How often have you flipped on the news to see some hapless and obviously uncomfortable executive being interviewed? He or she is smashed flat up against a wall in corridor trying look and sound intelligent while camera crews jostle each other and the speaker, microphones jammed in the business person’s face, while still photographers flash strobe lights and the sound echoes around? Meanwhile, the poor executive is trying to convey an important message.
I spent more than 25 years in front of the camera on a daily basis. There is no way that I could handle that situation. No one can. The question is, How can you maintain control over what seems like an uncontrollable situation?
Avoiding The Scrum
In politics, reporters call hallway interviews a “scrum,” taken from the sport of rugby. When players on both teams lock arms to form a tight circle and fight to get control of the ball, it is called a scrum.
Politicians may be accustomed to the scrum, but they cause problems. For example, several years ago when Wilson Frost announced he would run for mayor of Chicago, he was in a stairwell at City Hall. In the crowded, poorly lit and echoey space, there was so much swearing by the crews that not one frame of video or recording tape with sound was useable.
For people in business, avoid being in the middle of a scrum at all costs. Even if you have some important, breaking news — especially if you do — it is vital to keep control over the surroundings and the way in which reporters access your company’s spokesperson. A little advance planning can make this possible — and controllable.
For starters, do everything you can to move the media encounter into an environment that you have set up and control. At a shareholder’s meeting in a hotel, for example, book a smaller conference room. To keep a “scrum” from happening in the office, find a board room near the reception area so that journalists and crews can be moved quickly into the space — and not bump into either your CEO or other employees.
Allow adequate set-up space. Each television crew needs a rectangular area about three feet by nine feet to allow for tripod, camera and reporter. Radio and print need less space — about one square yard per person. Make sure there are plenty of electrical outlets in the room, or a few power bars and extension cords.
Place a table or podium at the front of the room, and allow space for microphones and tape recorders. Most print journalists use a tape recorder, so it is not just broadcasters that will be putting mikes in front of your spokesperson.
Make sure that your spokesperson will be shot at eye level. I have viewed hundreds of hours of tape of executives who looked as if they had just arrived from some distant planet in the galaxy because they were photographed from a too-low or too-high angle.
You also want to ensure that the spokesperson doesn’t disappear in the background. Do not do the set-up in front of a flat, crème colored wall: Your person will disappear. A bookcase as a back drop works best, or a light blue curtain. If your office does not have these, spend a Saturday at a charity book fair. Buy 100 volumes of hard backed books, then stop at a discount centre and buy an inexpensive bookcase.
One word of caution: Be careful of the book titles. One corporate titan was embarrassed on TV when the title of a sex manual was clearly visible over her shoulder in the faux bookcase.
If the announcement is something that the company must make but wants to downplay coverage — for instance, a deal went south — schedule the announcement late on a Friday afternoon. In most areas, it is too late for the evening newscasts or Saturday papers and by Sunday it is old news. Under ideal circumstances, July 4th is a perfect time for such an announcement. People are doing almost anything but watching TV or reading newspapers.
But if you want to maximize coverage, arrange your announcement around 10AM or pick a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas when people read leisurely through the papers or flick on the television after dinner.
As in life, timing can be everything when it comes to news coverage.