call that shakes up your business or ego is guaranteed to happen when you
least expect it. You might be enjoying a leisurely lunch with your family
or perhaps reviewing reports at work when your assistant alerts you to a
“A reporter from The New York Post wants to talk to you about
their hidden camera investigation. She says she needs to speak with
someone right now.”
But the worst-case scenario occurs when the encounter with the media
isn’t even announced.
You’ve seen it on TV dozens of times. The businessman is walking
casually to his car when a reporter and television crew ambushes him on
the sidewalk. Sometimes the businessman shields his face. Other times he
tries to answer the impromptu questions.
When television is at its best, a camera gets shoved and doors get
slammed. If you listen closely, you’ll always hear the reporter baiting
the businessman with questions that by their nature imply guilt: “How
could you leave a little old lady without heat for a week?” or “Tell
us why you’re still doing business, even though the city has tried to
shut you down?”
It can be an intimidating moment for anyone as the camera zooms into your
face and the reporter invades your personal space. Where do you look?
Should you approach the camera or back away? What do you say? Of course no
matter what action you take, you will be judged guilty in the court of
public opinion. You might as well slap the handcuffs on yourself because
every person watching at home thinks you’re a crook and your business
should be shut down.
The challenge with any crisis situation involves reaction. Unfortunately,
with most crisis situations you rarely have time to react in an orderly or
thoughtful manner. It’s like trying to put out a fire with a garden
hose, being surrounded by flames. Most of the time, you’re forced to
think on your feet, and that isn’t always a good thing, especially when
a camera crew is recording your every move and word.
So what should you do if you find yourself getting ambushed by a reporter?
If a reporter ambushes you like this unannounced, maintain your composure
and show respect for the camera. There’s a reason why “innocent people
have nothing to hide” is such a cliché. Instead of running from the
camera, approach the reporter in a non-threatening manner, and say you
will gladly talk on camera but in a professional environment.
Tell the reporter you have nothing to hide and will gladly talk on camera
if it is scheduled. But don’t fall for the reporter’s bait. He’s
going to throw out questions at you, while he has you in front of the
camera. He might even insult you and invade your personal space. If he
calls you slime for leaving a little old lady without water, look him in
the eyes and say that you want a chance to respond on camera, but shouting
is not the proper format.
Again, don’t let the reporter draw you to anger, and don’t let him
lure you into saying something you will later regret. Assume the camera is
always rolling, and everything you say is captured on TV. The reporter
might keep asking you the same uncomfortable questions, but don’t get
thrown off track. Keep repeating that you will talk on camera, but in the
proper format and environment. Give the reporter a legitimate excuse why
you can’t do the interview right now on the street.
Of course you will have a legitimate excuse because you will be headed
somewhere when those cameras unexpectedly jump out of the bushes. A
reputation takes years to build, but it can be lost overnight. This is why
in today’s 24-hour news cycle, it is even more imperative to learn how
to effectively manage a message. It’s even better if you can proactively
steer the story from the start. The media loves stories with conflict and
resolution, preferably a David and Goliath tale. But don’t fret if you
are a small business owner going up against a media giant.
It is possible to influence the way your story is told. It is conceivable
to alter the outcome of that story. The challenge lies in learning how to
position you, your character and your story before the media has a chance
to write it.
is the author of the business book,
Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media,
which teaches overt and covert tactics for any crisis
communications situation. You can read more
chapter excerpts from his book at
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