How NOT to Deal with the Media

We’ve all had bad days, and all done things in our jobs where we look back and think “Holy Crap, what was I doing??”  Thanks to the power of social media, this poor guy has one of those moments posted all over the internet:

http://www.ibabuzz.com/insertfoot/2010/05/27/most-annoying-pr-flak-ever/

This is a classic case of how NOT to deal with the media.  Some lessons we can take from this episode:

  1. Know the reporter – before he or she shows up.  It’s clear from this clip that the reporter is one of those strong, bull-rush into the room kind of guys who is after the off-kilter reaction he might get if he surprises his intended subject.  As the media contact, alert the front desk to notify you immediately should this type of reporter walk through the front door with a camera crew.  And, if I could just say … as the PR guy for a hospital, why do you not know the media, and why are you JUST introducing yourself to this guy as he walks into your hospital?
  2. Welcome the reporter and be accommodating on camera.  Knowing point number one above – and knowing that cameras are rolling – the PR guy should have gotten to the reporter BEFORE he got to the conference room and BEFORE they have their cameras set up (how did the reporter show up before the media guy, anyway?). Having to kick them out after the fact makes you look like you’re hiding something.  Say something like “Hey Dan, thanks for coming by. The administrator would love to talk with you.  She’s wrapped up in this meeting right now, but let’s schedule a time later today so you can get your story ready for airtime.”  The fact that the reporter was there in advance of the PR guy is totally unacceptable.  And I think the PR guy was trying to take this approach, he just did such a creepy, incompetent job at it that the reporter just bowled him right over.   If you are accommodating and do this right, it throws the reporter’s AH-HA approach off, and scheduling a time to talk with him gives you time to prepare if you haven’t already, which brings me to point #3.
  3. Prepare in advance! I can’t imagine the subjects of this story were oblivious to the controversy brewing over allocation of gift funds.  When something like this happens, you must immediately start putting together a crisis communications plan, nail down your message points, and do some heavy media training with the spokesperson.  It doesn’t appear that these folks were prepared for the media to show up.
  4. Don’t be inaccessible! The longer they hide from it, the worse it will be.  A radio show host told me not too long ago that the cover-up is always worse than the crime – age old wisdom, I know.  But when you evade the media, refuse interviews and say “no comment” incessantly, that leaves them free to dig and write the story without you.  We always tell clients that you have no control over the questions asked, but you have total control over your answers.  This hospital director just keeps saying, in effect, “no, I won’t talk to you.”
  5. If you have a PR person, step aside. One of the mistakes here was on the part of the hospital director.  She starts off by saying that the reporter needs to talk to the media guy, but when he arrives, she doesn’t immediately step away which gives the reporter more opportunity to keep talking to her – and for her to keep NOT ANSWERING.  I don’t need to reiterate how awful that looks.  Her response should have been a clear and direct statement: “I’m so sorry Dan, but I’m starting this meeting and I’m happy to talk with you later if you’ll coordinate the schedule with our media guy. Thanks so much.”  And just walked away calmly with a smile and no air of frustration.  In this clip, she appears guilty of something – whether she is or not.  (Of course, you can only do this if you have a good media person.)

I’m not even going to get into the misdeeds of the media guy, but why in the world did he keep putting his hands on the reporter like they were in a man-huggie cumbaya session?  And why did he keep saying over and over again “Hi, I’m so and so, the media director, welcome to such and such hospital” without ever really saying anything else?  So many things wrong with the actual behavior in this clip, but it ALL COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED if the five steps above had been in place.  The reporter, while bullish and rude, made these people look like asses on camera.  And now it’s all over the internet.

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