Bimbo Banter


BIMBO Nominees for May 2020


  • Bimbo
  • April 30, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

Just as the world has seemingly turned upside down, we’re flipping the order of this month’s BIMBO Memo. This is a one-time format change. Due to the severity of the COVID-19 situation, we chose to highlight critically-important communication lessons.

LESSON ONE

Be aware of the lens through which you are speaking.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become one of the best known and most respected experts regarding the coronavirus. Our readers know the importance of words and how to strategically target their audiences. We recognize Fauci has been thrown into a different arena than his training, which is why he must choose his words carefully. As an epidemiologist, he’s looking only at the rates of infection and mortality, urging the continuation of a total or strict economic lockdown. At a White House briefing, he noted, “It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint.” It’s more than “inconvenient.” This assessment not only ignores economic costs, but psychological and emotional costs as well. Fauci also said, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again.” While he was trying to say that we’ve all learned the importance of much more attention to hygiene and its direct connection to staying healthy, he managed to trash millenniums of human interaction with that suggestion. When speaking to an audience craving reassurance that life will return to normal, a little humility and a lot of communication awareness are in order.

Time Magazine, “'I Don’t Think We Should Ever Shake Hands Again.’ Dr. Fauci Says Coronavirus Should Change Some Behaviors for Good,” April 9, 2020

LESSON TWO

Statistics and the correlation of the quote famously attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” will certainly be the epitaph of the coronavirus. It’s already the headline.

The New York Times reported that, in late February, the estimate of expected mortality globally was one percent, which sounds small but is ten times the rate of typical flu mortality. The New York Times reported an estimated 13 percent mortality rate for Italy—making it sound like historical reports of medieval plagues—although Italy also has the world’s second oldest population after Japan. The report estimated a 4.3 percent mortality rate in the U.S. One big problem in the analysis: different standards of reporting deaths. Professor Ali H. Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said, “To know the fatality rate you need to know how many people are infected and how many people died from the disease. We know how many people are dying but we don’t know how many people are infected.” Experts call this tendency to overestimate the “severity bias.” A more recent editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Clifford Lane and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, suggested COVID-19 may be “less lethal than initial predictions.” There are huge implications in these predictions and statistics. The media is largely responsible for creating the perception that we must choose between protecting the populace—lockdown—and a healthy economy. What if we’ve gotten the numbers all wrong? Mandatory reading are the comments of a professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Dr. John Ioannidis. It’s easy to get buried in the confusing statistics regarding COVID-19, so instead focus on Ioannidis’s conclusion that most disagreements between scientists are about perspective, not facts. He said, Probably usually I’m a pessimist, but in this case, I’m probably an optimist.”

The New York Times, “Why We Don’t Know the True Death Rate for Covid-19,” April 17, 2020

THE WINNING BIMBO

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell repeatedly said Trump is not to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, which created an implied BIMBO comment that, of course, Trump is to be blamed for the pandemic. But we agree with Rendell’s comment, “The one thing people don’t want during a national emergency is political backbiting.”

NBC News “As coronavirus upends 2020, Trump may have a hard time keeping Pennsylvania red. Here’s why,” April 23, 2020

THE RUNNERS-UP

Responding to President Trump’s claim that, as the president of the United States, he had the power to make states reopen activities, former vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “I am not running for office to be King of America.” (This is not a bad comment, but the big issue is it doesn’t say why he is running for office.)

The Hill, “Biden blasts Trump comments: ‘I am not running for office to be King of America,’” April 14, 2020

WRONG THING TO SAY

Michael Caputo, appointed Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, erased his Twitter history from before April 12; however, it was preserved on Internet Archive’s “The Wayback Machine.” One now-deleted tweet read, “millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the ass out of anteaters.” Caputo responded he was only tweeting in a “spirited fashion,” and said reporting on his past tweets is “fair game” and that he doesn’t mind them becoming widely public. (He claimed he wasn’t bothered, but the rest of us are! This is not how leaders talk. A reminder that these comments live forever. As general counsel of the FTC, Jack Carley used to caution, “How would you feel reading your comment on the front page of The Washington Post?” Good advice then and now.)

CNN “New HHS spokesman made racist comments about Chinese people in now-deleted tweets,” April 23, 2020

Mississippi State’s new football coach, Mike Leach, created a firestorm by tweeting a cartoon of a woman trapped at home with her husband knitting a scarf for him—shaped like a noose. One Mississippi State football player announced he would be transfering and the university’s athletic director announced, in an award-winning understatement, that Leach would “expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi.” This is an example of being tone deaf.

ESPN, “Fabien Lovett, who criticized Mike Leach’s meme, transferring to Florida State,” April 13, 2020

BODY LANGUAGE AND FACIAL EXPRESSION

Mayor Carolyn Goodman called for Las Vegas to reopen, and her subsequent interview with Anderson Cooper has become a must-see exchange. Entertainment Tonight compiled a montage of all the faces Cooper made throughout the interview. Celebrities supported Cooper, who continued to ask gotcha questions like, “It’s a question, are you going to go to the casinos every night and put your life on the line like all the workers you say were there holding their hands?” and called her “ignorant.” This interview is worth watching in its entirety because Goodman seemed to be enjoying herself so much.  

CNN, “Anderson Cooper presses Las Vegas major over wish to reopen,” April 22, 2020

GOOD EXAMPLES

Southwest Airlines has a proud history of never laying off or furloughing employees, but CEO Gary Kelly addressed that potential, providing a good example of how to talk about negative topics. He began explaining that many, if not most, employees would be asked to take pay cuts—Kelly himself had already taken a 20 percent pay cut and could see his pay dropping to zero. In these situations, reporters and audiences are looking for predictions, particularly as so many other companies have announced drastic measures. The classic response frequently driven by lawyers is, “We can’t predict,” which makes the listener think the worst is coming. Kelly tackled the topic head on saying, “Some companies have already conceded that they’ll have to downsize or worse, file for bankruptcy. But as I’ve told you many times, I can’t promise or guarantee those things won’t befall us. What I can promise is that we will do everything that is humanly possible to avoid those outcomes.” He distanced himself from the negative predictions and promises and replaced them with a positive and personal promise. Well done!

The Dallas Morning News, “Southwest Airlines CEO warns of pay cuts and a ‘drastically smaller airline’ if air travel doesn’t pick up soon,” April 23, 2020

The Hollywood Reporter Editor Matthew Belloni was shown the door after apparently clashing with executives who tried to get him to mute or dilute coverage of important stars or business partners. Belloni declined, and the inevitable ensued. Instead of slamming the interfering busybodies, Belloni resigned and said, "I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies.”

The New York Times “Hollywood Reporter’s Top Editor Exits After Dispute With Publisher,” April 6, 2020

ARTICLES WORTH READING

Written by Lis Smith, Pete Buttigieg’s media adviser, the article’s key piece of advice was for politicians and high-profile experts to leverage media outlets and communication platforms different from the more traditional cable-news hits and Sunday shows. This is actually not a novel strategy. Remember in 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show and played saxophone wearing sunglasses? Missing from this piece was the recognition that to execute this strategy successfully, you have to have lots of time and a clear message. Most people, particularly corporate executives, have neither.

Vanity Fair, “‘Go Everywhere’: How Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Media Strategy Is Revolutionizing Coronavirus Messaging,” April 7, 2020

An article offering an overview of how COVID-19 has impacted media consumption, not surprisingly, revealed people are reading, watching and listening to more now. While the analysis was interesting, the most relevant comment in the piece was, “a positive mindset and the ability to switch off will help people cope better day-to-day.”

Visual Capitalist, “How COVID-19 Has Impacted Media Consumption, by Generation,” April 7, 2020

Dr. Jesse Stuart shared some solid advice on how to respond when someone confides something horrible. He suggested that the phrase “at least” be removed from the beginning of any response. For example, don’t say, “At least you weren’t diagnosed with a horrible disease today,” or something similar. Instead, pause and think about the individual’s perspective before responding. A good way to do this is to identify with the person’s feelings. For example, you could say to a young leukemia patient, “I can only imagine how scared you’re feeling right now.” When possible, confirm that whatever the individual is going through may be unfair and note that you’ll be helpful or available going forward. This is good advice for a physician counseling a cancer patient, but what about when your best friend has a trivial complaint, that she broke a high heel, or a major one, that she didn’t get an expected promotion? Still worth thinking about. And as always, we recommend not repeating the negative word.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Least Empathetic Thing to Say,” April 9, 2020

 

The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.



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