Q&A: Preventing a Media Disaster with Blake Harvey

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 L. Blake Harvey is the Chief Executive at Lawrence Blake Group Int'l. Follow Blake on Twitter.

Before we get started, would you mind defining what exactly would be considered a “media disaster” for an organization or brand?

In my opinion, a media disaster is when an organization or individual is invited by a media outlet to be interviewed live, (whether on TV, radio, or any digital media outlet that will minimally edit the final interview) and the interviewee(s) fail to deliver the message they anticipated while on-air. Whether the blame is on nerves, unpreparedness, or a biased interviewer, the repercussions of not maximizing any live interview will be felt long after the opportunity has faded.

What are some signs that an organization may be headed toward a “media disaster”?

Luckily, you won’t know the full effect of what took place during a live interview until it’s over. However, there are certainly signs that executives should keep an eye out for, which may be symptoms of a pending media disaster.

In my experience, a lack of appropriate preparation is the number one reason why organizations do not accomplish their goals for a live interview. Most live interview opportunities will be presented to your organization with at least some advance notice - generally, more than 2 days. There are exemptions to this, but they are usually rare.

Take advantage of any advance notice your organization receives about a live interview opportunity that will be accepted. During your preparation time, select your spokesperson/people and commit to ensuring that those who are being interviewed have everything they need for success - including a list of talking points, possible interview questions with answers, and an easy-to-memorize template of your organization’s mission statement.

Each media opportunity is as unique as the media organization presenting it, so be sure to consider the audience when preparing talking points, answers to interview questions, as well as your wardrobe. Yes, I said it - wardrobe is another common reason media disasters occur. There isn't anything worse than an interviewee discussing a serious topic in an inappropriate outfit.

I've seen it all. There was an interview last year on MSNBC where a female political consultant was on a show discussing an elected official’s recent bill pushing for equality in the workplace. What was she wearing, you ask? Let’s just say, the highlight of her interview to the show’s audience wasn't gender equality, it was her breasts and hoop earrings.

Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we all should wear whatever we are most comfortable in (seriously, I’m wearing fitted sweat pants, a thin black wool sweater, and sneakers now), but there is a time and place for everything. With regard to wardrobe for live interviews, the bottom line is to dress similar to the average guest that’s appeared on the show. If the show you’re appearing on commonly invites high-ranking government officials to be interviewed, then you should wear business-professional attire.

Don’t risk the audience not receiving your message because of unpreparedness.

What should you do once you've realized that you may have experienced a “media disaster”?

That really depends on the scale and scope of the situation. If you simply forgot to mention an important detail of an upcoming project, utilize social media to open up a dialogue between your organization and it's audience. Use popular social networking websites to push content to a specific group of demographics, and don't forget to share that same content via your newsletters and website.

If your latest media appearance caused an uproar among your target audience, or articulated an inaccurate impression of your organization and it's staff, you may be in deeper water. To clients, I always recommend assessing the situation from an objective point of view. Did any of your customers get harmed? Did you do something to harm the trust you've built with your constituents? Are the reputations of your organization's executives damaged? If you've answered yes to any of the above, I'd strongly suggest hiring a strategic communications professional to dissolve the situation with least harm done.

It's easy to apologize, and even offer incentives aimed at rebuilding trust, however, you don't want to put a bandage on a cut that really needs stitches. At the firm (Lawrence Blake Group Int'l) we aim to help you understand who has truly been affected by your actions, and work to develop key communications initiatives that will offer those involved a reason to listen to your organization.

It's important to keep in mind that we're all human, and we all make mistakes. Whenever you're in the wrong and you're looking to rebuild trust, be genuine and take responsibility for any harm caused. Regardless of the smoke and mirrors that can be used by a great communications professional, I believe that any initiative that is created out of deceit will not be effectively absorbed by your audience.

Should you ever offer a follow-up interview?

Unless your organization needs to articulate a message to a large audience (ex: an entire city, region, or country), I wouldn't recommend scheduling a follow-up interview. Most media crisis' can be handled via traditional public relations efforts including written articles and mention on news programs. Once you go back on-air to discuss a problem, the lenses will really be on you and your organization - requiring an increased level of preparation and stronger partnerships in place outside of the actual interview.

Again, each situation is different, however, it's important to maintain as much control of the situation as possible during a media crisis. Keep outgoing communications direct and to the point, and consistently evaluate your environment, watching for signs that the situation has either been addressed and blown over, or is still brewing and will require further action. Keep in mind that hiring an outside communications professional is strongly recommended if you ever find your organization in a situation like this.

In recent years, media training has become popular among executives. What advice would you give someone who is seeking to hire a media trainer?

Media training is a powerful tool that I believe all high-ranking executives should have available. Depending on how comfortable you are being interviewed or addressing an audience, the amount of time you’ll need to spend on media training will vary. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend at least five hours of media training per month. Even if your organization doesn’t have any confirmed media opportunities for you to appear on, it helps to know that you’re prepared in case one does come up. Additionally, the more prepared you are, the more you’ll actively pursue opportunities to flex your new public speaking muscles.

Media training, or Executive Coaching as we call if at the firm, doesn’t only prepare you to be interviewed on live television or radio, it also helps you improve your level of effectiveness in delivering messages at community appearances, board presentations, and everyday team meetings. A good communications professional will help you to feel more comfortable and confident when speaking publicly, and will help you craft stronger speeches that truly resonate with your audience.

Contrary to popular television shows like ABC’s Scandal, media training should not include shouting matches and tears. Instead, you should aim to find a communications professional that shows respect and patience, as well as one that offers multiple techniques or training methods that focus on improving upon your strengths and delicately handle your weaknesses.