Why Even John Madden Needed Media Training

40 years ago tonight, Super Bowl XVI kicked off in Pontiac, Michigan.

More than 85 million Americans watched it live and saw arguably the best broadcast pair in the history of football – maybe sports – call their first championship game together. Pat Summerall and John Madden brought the action to homes, beginning a truly legendary run.

I vividly remember that game, and watching just 12 miles from where it was played, so it was easy today to call up some nostalgia online to see what the CBS broadcast looked and sounded like that day. Expecting to see the broadcaster who perhaps used the television medium better than any other at the top of his game, I actually saw something else. It was an ex-coach just a few years off the sideline who, like our clients over the years, just needed some coaching himself.

Take a look at this two-minute clip. Madden had a habit he needed to break. It’s common. We hear it all the time. It’s actually instinctive human nature. There’s a solution to it, which we have taught in media training over the decades.

When Summerall asks Madden a question, he repeats part of the question as he sets up his answer. This is something untrained speakers often do, as it buys them a fraction of a second for the brain to get into the prepared answer. For a sportscaster, it’s not the best way to get to analysis but it’s not that big of a deal. But for an executive or spokesperson, it can be.

That’s because sometimes, a questioner uses language you don’t want to “own” in your answer. Case in point: an interview I sat in on more than 20 years ago with a corporate division president. This company had a commanding market share in all of its product lines, but the gap was narrowing with competitors. The threat was real and they hated being labeled a “monopoly” but customers and politicians alike.

The reporter said to the executive, “I’ve been doing some research and it looks like your competitors are gaining ground. You’re not a monopoly, are you?”

Great opportunity to get a message out. I’m sure I lit up with a smile. In Madden terms, I was thinking “Boom!”

That quickly turned to bust when the executive answered, “We’re not a monopoly” before giving a terrific answer about how they face increased competition.

To borrow a football analogy, you can’t score a touchdown if first, you fumble.

What was the only quote that made it into the Sunday newspaper section-front story? “We’re not a monopoly.” Pull quote too. With the company name and the dreaded word right next to each other as big as day.

This can happen to anyone, who hasn’t been given practice in some fundamentals, or hasn’t had enough practice. Even John Madden.