Janine Lazarus started out at The Citizen as a hardcore crime reporter, then became a radio presenter on Talk Radio 702, hosting a show called The Janine Lazarus Report. But her true passion really lay in giving talks or rather masterclasses, where she could give people the advice they needed and not the advice they wanted.
“I get invited to a lot of events to speak about crisis communication, among other things. I’m a journalist with 36 years of experience; I’ve been working in the media, skills training and crisis communications training field,” Lazarus explains.
“I wanted to make money and you never make money as a journalist. Another reason is that I’m a brand; there are media trainers out there, but there are very few who’ve been shot at, held the hands of grieving victims, hunted down serial killers or uncovered fraud and corruption,” she adds.
Lazarus is presenting a masterclass in September. “From the very real crisis in the South African health sector, to a crippled tax collection service, the inevitable fallout from Listeriosis and the on-air walk-out of a rugby commentator, a crisis contains the highest potential to annihilate a company’s reputation, its brand and its share value,” she writes. “A reputation is the single most important asset your organisation owns, and when it lies in ruins, it is almost impossible to piece together again. The media can make your brand – but they can just as easily break it.”
An expansive reach
Twenty-six years ago Lazarus decided to register her company, which today has operations in 36 countries including ones in Africa, the UK, Lebanon, Dubai and Pakistan where she offers real deal training
“I’m not a PR practitioner, I’m not here to sell positive stories; I’m here to show people how the shit can go down because I know what the issues are and what they should do when they come up,” she says.
“I work a lot with big banks, Coca-Cola, British American Tobacco, and Kaizer Chiefs as a media trainer, as well as government and its parastatals. I’m blessed enough to have repeat business. I have a very particular brand; I’m frightening, and you’re not going to get someone who is soft. I will pull you apart and show you how bad it’s going to get,” she adds.
Lazarus maintains her clients by always working hard because you are only as good as your last job. You have to make a good impression and leave them mesmerised, you need to be unique and make people feel engaged. Her no holds bar approach to training is what makes people keep coming back.
“For the most part people are open to hearing the truth, but you do get the odd arrogant person who’s not used to being told he/she is wrong. When I come across a person like that, I do toughen up as a way to intimidate them or even humble them.
“I’ve has situations where people asked me to be nicer at my talks and I refused; being nice isn’t the way of driving the message through and crises are not nice, they are tough and should be dealt with in that same way,” she adds.
“Some people call me a spin doctor but I don’t believe that because I can’t bullshit the truth. If a situation is bad, it’s bad. What I can do though is put a spin on that by finding a solution to what should happen post the crisis.”
These are the steps Lazarus believes are most appropriate for handling a crisis:
- Key message development
- Understand what your issues are
- Work on what you key messages are around the issues
- Work from the same hymn sheet so there’s no lack of uniformity
- Learn how to speak to the media, and understand what to wear
- Have a real crisis plan
Speakers of note
Her upcoming masterclass will have four speakers who have incredible experience in their respective field, starting with Lazarus who is also organising it. She decided to invite some of her closest friends to join the panel of speakers including:
Rich Mkhondo who is a marketing communications, reputation management strategist and ghost-writer. He has also been at the helm of some of South Africa’s biggest corporations, like MTN in the Group Corporate Affairs Department. He was involved with the 2010 FIFA World Cup as spokesperson.
Ashraf Garda is another speaker who has hosted his own radio show and presented television shows. He is now the man behind Champion South Africa, with a campaign called #ChampionSouthAfrica. Another show under his belt is Special Assignment, on SABC 3. Garda is also an in-demand, accomplished and engaging MC, conference facilitator and media trainer.
The other speaker is Daniel Munslow, owner of MCC Consulting. He has worked across the continent and the globe and now regularly speaks at local and international conferences about research, crisis communication, leadership communication, agility, and integration, based on real-life experience.
The masterclasses are not exclusive to, but are particularly targeted at CEOs, communication specialists, spokespeople, HR professionals, managing directors, media liaisons and PR professionals.
Lazarus’s hardcore journalist days have definitely helped with her public speaking today.
“I’m a foot-in-the-door journalist, people used to hate getting calls from me. Back in my day there was no computers, no Google and I started off with a typewriter. I covered township violence when I wasn’t allowed to cover township violence, back when there was censorship bans,” she shares.
“I have a lot of energy. I use footage in my workshops to drive home the key message and that’s why people have kept coming back. The footage I use for crisis management situations is up-to-date that people are familiar with; from the BP oil spill to the Life Esidimeni tragedy, I don’t believe in PowerPoint presentations,” she adds.
Lazarus still works in newsrooms abroad and she consults for newsrooms in Africa and gets them to write real hard copy.
She wants people to walk away with a lot of insight into the media mind, understanding the rules of engagement, understanding what to do and what not to do in the midst of a crisis and finally get a very good lesson in concise communication, and getting to the point instead of beating about the bush.
To promote the event Lazarus and her team created an intense activation on Grayston Drive, Sandton. A staged road rage incident featuring two professional boxers, with the take away message being that if one is caught in the full glare of cameras, what should you do?
Value for money
Her prices are competitive with other four day masterclasses, Lazarus explains. People should be aware that this is not a cheap event so it does come at a premium, which is justifiable.
“These things come at a price, all my speakers come at a price. Street pole ads come at a price, so they’re getting the best of the best, leaders in their respective fields. I believe that if you don’t put a value on yourself, no one will,” Lazarus says.
Media consulting with a bright future
Lazarus’s biggest passion at the moment is creative corporate journalism, removing the dullness of corporate writing and organising corporate writing training for newsrooms. This is because corporate journalists desire the art of creativity. But she also has storytelling as an option in her workshops.
“People can look forward to a lot more workshops, I offer 20 programs and the idea is to keep building them. The more my business grows and I grow, the more I need to stay relevant. For the last two years, the media advisory side of the business has been picking up and even more people are calling me to show them how to navigate the choppy waters of negative media coverage,” she shares.
She also plans to write a teaching book further down the line, based on media training 101. She also hopes to train people to be able to do what she does, organising masterclasses.
Reabetswe Rabaji is a journalism intern working at Wag the Dog. He is currently studying PR and Communication Management at the University of Johannesburg.