Television: Know Your Background (Thanksgiving Edition)

What will show up behind you when you appear on television?

That decision is usually left up to television producers when interviews are held at their studios—but you may have significant control over your background for interviews conducted in the field, at your home, or at your office.

A thoughtfully selected background can enhance and reinforce your words, while a carelessly selected one can thoroughly undermine your message.

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.

Nonpoliticians should apply the same degree of thought by choosing backgrounds that reinforce their spoken messages.

Company representatives might stand on a bustling factory floor to show their business’s vitality. Marine biologists might remove their shoes and deliver an interview from the water’s edge. A health expert discussing the seriousness of diabetes might choose to do an interview from a local hospital’s emergency room.

Your background is even more important during a crisis. As a general rule of thumb, don’t display your logo during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that your brand is associated with bad news? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your company’s symbol. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your company’s name.

Case Study: Sarah Palin’s Bloody Thanksgiving

After losing her bid for the vice presidency in 2008, Sarah Palin returned to Alaska to continue serving her term as governor.

As one of her ceremonial duties that November, she visited a local farm to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving.

But when she gave a lighthearted interview to a local television station, she failed to check her background. Behind her, a man covered in blood was slaughtering turkeys by placing them into a killing cone.

The media loved the gruesome video—some of which was too graphic to show on television—and played the clip for days. The coverage reinforced the media’s narrative (fairly or not) of a politician unprepared for the national limelight.

Editor’s note: I’m taking a long weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving. I wish you and yours a great holiday, and will see you back here on Monday morning!