In the aftermath of the London Evening Standard’s November article on Tinder CEO Sean Rad, according to CNBC, Internet commenters “collectively pointed and laughed” at Rad “for giving a train wreck of an interview.” Since the meeting took place the day before Tinder’s IPO, this was not an ambush or doorstep interview; rather, it was face-to-face in a foreign country, apparently pre-scheduled.
Clearly, the interview did no favors for Tinder and Sean Rad – which begs the question, was Mr. Rad prepared?
- Sean Rad, Chief Executive Officer of Tinder was interviewed by the London Evening Standard.
- Business Insider reported that Rad was “flanked by Tinder’s VP of communications, Rosette Pambakian.” Rad allegedly put his foot in his mouth discussing his affinity for smart women: “’Apparently there’s a term for someone who gets turned on by intellectual stuff. You know, just talking. What’s the word?’ His face creases with the effort of trying to remember. ‘I want to say ‘sodomy’?”
- Business Insider reported further that Rosette shrieked: “’That’s it! We’re going to be fired,’ and Rad look at her confused. ‘What? Why?’ Rad was told the word sodomy actually means something else and he then used his phone to search for a definition. ‘What? No, not that. That’s definitely not me. Oh, my God.'”
- He also stressed in the interview that he had slept with “only 20 women.”
- Tinder’s parent company, Match Group, indicated that they found Rad’s performance substandard. According to CNBC, they were very specific in communicating in an SEC filing that Sean Rad “was not speaking on behalf of the company:”
The article was not approved or condoned by, and the content of the article was not reviewed by, the Company or any of its affiliates. Mr. Rad is not a director or executive officer of the Company and was not authorized to make statements on behalf of the Company for purposes of the article. The article noted that “Analysts believe the [Tinder] app, which launched in 2012, has around 80 million users worldwide and records 1.8 billion ‘swipes’ a day.” While these statements were not made by Mr. Rad, the Company notes that they are inaccurate and directs readers to the Preliminary Prospectus, which states that for the month of September 2015, Tinder had approximately 9.6 million daily active users, with Tinder users “swiping” through an average of more than 1.4 billion user profiles each day.
We can glean some useful lessons from Mr. Rad’s PR catastrophe:
- Never go into any interview blind and unprepared. Lack of preparation can result in a crisis with significant implications for the spokesperson, the brand concerned, investors, customers, suppliers and partners, etc.
- If journalists proactively request an interview, the person being interviewed or their PR team has every right to ask for the topic of the interview and/or a list of questions ahead of time. (Conversely, the journalist or publication equally has every right to refuse to provide this information.)
- Keep in mind that many interviews focus on basic aspects and are not controversial.
- Media-savvy companies have a matrix of core messaging prepared for all eventualities. As interviews and scenarios present themselves, the messaging can be amended accordingly based on the specific situation.
- All spokespeople should be media trained for both regular and crisis-type interviews.
- These spokespeople must have complete familiarity with all company messaging.
- Spokespeople must have the ability to take the company’s position or standpoint on an issue and cascade that into their opinion on a topic so that their opinion/comment does not directly contradict the company’s.
- Spokespeople must be competent enough to use media training techniques and core messaging to redirect a question away from a controversial topic. Simply saying “no comment” is not an option. In cases where it is not possible to redirect a question, spokespeople must have the capability to deal honestly and succinctly with controversial issues and topics without appearing defensive. Alternatively, an experienced and appropriately media trained spokespeople will be able provide a valid answer as to why they do not want to answer a particular question.
- In some instances, a PR consultant or a company corporate communications team member may sit in and monitor an interview. In extreme circumstances an interview may require an interruption by the PR consultant/corporate communications team member when a spokesperson starts providing answers that are so far off base that they can damage the company and spokesperson’s reputation, the company share price, or customer and partner relationships.
- Intervening in an interview should be the exception rather than the norm. Any handler accompanying a company spokesperson to an interview must know when and how to intervene and redirect an interview or question. This obviously cannot be done on live TV or radio, although it has occurred when a lawyer is sitting in on the TV or radio interview. In these cases it is up to the person sitting in to know how and when to intervene.
- Too much intervention could cost the company the interview by irritating a journalist, resulting in the interview being cancelled and the company missing an opportunity to promote their insight and opinion on a topic.
- Alternatively, and even worse, too much intervention could indicate to journalists that the issue merits further investigation, leading them to dig deeper and uncover information that could trigger a crisis.
Overall, five very commonsensical but crucial lessons arise from Mr. Rad’s debacle:
- All spokespeople must be media trained.
- Spokespeople must be completely familiar with existing corporate messaging.
- All media interviews require messaging preparation.
- Always know how and when to redirect a question.
- In exceptional circumstances a third-party monitoring an interview may interrupt the discussion to ‘redirect it.’
PS: The word Mr. Rad was looking for is sapiosexual.
NOTE: PR Lessons are condensed knowledge-sharing articles from Fortress Strategic Communications. Each lesson seeks to share important insight and objective opinion on newsworthy and not-so-newsworthy events.
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Based in Syracuse, N.Y., Fortress Strategic Communications provides specialized strategic public relations and crisis communications consulting to companies that offer products, services, and solutions designed to manage and mitigate all types of risk. The company draws on their executives’ combined 20 years of global experience in a broad array of vertical markets. For more information please visit www.fortresscomms.com