Summer along the North Carolina coast brings many soothing experiences. The calming roar of the waves. Warm sand scrunched between your toes. And a cool libation sipped at sunset.
But there’s a danger lurking just out of sight. It’s big enough to swallow an entire government manager and maybe a few chubby council members. And only the prepared will survive the attack.
You might think I’m talking about shark attacks in the ocean. You’d be wrong. Sharks much prefer South Carolina swimmers. You can look it up somewhere, I’m sure.
In North Carolina, and everywhere that government managers toil doing the people’s business, the real danger is from sharks in the news media. They don’t swim but they do attack. They don’t injure your flesh but they can injure your organization’s reputation. And, like sharks, some of those in the media are rather toothy. The TV reporters, in particular, have great teeth. Quite toothy.
Lifeguards and marine scientists teach us how to survive a shark attack. As an attorney and crisis communications expert who’s taught in School of Government programs for more than a decade, I can help you survive a media attack.
Pull up a beach chair. Let’s compare and learn.
Sharks don’t want to eat humans. But they do need to eat and they sometimes confuse us with their normal dinner.If you act like prey (splashing and barking like a seal) you’re more likely to get munched.
Reporters aren’t looking to write a story that makes you and your agency look bad. They want to report the facts and present both sides to their audience. If you act like a public official with something to hide (saying “no comment” or — oddly enough — barking like a seal) you’re more likely to get munched. Media munched.
Sharks typically attack under certain conditions. Dawn and dusk and when fishermen are casting nearby. Careful swimmers recognize these elements and act accordingly.
Reporters are more likely to cover stories that have certain conditions. When there’s conflict, a local angle, or (in the case of TV) good video, you can expect a story. Careful managers recognize the elements of newsworthiness (there are others) and help prepare their elected officials to act accordingly.
Now, none of this is to demean reporters. While I don’t have many friends that are sharks (insert your favorite lawyer joke here) I do have many friends who are reporters. They are good people trying to do a hard job in a fast-changing industry. They are interested in the work of you and your colleagues in government. There’s nothing scary about that.
Help reporters get what the information they need, present your side of the story in a credible and convincing way, and understand that their job is not to be your PR agent, and you’ll survive your next swim in the great ocean of news media relations.
Good luck! Oh, and go buy another swim suit. No one wants to see you in that one.