When Tumblr CEO David Karp was invited to appear as a guest on CNBC’s Squawk Box to discuss the FCC’s recent yes vote on the net neutrality issue, it probably seemed like a low-hanging opportunity to generate some market mindshare with a hot button issue that could affect Tumblr’s millions of users. In fact, it likely seemed so safe that his PR rep might have referred to it as something along the lines of, ‘softball thought leadership’ and therefore neglected to adequately prep the spokesman.
I mean, it’s Squawk Box. How often do they fry their guests, right? Wrong. Karp looked like a deer in the headlights on the most simple questions, and downright lost when discussing the all-important, ‘last mile.’ Squawk Box host Rebecca Quick lobbied this pitch at Karp:
“You have a monopoly because it’s really expensive to build pipes and so you have not had multiple people who would build pipes to the door.”
It was a reasonable defense of AT&T, et al, and one designed to give Karp an opportunity to show his breadth of knowledge as it relates to mobile, while carrying the net neutrality torch for millions of millennials. But he failed his missives. Massively. Watch the video for yourself and pay close attention at the 1:30 mark.
How could Karp have avoided this mess? The blame, or most of it, should fall on the shoulders of his PR rep, who it appears failed to properly prepare Karp for this discussion. That lack of preparation is likely related to the PR rep’s own lack of investigation into the opportunity at hand. Did Karp even know the topic being discussed ahead of time?
All media interviews are potential pitfalls, even the low hanging fruit. Do your clients a favor, and rather than bask in the glow of gaining an interview, investigate that interview. Ask the reporter or editor for sample questions, story or appearance length, and then ask for a fact check pre-publication. Live TV prevents the fact check, but not the other important elements. Spokespeople deserve better.