by Aakanksha Tangri
One of Canada’s leading media gurus urged actor Charlie Sheen to get his act together and get some help.
“He’s mentally ill. He’s heading for a major breakdown and it will end in tragedy,” said Jeff Ansell, speaking to journalism students at Centennial College on March 2. “And there ain’t nothing anybody can tell this guy.”
Ansell, who has trained spokespeople from the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee, the White House and Harvard Business School, was unsure whether he’d add Sheen to his clientele list, if given the opportunity.
“It’s a dead end. I don’t even know if I’d try,” said Ansell, founder of Toronto’s Jeff Ansell & Associates. “Maybe just to get a peak at the guy.”
Ansell has written a book “When the Headline is You – An Insider’s Guide to Handling the Media.”
In it, he has collected his thoughts about counselling corporate clients, including the company that was on the wrong side of the Erin Brockovich case in 2000, which sparked the Hollywood film of the same name, starring Julia Roberts.
Ansell also annually teaches MBA students at Harvard Business School in the “Negotiating Complex Deals and Disputes” course. His role in the course is to stress the importance of emotion and values in negotiation. According to him, one of the mistakes people make while dealing with the media during a crisis is to only share facts, instead of reaching out to the public to form an emotional connection.
” People who have engineering, scientific, medical, legal and technical backgrounds often default to this fact-based response,” Ansell said. But that won’t work during a crisis where journalists are scrambling to meet deadlines. What happens then, is that everything is put in a “black and white perspective” for journalists because “the colour grey is too difficult to decipher within the context of having in a short time to write the story.”
Ansell told the students that the more famous the celebrity is, the more humble he advises them to be. And never, ever, lie.
“Once you screw with trust, there’s nothing left and it’s hard to build it back. If you don’t want to answer, at least explain why. Just don’t pretend you didn’t hear a question,” he said.
Prior to being a media consultant, Ansell worked at Citytv in Toronto as the weekend news anchor and investigative reporter. He recalled the day he decided to leave journalism.
“It was a very slow news day, I was anchoring the 6 o’clock news and at 5 o’clock, we didn’t really have a good lead story. At quarter to 6, the assignment editor gets on the loud speaker and he announces to everybody ‘Good news, the stabbing victim died. We have a lead story.’ The newsroom erupted in cheer. That’s the day I quit,” Ansell said.
During his journalism career, Ansell went undercover as a drug addict to expose doctors pushing drugs, he spent a year tracking down Nazi war criminals and reported on abuse in retirement homes. He’s still most proud of those stories and their impact, including one where he helped tell the story of an orphan named Kevin, which may have led to a new happier future for the youngster.
However, Ansell said he is still able to use those values of healing the world, in his work as a media trainer.