Evan Nierman | How to Turn Negative News into Great PR
Smart Business Revolution

Evan Nierman is the Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis management and public relations firm based out of Washington, DC. Evan and his team have provided counsel to a wide group of different celebrities, political leaders, corporate and private clients, and CEOs to help them navigate all kinds of sticky situations. He is also the Author of the best-selling book Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Evan Nierman, the Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, about how he helps clients turn negative news into positive news through crisis PR. Evan also shares his experience helping Presidential candidates prepare for Presidential debates, explains how he helped the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum handle negative news, and talks about changes in the media landscape. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Evan Nierman’s experience taking part in debate preparation for Presidential candidates 
  • What is crisis PR?
  • What Evan does when a client contacts him late to handle a situation
  • The challenge of building a predictable and stable crisis PR system
  • Why Evan diversified to crisis communication and positive PR with retainer clients
  • How Evan helped turn the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s negative PR into positive PR
  • Evan explains how changes in the media landscape have impacted his work
  • The peers Evan admires, where to find his book, and where to learn more about his company

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we asked today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

Welcome everyone, John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And every week I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’ to YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, Ace Software, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. My guest this week is Evan Nierman. He’s the Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis management and public relations firm out of Washington, DC. Evan and his team have provided counsel to a wide group of different celebrities, political leaders, corporate private clients, CEOs, help them navigate all kinds of sticky situations, we’ll put it and we’re gonna get into that in a second. He’s also the author of best selling book Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line

And of course, this is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. And if you’re listening to this, and you’ve ever thought about doing a podcast, I say, absolutely, you got to do it. One of the best things you ever do, I love doing podcasts on either side of the microphone, you can email us at [email protected] or go to rise25media.com to learn more about it. And Evan, so excited to have you here. And we’re going to talk about media, and how you get attention in today’s noisy landscape. But first, I want to start with, you know, you were involved in debate prep, in one of the presidential cycles. And you get to see a little bit about what the political leaders are like, not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera. And probably, you know, the top question I’ve gotten in the last 20 years has been what was Bill Clinton? Like? Because I worked in the Clinton White House and people ask me what was Bill Clinton? Like, you know, and they want to know about his charisma and stuff like that? And was he like, you’re, you’re being interviewed, not me, my friend will get turned off. So we’ll start with you. But first of all, you know, what was that experience? Like? You know, everyone sees these presidential debates, high stakes types of situation. But what was it like behind the scenes

Evan Nierman 2:47

preparing? Yeah, well, first of all, let me just say it’s good to talk with you. Again, it’s great to be a host on this podcast, which I’m a big fan of. So thanks for having me. Thank you. Look, the opportunity to do debate prep for presidential candidate was fascinating was the chance to step behind the curtain and see, you know what, when we tune in to the televised debates, we see these polished people on stage with literally, you know, 10s, or hundreds of millions of eyeballs on them. And the thing that was really interesting for me was to see the extent to which so much of what the candidate is going to say, is worked out well in advance of the debate itself. And before it even happens. And so part of, of the preparation, yes, it was exploring the policies and making sure that the candidate could speak articulately and knowledgeably about different policy positions. And yet, where we spent the bulk of the time with that debate, preparation was actually communications, how to say it. And you know, if candidate x were to attack this, yeah, what’s the rebuttal? Yeah, if this person comes at you, how are you going to turn it around? What are a few quippy things that you can say, in the areas where you expect to be criticized by your competitors? Yeah.

John Corcoran 4:14

responded? Yeah.

Evan Nierman 4:15

The zingers not nine times out of 10. Those things are not quick the off the cuff remarks. Sometimes they are. And a lot of times they are not they’re they’re scripted in advance. And actually, you can really tell oftentimes, if someone’s been up, they got off. They’ve got the zinger all ready to go and you can tell the right opportunity. It sometimes goes worse when they do badly.

John Corcoran 4:39

Right. And sometimes it’s worse you can tell they’re like waiting to use it and then they like oh, it’s they’re trying to do a you know, Reagan was famous for There you go again. 1980 I think it was when he was running against Carter and Carter was explaining something in his wonky style. And Reagan said There you go again, and that was that’s kind of been one of those zingers that People want to have, but they try a little too hard to get.

Evan Nierman 5:04

Yeah. And if people see you trying too hard, it does take away the sting from the Zang. But I think, you know, unfortunately, you know, while I’m a big believer in the power of communications, and I think communications is really at the root of nearly every both crisis and every opportunity. I do think within the country right now, in terms of the political climate people, people are looking too much at the pageantry and the drama and, and the stuff when we really need to get back to substance, which I, which I hope will happen. And,

John Corcoran 5:37

yeah, but it’s so hard these days with our attention span, and everything’s a tweet. And you know, even in the presidential debates, they used to be you had a couple of minutes to answer these questions. And part of the reason that people, you know, script these answers is because it’s really hard to answer something in 60 seconds, you don’t have that much time to answer a question. And if you want to make sure you get all of your, you know, a sink thought in there, which I’m attempting to do right now. And I’m taking two minutes to say it, right. I mean, it’s hard to, to say something in a succinct amount of time.

Evan Nierman 6:10

It is, and that just underscores why preparation is so key, and why you need, you know, not just me personally, but people like me, or political consultants, communicators to come in and really help you take what can be a very complex argument or complex policy, provision and dumb it down, if you will, and make it something that you can talk about in a short, succinct, memorable way. Right, right.

John Corcoran 6:37

Talk a little bit about some of the different work that you do you work with CEOs, orca celebrities, you work with public traded companies, and you do crisis PR. Well, first of all, let’s start with what is that? You know, there’s been there’s been TV shows about it about this sort of thing. But I think, you know, people would love to hear from you what your vision is of it.

Evan Nierman 6:59

Yeah, I think I get two questions about when it comes to a crisis PR and what they’ve seen in Hollywood. And the first is, oh, are you the the male version of Olivia Pope from that show scandal, which I think was on ABC. Yeah. And the answer is no. Kerry Washington, is is is far more talented and looks much more amazing than I ever would in a million years. And I’ve never slept with the President. I don’t think she has but her character has in in the show. No one’s ever staggered into my office covered in blood and said, help. I’m in a crisis. I need you to get me out. And the the presses outside people wait for dramatic. Yeah, it’s not quite that dramatic. And then the other one, and someone actually introduced me to someone recently at an event and they said, Oh, he’s a crisis management guy. He’s like Ray Donovan. And at the time, I just kind of nodded along because I hadn’t seen Ray Donovan. I was like, I don’t I presume that the compliment, but I don’t know. And I went home that night, and I downloaded the first season. And then I watched and he’s a fixer, but he, you know, go This is Liam Schreiber in Hollywood. And he’s, you know, when he has problems, he takes a baseball bat and he beats people and breaks into their apartments and buries evidence and does all sorts of illegal things. So just for the record, that is not what we do. That is not crisis, PR that is way sexier and more interesting, but also a little divorced from reality. At least my reality.

John Corcoran 8:30

There was a George Clooney movie also that was about a fixer, a guy, I think was an attorney, Michael Clayton, Michael Clayton, and that’s it. Yeah.

Evan Nierman 8:39

Yeah, that one, that one. There were some some aspects of Michael Clayton that I think are true to life. And there are some that are also, you know, very dramatic for Hollywood. I do talk about another fixer in my book, which is a lesser known individual. He plays kind of a small part in the movie Pulp Fiction. And that’s Winston Wolf, who’s played by Harvey Keitel, and I use him actually. Example. The wolf, you got it. So I use the example of, of the wolf as someone who does a good job and, and shows prices management done well. And so when you ask what, you know, what the heck does a crisis management person do? What is crisis PR? Well, in Pulp Fiction, you know, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, wherever you’ve been living, it’s one of the best movies of all time. Winston wolf fields, a phone call, and two guys are in a situation they killed somebody the dead bodies in the trunk. They parked it in the guy’s garage, and they have to get the car cleaned up and get the body out of there before the wife comes home. Otherwise, there’s gonna be hell to pay and she’s gonna be very upset and the guy’s gonna get divorced. So the wolf comes in, he acts immediately. He feels the phone call. So he’s, he’s available and that’s one of the things that a crisis manager has to do is be available at all times. And one of the unwritten rules is that a crisis happens it, it just is that it happens at the worst possible times. So if I know I’m going out of town on a family vacation, that’s probably when we’re going to get a phone call. Yeah, it’s just a given. Yeah. So in the movie, the guys, you know, not available at the time he’s wearing a tuxedo, he’s at some event, but you know what, he drops everything and gets there, which is also what you have to do when you’re in crisis management, you’re moving at the speed of the new cycle, and you’re moving at the speed of events. And so you got to be willing to go fast. Right, then he solves the problem quickly and assertively. He’s decisive, he’s strategic. And I think that that’s also what you have to do when you when you parachute into help either an individual or an organization, and they’re finding themselves under fire, they’re in a tough spot. It’s your job as the crisis manager to really guide them. And many times, this could be a bet the bet the farm kind of situation where if it’s handled the wrong way, the company can see its stock price go down, they can see a rebellion among its employees, they can lose their customers, it can be legal repercussions, it can be lawsuits coming. And so it’s really important that the advice they’re getting from their crisis manager is good advice that will help mitigate their risk and move them through the situation.