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Debate Gaffes and Guffaws: Lessons from a Political Consultant

It’s crunch time for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and, as David Carr just wrote in a New York Times’ article, “it may just be that audiences prefer authenticity to the confection of attack ads”.  But how authentic can a candidate actually be in a debate? That “authenticity” is carefully managed.  To find out how, I talked to someone who is constantly thinking about how to handle the personal brand of politicians…

As managing director for SKDKnickerbockerStefan Friedman does crisis communications and brand building for corporations, non-profits, unions, and politicians. He also happens to live down the street from me and is a lovely guy.

Here’s what he told me about getting out a memorable message while using video (my favorite) and dealing with personal foibles and the inevitable gaffes.

Manoush: You do strategic communications for big companies, and politicians. How does video fit into crisis communications and brand building?

Stefan: There’s always a video component for pretty much every client we have. Whether it’s corporate or non-profit or political, video is still the number one way to get your message out.

MZ: What are you finding works best?

SF: Well, for example, when (New York Mayor) Mike Bloomberg’s poll ratings were sagging a bit after the blizzard (of 2011). We went up with an ad* that used footage from his 2009 campaign. We put that on television, we put it online, and you saw his poll numbers go up slightly. Generally with politicians, you don’t use video unless it’s during a campaign cycle but this was off-cycle. The internet allows you this reach that you never had before.

MZ: Is quality or quantity more important?

SF: A great ad is better than 15 mediocre ads, because people will remember it. People always remember the 3 AM Hillary Clinton ad, for example. That’s an ad that had a lot of resonance. People want to relate to politicians and corporate folk on a human level. It’s very challenging to use humor in a 30 second soundbite for TV. But on the internet you can have a little bit more creativity. I remember this video of  Karl Rove dancing at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Those videos now go viral. There’s a danger with that of course too. If you make a mistake like George Allen’s “Macaca” moment four years ago, you’re finished.

MZ: Has that changed because of the way you do media training?

SF: No question. It’s no longer “don’t say anything you don’t want to see on the cover of The New York Times”. It’s “don’t say anything you don’t want to see on YouTube”.

MZ: Do you recommend that your clients be looser though? There is this intimacy that the internet has created.

SF: It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great if they relax and relate to people. But it’s the gaffe that you worry about. It’s the gaffe that finishes you. It’s Freddie Ferrer saying that the cops and Amadou Diallo shouldn’t have been charged. That basically ended his mayoral campaign. You have to be able to stay on message while being relaxed. It’s not something that politicians or heads of corporations are used to doing. They’re not talking heads.

MZ: Who are some of the people that you think really do cut through the camera and really grab the audience and are able to tread that fine line?

SF: The master of this is Bill Clinton. I saw him at the Rockefeller Foundation and I wanted to go the next day and volunteer to work for the Clinton Global Initiative. If you look at sports broadcasts, people like Bob Costas and Joe Buck. You feel like you’re in the booth with them. It’s a skill and a talent. There are very few who do it well and many who do it poorly.

MZ: How do you see your job changing in the next few years?

SF: I think we have to start getting a little bit more creative in the way we do advertising in politics. There is a standard message of a negative ad is the first 15 seconds of negative, and then the next fifteen seconds are how the politicians going to fix all of it, right? People are turned off by that now.

MZ: Thanks so much, Stefan. Anything else you think we should know?

SF: Look, people do things you cannot control. People are people, right? The (former NY Congressman) Anthony Weiner thing is still unbelievable… I mean, I’ve known Anthony for better than a decade now, and when that story came out a reporter from The Post called me and said, “What do you think?” And I said, “This guy is so sharp and so gets the medium. He understands Twitter and Facebook and Youtube. You’ve got to be crazy. There is no way.” It turns out that there was something in his personality that trumped everything.  Media is so important and communication is so important, but personality trumps everything. There’s nothing anybody in the world could have done to help Anthony Weiner that day.

*I looked for this ad but could not find it online. Here is a link to Bloomberg’s personal YouTube channel though.

This interview with Stefan appears in my ebook Camera Ready…check it out for more interviews with thought leaders in the field of video and follow me on Twitter @manoush. Btw, this post first was first published on Personal Branding Blog.


Posted in Books, fancy friends, future of news, media tips, media training, new york times, social media, video ideas
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Kickstarter Backers: Making Camera Ready Happen

In the end, 131 Camera Ready backers gave $5,120 in 30 days, bringing us to 102% of our goal.

Below is a list of the kind, generous, and patient people who backed Camera Ready on Kickstarter. And I’m not even related to all them! They put up with emails from us once, sometimes 2-3 times a day during the campaign. Without them, my eBook would just be an exercise in existential publishing. I’m incredibly grateful for all their support, financially and mentally. Thank you all so much.

(Now I just really hope they like the book…and if you do, won’t you please post a short review on the website of your eBook store of choice, be it Amazon, iBooks, or Nook? Yup, we just keep on asking and asking…)


Ozan Akcin
Roberto Allende
Fiona Anderson
Sara Bacon
Vivek Bantwal
Alison Barker
Cindy Betz
Andy Blackman
Chris Booth
Heather Boxerman
Michelle Brooks
Sarah Brown
Dave Chase
Kirsten Cluthe
Craig Cohen
Geraldine Condron
Seamus Condron
Carson Coots
Riaan Cornelius
Dan Costa
Amy Costello
Scott Cote
Philippe Chanelet Dardenne
Floyd DCosta
Allison Diamond
Renee Diamond
James Diers
Marlon Disla
M. Edward (Ed) Borasky
Sue Ellis
Michael Empric
Sarah Evans
Mina Farbood
Annie Feighery
Bret Ferree
Jack Ferry
Damian Fowler
Phil Furey
Bret Ganis
Josh Geller
Jodi Glickman
David Glover
Sarah Graves
Dorian Greyscale
Stella Grizont
Dana Dorfman Grubin
Ishita Gupta
Rex Hammock
Ellis Henican
Carey Hennigar
Charles Herman
Kitt Hodsden
Helene Hovanec
Ian Hughes
Christopher Irving
Stacy-marie Ishmael
Lily Jamali
Mark James
Peter Jaros
Eason Jordan
Zelda Josephs
George Kachadorian
Darryl Kang
Bobbi Rebell Kaufman
Juha Kaunisto
Emily Kennedy
Monti Knazze
Anjali Kumar
Livia Kutsher
Lisa Larson-Kelley
Richard Lister
Dale Lutz
Laura Metzger Lynch
Rebecca Mansell
Yukiko Matsuoka
Lisa McDivitt
Ashley Milne-Tyte
Paul Moses
Bitta Mostofi
Mani Mostofi
Alyson Brown Navarro
Holly Epstein Ojalvo
Oliver Olanoff
Günther Ottendorferk
Will Parker
Rob Pennington
Jonathan Ploudre
Josh Quaas
Anthony Ramirez
Neil Reese
Mike Richter
Eric Ries
Joshua Robin
Cory Roush
Chad Ruble
Douglas Rushkoff
Amy Sanders
CJ Scarlet
Kyle Scheele
Shakti Shukla
Paula & Andrew Smiley
Philippa Tarrant
Philippa Thomas
Jessica Toonkel
Daniel Tsou
Gretchen Van Esselstyn
Frank P. Ward
Molly Watkins
Ryann Wayne
Andrew Wilson & Claire Bolderson
Jeanne Yurman
Rick Yvanovich
Ali Zomorodi
Armin Zomorodi
Gitta Zomorodi
Kaveh Zomorodi

Posted in Books, fancy friends, Publishing
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Men: What You Should Wear On Camera


Here are some rules and tips to keep you looking awesome on air or online…and stop the audience from being distracted by your outfit!


  • A well-cut (NOT baggy) suit and consider pairing it with a bold orange or purple tie rather than the usual conservative red or blue (unless you are running for President).
  • Casual shirts can work but skip the colors white, gray, or light brown. A T-shirt is fine if you are a surfer or doing home repairs but go for a collared casual shirt if you are an entrepreneur or business owner.
  • If you are appearing on camera because you are a doctor, fireman, or some other recognized role, then wear the uniform. Play the part.


  • Green if you are in front of a “green screen.” Your body will be invisible.
  • The color of your backdrop.For example, if you are going to be a guest on Charlie Rose, don’t wear black. The black background will make you look like a floating head.
  • Sometimes red. A red that is too bright may look oversaturated and smudged on video.
  • Bright white shirts (unless you are wearing it under a jacket). It’s too risky. The white might glow, making you look like you descended from heaven. Unless that’s the look you’re going for.
  • Some patterns: You may need to reconsider a checked, thinly striped, or herringboned top or tie. Sometimes video can’t accurately  ”read” a pattern. Your clothes may look like they are vibrating, giving your audience a headache.


THE BOTTOM LINE: I know several TV reporters who only wear ill-fitting ensembles composed of grays and mud browns. Snooze fest. If you want to come across as dynamic, look dynamic.  Wear clothes that fit you well and add a bit of color so you pop off the screen!

And speaking of men looking great on camera, I’d like to thank Newsday columnist and Fox News analyst, Ellis Henican, for writing a lovely blurb about my new multimedia enhanced eBook, Camera Ready (coming out June 12!):

“I’ve been talking on camera for a 15 years now. This is a little embarrassing to admit, but Camera Ready is jam-packed with valuable stuff I’d forgotten, ignored or never thought about. Whether you’re new to this or like me have been prattling on for years, you’ll learn plenty from Manoush.”   -Ellis Henican

And if you can’t get enough of Mad Men, just tune into Fox News for a glance of Ellis, right??!

Posted in fancy friends, media training, On-Camera Tips, Popular, video ideas
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My Breakfast with Bloomberg

This morning I joined Mayor Bloomberg and about 20 other Persian-Americans for a breakfast celebration of Noruz, or Persian New Year.

I expected a bit of chit-chat over eggs but the Mayor really held court, calling out to everyone at the table, “Ok, what’s the next question? What else do you want to know?”  He brought up Bloomberg Media almost immediately, saying one could tell the city’s economy, particularly Wall Street, is back on track by the number of Bloomberg terminals being bought.  I asked if this meant he had new customers, rather than just big finance firms, and mentioned that I work for his competition, Reuters.  ”A Bloomberg terminal will beat a Reuters terminal every time,” he intoned.  Once a media mogul, always a media mogul, I guess!  And with that, he spread some peanut butter on a piece of toast, sprinkled salt on it (oddly), and took a crunch.  The conversation turned to the building of Brooklyn Bridge (yes, it will get built but will require private housing built on it to get it paid for), harnessing the newly organized Persian NYC community for other city purposes, and his thoughts on immigration reform (doubts it will happen).

Thanks to the Mayor’s office and my cousin, immigration rights lawyer Bitta Mostofi, for including me today.  Afterwards, I headed to Just Wee Two, my 2 year-olds playgroup for a little contrast.  March and lions were the topics for discussion there.

Posted in fancy friends, future of news, media, Reuters, Uncategorized
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Hot Women in Media


I haven’t told my friend Katty Kay that she looks like Alex from The Desperate Housewives (seriously, don’t they look alike?).  I spied Alex at the sandbox in Cobble Hill a few weeks back.  And yes, we were with our kids.

Katty’s book Womenomics is now #5 on Amazon’s Women & Business list.  She wrote it with ABC correspondent Claire Shipman.  I was Katty’s producer in the nineties when she first started reporting from the US for the BBC in Washington.

Her book is about getting the career you’ve always wanted without sacrificing your life.  It applies mostly to corporate lasses…and I have to say, the freelance/consultant model is working better for a lot of us.   I went and joined Katty backstage when she appeared on Colbert in June (watch it here, he was such a pushover for a strawberry blonde Brit!)…and went to Diane von Furstenberg’s studio that night for the book party.  Very entertaining to watch the mainstream media machine move into place to support its own.  Almost everyone I spoke to was looking over my shoulder to see if there was someone better else to talk to…not that I took it personally!

Speaking of women in mainstream media, Forbes recently posted its Most Influential Women in Media list.  Only surprise on there was Dooce.

Posted in BBC, Books, fancy friends, jobs, media tips
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