The next, you’re anxiously answering phone calls from TV reporters wanting quick comment on for a breaking-news story – a matter that will require you to hunt down several busy people to research accurate answers.
I found myself in that situation recently while filling in for my boss, who was on his honeymoon. Although most of my PR career has involved strategic campaigns and project work, I occasionally have tacked crisis communication.
Thankfully, lessons learned from earlier crisis work and helpful training through the Public Relations Society of America kicked in as my adrenaline started pumping.
Immediately, I focused my attention on finding out as precisely as possible what information the reporters wanted – and what angle they might be taking. I asked about their deadlines, which I’m finding out is “now” in the Internet era. I knew some of them; others were new. I learned that they liked and respected by boss, who obviously had built good working relationships with them.
Following our organization’s crisis communications procedures, I gathered information from knowledgeable sources, discussed strategy with executives, crafted messages… It was determined that I would do on-camera interviews.
Meantime, reporters were leaving messages on my voice mail and with our administrative assistance. One even called to say he was a block away from our building.
I tried to use all off-camera time to build a rapport with the reporters and their cameramen. I asked where they went to college, how busy they were, if they had kids… It helped to relieve any tension.
Once the cameras were rolling, I remembered to look at the reporter and keep my comments concise. I wish I had been better at this, but my nerves made some sound bites a bit longer than I’d have liked.
Afterward, I watched the coverage that my wife had recorded on our DVR, and we critiqued my efforts.
By the way, my wife appeared on live TV news two days later – in a friendly 3-minute interview to promote her book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. We found it very helpful to conduct practice sessions in which I played the part of the reporter. I used a stopwatch to help her keep the answers concise – and ensure key points would flow smoothly during her brief time on the air.
Like anything, appearing on TV — whether in a crisis communication role or a promotional one — takes practice.
(Note: This blog post written while flying from Dayton to Denver!)