Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wrapped up with a bow

Getting coverage for an event that you hold can often times be a difficult task. I mean, there are so many different competing events, news crews are stretched to their limits and - often times - the PIOs setting up their events fail to think of the most basic elements.

  • What will we see?
  • What will we learn?
  • What can we communicate to our viewers or readers?

We recently faced this conundrum at a holiday public safety event we wanted to hold. The event - a cooperative effort between the Hillsborough County, City of Tampa, City of Temple Terrace and Plant City fire departments, was going to demonstrate a united front, showing how we work together to ensure the safety of our nearly 1.4 million residents during this time of the year.

The first challenge, which proved easy to overcome, was getting everyone in the four departments on board. Given the fact that we are stronger together than separate, it was a no-brainer, and the cooperation couldn't have gone any better. With some hard work and juggling schedules, we were able to line up the City of Tampa's training grounds for the demonstration.

Now, how to get the media's attention?  I mean, lining up a 2 hour long media event had more than a few eyebrows raised. How would we keep the reporters there, and what would we be able to provide them? I mean, if this didn't go off well, we'd look like a bunch of dopes. We had to gift wrap this media availability with everything we could possibly need.

Fortunately, we were able to get a lot of great information out. Bet you didn't know that candles are a huge source of fires this time of the year?  Or that space heaters could lead to blazes if not handled properly?

That was great information, but what the reporters wanted to see was flames. Burning. Combustion. We had PLENTY of that!

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how bright you burn when ignited
How about not watering a Christmas tree?  You do realize that by not giving the tree enough water, it can burn like the dickens. Putting that tree into a home can lead to an inescapable situation in mere minutes. Watering the tree daily is the best way to prevent things from bursting into flame.

And, there's always the question about cooking the holiday dinner. Here in the south, a tradition of frying turkeys is something everyone can get behind. If the bird isn't completely thawed and rocket-hot oil spills onto the open flame of a propane burner, well, you can imagine the fireworks that you can expect to see.

Turkey flambe, anyone?
By the end of the two-hour event, the reporters left with spectacular images, a sheaf of information about holiday fire safety and the material to put together some serious educational material for their viewers and readers.

A holiday safety event wrapped up in a bow and delivered to the public.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"What do you do?"

It's a simple, innocuous question, but for those who run the show at our organizations, it can give them fits.

A fairly innocuous scene
Let's set the stage, first. A reporter shows up on scene at one of your facilities unannounced. They come over to one of the employees raking mulch in the hot sun and ask him or her, "So, what are you doing?"

Oh, please just stop talking already ...
Now, there are three types of responses these workers can have, based on their agency's media contact policies. First, they may have absolutely no guidance from their parent agency. The workers may engage in a lively 20-minute conversation with the reporter about how they love their jobs, how great it is to be out in the field, how it's awesome that the city sprang for such expensive mulch ... oops. Maybe the reporter is looking to find out just how much taxpayer money is being spent on mulch, and now your employee is on camera talking about the price of mulch as the reporter asks more questions.

Silence is golden, duct tape is silver
Another response might be the strict enforcement of a policy where line workers are absolutely under no circumstances allowed to speak with the media. When the reporters arrive, the workers flee the scene or, if the reporter manages to ask a question, the worker fires off a terse "No Comment," or "I'm not allowed to talk with members of the media," and walks away. I mean, come on, it's not like the reporter can't see that that employee is raking mulch.

It's OK to talk about what you are doing
Then there is the third, and probably most optimal way to handle this type of interaction, but it has to start way before the reporters arrive on scene. That is to craft a media contact policy where employees are empowered to speak with reporters about what is is that they are doing, but to refer more difficult or challenging questions to a more appropriate staff member to handle accordingly.

Why adopt this model of media interaction? I think the answer is pretty obvious. It's the Goldilocks effect. Basically,  if you use the first model, you run the risk of having someone who may not know all of the details of the situation to speculate, offer conjecture or just generally run off at the mouth, quite possibly not communicating your organization's message clearly. The second approach is just too hard, and not only shows the reporter that he or she is not welcome, but that the public should be suspicious as well. 

But, that third model, wow. It allows the reporter to get what he or she needs to do the story while putting a welcoming face on the organization, yet still allowing for more qualified staff members to tackle the tough message points. 

Basically, it's just right. 

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida