This post is part of our PRSSA 2012 National Conference series, where members of our Executive Board will be sharing tips from various breakout sessions.
Everyone is sitting in the quiet room, waiting for a typical breakout session of how-to’s and information on this type of business or tips and tricks of the trade when Dr. Joe Trahan’s booming southern voice takes over the crowd. Already everyone knows this is not your typical breakout session.
Dr. Trahan currently works at Georgia State University, owns Trahan & Associates, a media and crisis communications firm, and was the Media Relations & Mass Communications Expert & Master Public Affairs Instructor for Defense Informational School.
Speaking from his experience, he told us that the three most essential things for media relations are control, competence, and concern.
Control: The first thing to do before you prepare for the scene is to determine the format (are you live or recorded) and to demand fairness from the reporter. You also must research questions. Prepare yourself or your client by thinking of 5 good questions, 5 bad questions, and 5 ugly questions that the reporter could ask. And if you really want to be prepared, do 30 of each—that’s what Dr. Trahan does. Every minute of airtime is equivalent to one hour of prep time.
Competence: Never repeat a negative question. Remember that you command the message. Dr. Trahan created a saying for how to command your message, SAPP:
- Security. If you cannot tell the reporter something due to confidentiality then tell the reporter why you can’t.
- Accuracy. Always put things into the right context.
- Propriety. Your most important goal is protect the people or things that you are discussing.
- Policy. When you take a stand, you are your organization.
Concern: Keep in mind what you want the audience to remember: is it what are we doing about a problem, or is there a specific position or angle that you want your group to take? Stay consistent with your word choice and avoid jargon because it will make you more appealing to the public. It is okay to pause and think of an answer because it shows that you are truly listening – just don’t pause too long. Thing about who is going to watch and/or hear this.
The last piece of advice that Dr. Trahan gave was to keep in mind that people remember 85% of what they see on television, and only 15% of what they hear. That means appearance matters. Women should pull their hair back, wear solid jewel tones with minimal jewelry, have no nail polish, and don heels. Men should shave one hour before their appearance, keep to solid colors, have a maximum two rings and no other jewelry, and usually wear a solid tie.
This breakout was one of my favorites because I learned so much in just an hour. Before Dr. Trahan departed, he illustrated for us that the most terrible thing to do in front of a camera is show the middle finger with both hands. And with that image engrained in our brains, the session ended and we were free to approach Dr. Trahan for questions.