Politicians and their staffs often spend a lot of time drafting statements with perfect, focus-tested messages. But they often neglect to consider what will appear behind them when they deliver those messages during interviews and speeches.
It’s true that politicians are among the most image-conscious, often conducting interviews and delivering speeches in front of a row of flags, banners bearing a campaign slogan — "For a Brighter Future," "Lower Taxes" — or iconic landmarks. But too often, thinking about the background falls through the cracks.
During a 2008 campaign stop, for example, John McCain earned reams of negative press when he delivered a speech in front a green background that made his face look washed out and him appear tired. In fact, Stephen Colbert mocked the video and created the "Green Screen Challenge," during which viewers were invited to submit doctored videos using the green screen to make Sen. McCain look more interesting.
Brad Phillips, the author of the fantastic new Media Training Bible, says that a background is even more important during a crisis. "As a general rule of thumb," he says, "don’t display your campaign logo or name during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that you’re in trouble? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your name or logo. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your campaign’s name."
Phillips points out that Sarah Palin learned the importance of minding her background the hard way after losing her bid for the vice presidency in 2008. As one of her ceremonial state duties that November, she visited a local farm to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving and gave a lighthearted interview to a local television station.
Behind her, a man covered in blood was slaughtering turkeys by placing them into a grinder. The media loved the gruesome video — some of which was too graphic to show on television — and played the clip for days.