Important Things to Consider When Handling the Media in Times of Pressure
The media is no easy thing to deal with, especially in midst of a crisis. Media professionals, especially public relations practitioners, are faced with these conflicts on a day-to-day basis and struggle to provide the best possible representation of their clients. But what happens when the public relations practitioner loses their cool themselves? Last month there were two separate instances where veteran publicists clearly forgotten a few important “do’s” and “don’ts” of handling the media in times of pressure.
The first situation is the Keene State Pumpkin Festival. The festival is an occasion celebrated annually by the city of New Hampshire. Each year thousands of residents and tourists gather in attempt to beat the record for the largest number of jack-o’-lanterns lit at one time and each year it continues to be a success. However, on October 18 many local college students managed to literally turn the city upside down just around the corner from the family friendly festival. What began as a simple police call because of illegally parked cars at a wild party. Soon after, riots erupted. Cars were flipped upside down and several of fights broke out. The result ended up being many students injured and arrested for throwing dangerous objects.
As reporter Jared Goodell was broadcasting live from Pumpkin Fest with details surrounding the nearby riots, organizer Ruth Sterling rushed onto the set to grab the microphone from his possession. Sterling, tried her best to ensure the public that the event was still safe for families, but instead she continued on to get into a verbal altercation in attempt to get him to stop broadcasting from the scene. She was under the impression that Goodell was harming the image of Pumpkin Fest by reporting false facts that encouraged a relationship between the festival and riots. Sterling was placed under a microscope as videos were released and viewers were voicing their opinions all over her social media networks.
The second instance of a publicist losing control under pressure occurred on October 28th during Monday night football coverage. NFL Washington Redskins’ star quarterback, Colt McCoy, was surrounded by reporters immediately after an exciting win. Senior Vice President of Communications for the Washington Redskins, Tony Wylie, attempted to rush the quarterback off of the field. As McCoy is stopped for commentary he was ripped away by Wylie as he yelled, “No means no!” This was captured live on camera. Wylie quickly became a social media hit as the hash tag “#nomeansno” instantly blew up and the on air video clip was made into a vine sensation.
What do these two situations have in common? In both cases professionals were caught on camera acting out against the media while under pressure. It’s always important to keep your composure with the media because things can quickly become out of hand.
Here are three things that these professionals should have done differently to avoid being in the line of fire now:
1) Use the on-air time to your advantage. Sterling was attempting to be proactive by trying to let the public know that the Keene State Pumpkin Festival was still completely safe for families to attend, but it’s the matter in which she did so. Instead of running on to the set and threatening to “pull the plug”, it may have proved to be more effective to ask for a little air time alongside the reporter. At that time she could have made her announcements to the public addressing any safety concerns. She could have even gone as far as having a very quick question and answer session with the reporter. In Wylie’s case he could have politely gone on air to announce the proud moment that both the fans and team have witnessed but, that the player would be unable to comment at the moment. Being live on camera leaves too much room for error when dealing with raw emotions, which is why it’s important to remain fully composed in the face of the media.
2) Avoid a raw display of emotion on social media. After the incident occurred and proved to be a big hit on the internet Sterling took to Facebook to defend her actions. Any person who is under criticism would also defend their actions, but once again it was the matter in which she did so. She criticized the reporter and went through the lengths of calling him names, “punk” being an example. If anything, social media would have been the venue to redeem herself to the public; in this case it just worked against her. Videos were also later released which revealed what happened on-air before she took the set by storm. It ultimately depicted her as the “villain” of the situation and her social media comments did nothing to help steer away that negative image given to her.
3) Remain professional at all times. Ruth Sterling is the organizer of the event. As the head of such a large public function it is important that you not only protect the family friendly image of the function, but also the image of yourself as an organizer. Tony Wylie is the Vice President of Communications for the Washington Redskins. As one of the top PR professionals representing the franchise, it’s important that you represent yourself in the best light possible also. One thing that should have remained constant in both situations was their professionalism at all times. Despite the very hectic situation it is important to remain cool, calm, and collected to lead in the face of controversy. Professionalism cannot be stressed enough especially in a situation like this where cameras are involved and no actions can be denied. This tip also carries on to social media. Leave the personal out and deliver as a professional would.
The media is not a source to play with and can affect future interview requests or live coverage. One minor mishap can turn into the controversy of the week or month. Needless to say, one’s actions as a professional publicist can go a long way.
What do you think? Would these tips have helped these professionals? Do you have more?
Let us know your thoughts. They may be used in a future article.
Selam Belay is a senior studying mass communications at the University of South Florida. Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, she quickly realized her passion for the fast paced entertainment and media world. As a current intern for the Above Promotions Company, she is eagerly perfecting her skills and preparing herself for a long future in public relations. Selam is set to graduate Spring 2015.
Above Promotions is a digital marketing and public relations agency with B2C clients that promote brands in the food, fashion and family entertainment industries. We build and protect brands by creating and executing digital resources to sell products or build positive public sentiment. From a local to international market, Above Promotions Company can provide the exposure that goes above your expectations. Visit http://www.abovepromotions.com today.
Ebony T. Grimsley is the Creative Director and Owner of Above Promotions Company. She is also the author of “Because You’re Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation” which is sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other stores and a contributor to various media outlets.