Proof of Concept

Posted by John Verrico.

Pre-established relationships between reporters and
agency spokespersons are never so important as when something goes awry, a
piece of equipment you’re demonstrating suddenly doesn’t work, or someone does
or says something unexpected.

It is truly an
“oh, s#*t!” moment when, at a press event, someone makes a statement to
reporters that is completely out of line with what your story is supposed to be
about. It’s worse when it’s one of your own people. Usually, as the agency
spokesperson, you have to jump in to clarify or correct the information and try
to get story back on track.

Give them
credit, reporters are quick to see when something is askew or is contradictory.
Whether or not they use it in their story depends on how it effects the tone
and its relevance to the main issue, and even more so on the relationship they
have with the spokesperson.

I had the
pleasure of working with Sacramento Police Department spokeswoman Michele
at a press event this week announcing a new virtual training platform
for police, fire and emergency medical personnel. The uber video game was
designed by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Army, with input
from emergency responders, and simulates a deadly active shooter scenario in a
major hotel. The press event was a demonstration of the training with all of
the emergency response disciplines interacting with each other in real time.

Media were
encouraged to observe and ask questions of the role players, but not to
interrupt the simulation itself. They were welcome to interview the players as
their roles ended.

One police
officer’s avatar was killed very early in the action, so, since he was no
longer involved in the response training, he was available to provide
interviews. Unfortunately, being somewhat disgruntled about being out of play
so quickly, the officer ‘s reaction to the training event was quite
negative. He essentially ridiculed the
system and implied it had no benefit to the responders.

Kudos to
Gigante for having such an outstanding relationship with her beat reporters
that they immediately turned to her and asked to speak with someone else who
could provide a more positive interview.

Kudos also to
the reporters from multiple local media outlets for quickly realizing that this
one individual’s personal opinion was tainted by his defeat, and for
recognizing that the real story was in the successful partnerships, the
uniqueness of the training, and it’s ultimate value to the emergency response

dissenting opinions in a news piece is important to ensuring a balanced story.
Sometimes, however, that dissenting opinion has little significance to the main
point. It takes a good reporter to know the difference and whether or not to
include it.

It takes an
excellent public affairs officer to develop such trusted relationships that the
reporters care enough to differentiate.

And that makes
all the difference.

We’d love to hear your stories about relationship-building with reporters — what works, what doesn’t, your success stories and your nightmares.

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