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Some friendly counsel

carlson CHRIS


Dear Dan:

As you begin your new career as press secretary to First District Congressman Raul Labrador, here is some advice that will help you succeed. I preface it by saying I will miss your excellent political reporting.

I hope you understand skills you polished in your distinguished reporting career are not all transferable to making for a successful career as a press secretary. Thus,this counsel:

1) There is only one name on the ballot. Your job of course is to promote your Boss’ name. Too many “flacks” make the mistake of allowing themselves to be quoted directly. As a general rule speak only on background and not for direct attribution so that the information your Boss wants out is delivered but the quote is something like “an aide close to Congressman Labrador said. . . . .”

2) Physical proximity to your horse is critical. If you want to be the “go to” person for the media you have to be where he is, which is D.C., most of the time, not Meridian. I know Senator Mike Crapo has his media staff largely in Boise, but he does not seek the national profile your Boss is well along the path of obtaining. Already, your Congressman has established a record of sorts for the number of appearances on Meet the Press for a sophomore member. You want the producers of that show to be calling you when they want him, not some D.C. assistant.

3) You were a somebody in Boise; you’re a nobody in D.C. Your Boss has a right to expect you to start developing good relations with national, D.C. based media, many of whom may know you from your award-winning journalistic career but none who know you in your new role. All they will be interested in is can you return phone calls promptly, can you speak for your Boss and when necessary can you deliver him quickly. You’ll also have to court the veteran press secretaries as well as pay homage to the media “stars” for the press has indeed become major influencers of events not just reporters. Read This Town by Mark Lebovich, if you haven’t already.

4) Take a media training course and run your Boss through one periodically. There is an art form to talking with the media and delivering your message, then staying on that message regardless of what the media may want. Every interview is as an opportunity to get your message out and you have to control the interview. Thus, you’ll master such devices as “block and bridge,” where one learns quickly to block the thrust of a reporter’s question and bridge to the message you want. Pull Florida Governor Rick Scott’s CNN interview off of You Tube when he was a candidate. His message was “jobs” and every question he took he turned back into “I’m all about creating jobs.” His interviewers were frustrated but he sure got his message across.

5) Travel with Congressman Labrador. Wherever he goes, you go (See rule #2). As you know, media is now a 24/7 matter and it is critical that one be able to respond to inquiries if not instantly then within the same news cycle. Your horse may be anywhere in the world when a call comes requiring a careful response which has to be crafted almost immediately. You have to be there with him to provide the insight and advice for which he has hired you. Furthermore, the only time you and he will have to discuss your longer term strategy will be on plane rides where you won’t be interrupted as often as in the office. And I suspect part of your job is to think strategically about the goals your Boss has set and how to bring the media along in a supportive manner.

6) No secrets between you and your Boss. The coin of the realm is your credibility. Thus, he has to understand that for you to succeed you have to be in on the front end of decision-making, not the back end. There has to be total transparency as well as total trust between you and your Boss. It will take time to establish because this has to come from success in working well together, but I’m confident you two will achieve it.

While I don’t share much in common with your new Boss from a political standpoint, I do admire the skill he has thus far displayed and his political acumen. Your abiliy to help him achieve his goals should make for an interesting venture and I wish you well.

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