The word “pivot” tends to get thrown around quite often these days. In the world of Silicon Valley, it refers to taking a different business direction or hiding some level of failure. In the corporate and media relations universe, pivoting means ditching the negative to pursue a more positive agenda and messaging.

The pundits covering the U.S. presidential and vice-presidential debates have commented on the candidates’ ability, or inability, to pivot or transition from one topic to another in a seamless and conversational manner. Media skills trainers call this “Bridging” – i.e. building a verbal bridge from a negative topic to your positive key messages.

But then we hear about the public frustration, especially via Twitter, about the participants evading the question to simply repeat talking points, refusing to provide answers. They forgot the first part of the Bridging formula of “ABC”: Answer, Bridge, Communicate.

Yes, it means answering the question, as best you can: Yes… No… Here’s the number… Here are the facts or even – gasp! – I don’t know. THEN you can bridge to your talking points.

Here’s how not to do it:

Consider the following ham-handed pivots, and their lack of answers. First, from the vice-presidential debate, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine:

ELAINE QUIJANO: Senator Kaine…you praised Secretary Clinton’s character… why do so many people distrust her? Is it because they have questions about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation?

TIM KAINE: Elaine, let me tell you why I trust Hillary Clinton. Here’s what people should look at as they look at a public servant…

And, to be balanced, from the second “presidential” debate, Donald Trump provided this evasive gem:

ANDERSON COOPER: For the record, are you saying, what you said on the bus 11 years ago, that you did not kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?

DONALD TRUMP: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.

The communication format is important as well: For a taped television or radio segment, participants will convey as many talking points as possible, with the hopes of airing a few 10 second sound bites after editing. For a live broadcast interview, let alone a 90-minute debate, it takes skill to bridge to messages in a way that doesn’t seem sleazy or forced, to engage in what sounds like dialogue.


Otherwise, the repeated hammering of messages without substantive answers conveys a robotic elusiveness, even disrespect. Live audiences are sophisticated enough to recognize canned, prepared lines when they hear them, and interviewers and debate moderators are increasingly insistent on direct answers.

So whether it’s a media interview, a debate, or a company “town hall” to present a new strategic direction – if you’re going to pivot in public, you’d better have some answers ready.


Preparing for the worst doesn’t make you paranoid; it makes you smart. For more media relations tips & tricks, download CNW’s whitepaper, How to Handle Tough Questions from the Media. 

About Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith is VP, Customer Marketing at Cision. Follow her @LaurieSmith

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