Kate Winslet Knows A Secret About Humans And You Should Know It Too
How to get good press.
This is a stock photo of a an attractive woman who is very impressed with her date.
Kate Winslet is on a press tour for Avatar: The Way of Water. She was doing an interview with a journalist and the reporter was nervous and mentioned offhand that it was her first time. Winslet took the opportunity to give her confidence:
“This is your first time doing it?” Winslet asked. “Ok, well guess what? When we do this interview, it’s going to be the most amazing interview ever. And do you know why? Because we’ve decided that it’s going to be. So, we’ve decided right now, me and you, that this is going to be a really fantastic interview.”
This has been written about by 15,000 news organizations. Kate Winslet has a great instinct for getting good press.
It’s not hard to see why this would be a good PR move. A young female journalist is nervously interviewing a movie star. The movie star is sympathetic and human and gives her support. Bloggers will blog about this because they would like to have had this interaction. Readers love this story because they love stories about celebrities being nice and relatable.
You can’t create a moment like that. The reporter gave her this opening. You can’t necessarily teach the skill to recognize that moment and pounce. That’s a raw talent thing. But there is a lesson you can take from it that applies to not only media but everything in life.
So, how does one get good press? Well, there are lots of ways, but I want to talk about a basic foundational reality that applies to something like 90% of the cases.
There are classes/seminars/consultants whose entire jobs are centered around “media training”.
Media training is something that corporate executives take and anyone in the spotlight will be told to take, but also, reports take them as well, because they go on television and act as pundits.
A lot of the things that happen in “media training” are functional and boring. It’s about the right colors to wear on TV to make you look thin and honest. It’s about looking at the interviewer and not the camera. Maybe they’ll talk to you about not saying “like” too much. Maybe you’ll leave with a recommendation to ask your doctor about beta blockers to keep your hands from shaking.
All of this matters to some degree but what is far more important, far far far more important, is the understanding that the people in the media producing the coverage you’re trying to manipulate are people too.
People are nice to people who are nice to them.
Be nice to them.
If you’re Harvey Weinstein and you’re being interviewed about your many rapes, this isn’t going to help. But if you’re Joe Blow talking about something that doesn’t involve mortal sins, simply being nice goes a long way.
A comparison I like to make is that reporters are like flight attendants. They mostly get treated like shit by everyone they interact with and just being even remotely polite and decent will get you great privileges.
I like to drink on planes and I very rarely have to pay for that alcohol because I’m really nice to flight attendants. I make eye contact with them and smile and don’t complain and thank them more than I probably should. And then they don’t charge me because they have a shit ton going on during that flight and lots of other people are whining to them constantly and I was just a nice person they didn’t have to worry about.
That is true of anyone in the service industry. And media in a lot of ways is a service industry.
The person telling the flight attendant to charge me $8 for a mini bottle of Jack Daniels is the CEO the flight attendant they’ve never met. Flight attendant knows that they can exercise a small amount of discretion to bestow a kind thing when they want.
Same with reporters.
This doesn’t mean “suck the reporter’s cock.”
If you are about to do an interview with a journalist, that interview is probably going to happen with someone who was told to do it. They won’t make more money by framing the piece about how you’re a monster. (Sometimes this isn’t true! Sometimes you’re a Ponzi scheme person and the reporter is there to get the goods. But that is uncommon.)
The reporter wants to chat with you and get the interview and then their editor will decide how the story is framed.
The reporter isn’t your enemy. The editor is.
If you and the reporter don’t give the editor anything to turn into a hit, you won’t get hit.
And reporters, like flight attendants and people who work at sandwich shops and everyone else, are people. People like nice people. They like to be treated nicely.
This doesn’t mean “suck the reporter’s cock.” It would be weird to offer to suck the sandwich man’s cock. But just treat them like normal humans who have a lot going on and this is one hour of their day.
People are, overwhelmingly, nice. The reporters do not want to do an injustice to you. They don’t want to hurt people they think are nice. They may have to. If you have done something of enough concern, it is out of their hands. But if it’s just “please interpret my statements in a generous way“—which I want to emphasize is 90% or more of the interviews that happen in the world—then that is a totally achievable thing. Just be kind.
Actually, that’s 101. If you want to really be good at it? Be curious about them. Have a kind of small chit-chat with them off-camera.
Get them to tell a joke and then laugh at that joke.
If it isn’t televised, over-explain your flaws in the interview. Don’t say something wrong that gets you hung up—don’t be Sam Bankman-Fried—but be honest about what you don’t know and tell them with your eyes that you are caught in a bad situation that you regret.
There are lots of ways that stories are reported in the media. They are not framed always by intention. They are not always ”this is a nice story” or “this will be a mean story”. Those intentional stories are few and far between. The majority of stories live on their toes. And very few journalists are out to hurt you. So just be nice.
If you’re doing a phone interview, you should probably record it on your end. But you should not threaten the reporter and say “JUST FYI I AM ALSO RECORDING THIS.” Doing that says “I don’t trust you.” But you want them to trust you. They will probably ask to record the conversation. Some states don’t require that but journalism ethics do. And once they do that, you can record it too. (If they don't ask you and you live in a two-party consent state, don't record it without getting their consent. But, you know, you probably don't live in a two-party consent state.) You almost certainly won’t need it to debunk some lie said about you, but you have it if you need it, and that might make you more comfortable, and you can go back and listen to it to evaluate how you came off for future interviews.
Another boring functional tip: be sober. You might be nervous and I know firsthand that when you're nervous, drinking can be tempting, but don't be drunk during an interview. That doesn't mean you can't do anything about the nerves though! There are a magic class of drug called beta blockers, which mask the physical symptoms of anxiety. They lower your heartrate and make your hands stop shaking and stuff. They're regularly prescribed for performers. They'll make your whole experience a lot better. Ask your doctor for them. You can't abuse them so they're easy to get from a GP.
But really all that technical shit is so secondary to just being nice.
Nice is the skeleton key to power structures.
We often think about power structures in a top down sense. But power structures aren't a one-way street. You can navigate them in both directions. You can traverse them from the bottom up.
What Steven Spielberg understood about networking
I grew up on movie sets. I loved my dad so much that I just wanted to be near him and see him work. But you don’t actually get to spend much time with your father when your father is the star of a film. So I spent most of my time with two people who worked for my dad: Sonny Aprile and Audrey Bamber. They worked on all of his films. Audrey was his assistant and Sonny was his driver.
Audrey and Sonny played a huge role in raising me. And each taught me things about those film sets.
Audrey became my dad’s assistant in the early 80s. She had been in a typing pool at, I want to say, Universal. Her first job working for my dad was organizing my parents' wedding.
Sonny was a knock-around guy who began working for my dad in the late 70s.
There is a famous story about Steven Spielberg. He’s told it lots of times and it’s been questioned lots of times. It goes something like this:
Steven was a teen and wanted to work in movies. He couldn’t get on the backlot at Warner Brothers because he was just some kid. So, he walked backward passed the guard house. No one noticed. He found himself on the lot and free to roam. He wandered around and eventually found himself an empty office. He took it over and filled it with various pieces of furniture from the lot. Just by being on the lot, he would run into people with real jobs and he would befriend them. He would talk up his ideas and his “projects” and so on. This worked to great success. People with actual work would think “blah blah blah and anyway I'm going to throw this job to this kid I met a few doors down.”
A few months into this, someone figured out what was happening. The head of the study said “get this kid out” and told that to someone and they told that to someone and they told that to a teamster. “Throw this kid out.”
So a teamster walks into the office and tells Steven to hit the bricks and walks him to the gate and throws him out.
That teamster was Sonny.
Then 15 years later Sonny is my dad’s driver and he tells my dad this story. My dad says “well we’re about to do Close Encounters” and Sonny says “Steven won’t want to see me.” And my dad, who loved Sonny like a brother, says “you’re coming.” And Sonny, who was a chronic smoker and by the 90s had a laryngectomy, would tell me about how my dad walked up to Steven and said “I want you to meet my driver” and Steven looked over and Sonny, a huge big guy, leaned in and waved like a contrite school girl. “Hello!”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial