable lessons that people in our business could learn from how cable TV covered the Mueller report:
- Reporters will question the statements of what clients say during a press conference.
- Always prepare for negative feedback from reporters during and after a press conference.
- And most important, never make assumptions in press releases or during conversations with reporters unless you have facts to back them up; gobbledygook doesn’t work.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the