COVID-19 Requires PR Professionals to Find a New Way to Work with Reporters

Scott Detrow, Political Correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) was among many reporters this week who reported that a colleague in the White House Press Corps had tested positive for COVID-19, the result of which would be an effort to reduce the number of onsite reporters at daily White House Press briefings

The results were palpable in the lead-up to subsequent briefings. 

For those of us in the PR industry handling communications tasks related to grocery lines, delivery services, drive-thru testing or anything else that creates a needed and newsworthy connection between people and services, it’s our job to help advise on how to keep all parties safe. 

As The Hoyt Organization has supported many of those tasks this week – the first week since California Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a statewide “shelter in place” order – a number of considerations have risen to the surface.  Major news organizations that are accustomed to placing news crews in harm’s way — in the paths or hurricanes, wars and genocides — are now taking steps to conduct reporting via Skype, Zoom or any other method that allows for sound bites to be collected at a range of six feet or more. 

This is a new reality.

In the cases our agency has handled so far that required interviews for COVID-19 testing sites, our rules have included:

  • Scheduling media interviews to ensure no more than one crew is not onsite at any one time;
  • Requiring visual media to avoid photography and video that that could positively identify patients (faces, voices, cars, license plates, etc.) without their express consent; and
  • Asking onsite crews to conduct interviews with boom mics, disinfected wireless stick mics, or other audio-gathering capabilities that keep interview subjects at a safe distance from reporter news-gathering equipment.

This is far from a complete list. But it’s what the media, public and clients expect at this time. These top-layer ideas ensure safety and privacy. 

As an agency, we are committed to ensuring any client activity follows at least these procedures.

Kent Barrett

Valentine’s Day Advice for a Long, Healthy Relationship with Media

Ask any couple celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary — 10, 25 or 50 years – the key to their longevity, the response is most often: communication, respect and honesty. Naturally, wisdom that is commonplace in our personal relationships easily translates to our professional lives. Yet too often, our colleagues, business partners, customers and even competitors feel the love, while the reporters and editors who cover our industries don’t. So many industries – real estate, education, banking and finance – fall within editorial “beats” with reporters and entire publications dedicated to covering them every day. Major corridors such as Silicon Valley’s tech industry have regular contact with reporters at all levels: local newspapers and business journals, national tech and business media, and beat reporters at the world’s largest media outlets.

While these relationships are unlikely to last for 50 years, a CEO of a company that a reporter is assigned to cover on a daily basis have been thrown into an arranged marriage of sorts. They have to make it work. And the secrets to longevity isn’t much different than so many happy couples toasting lifetimes together:

  • Honesty: Lying and cheating are grounds for breakup of any relationship. It will take a very long time to regain trust. 
  • Respect: The media have very hard jobs. They’ve chosen a field that is essential to our democracy and yet often pays poorly. 
  • Teamwork: Not every interview is going to be a glowing review of you or your organization. Sometimes reporters simply need your expertise for a quote. Still make the time to help them out. Otherwise, your phone won’t ring for the stories that do help
  • Consideration: if you’re late coming home, a call is expected. Same for reporters. If you schedule an interview or promise information, be on time. If something truly comes up, communicate and do what you can to find a solution. 
  • Forgiveness: You wont like every story. But accurate, objective news is a reporter’s job. It’s a job they won’t keep if they only write what you want. So be prepared to move on. The silent treatment only hurts you. 

Kent Barrett

What To Do When You’re Skype-Jacked?

Skype-Jack (verb): When children, pets, or other disruptive forces interfere with a live on-camera interview as it’s being broadcasted, streamed or recorded.

If you get Skype-jacked, no one will remember anything you said before or after. They will only remember how you handled it.

Golden State Warriors Guard Stephen Curry, an NBA Most Valuable Player and World Champion was already worshipped by fans and admired around the world when he began the obligatory press conference after a playoff game. The tightly controlled environment was unlikely to affect his popularity in either direction.  But then he was skype-jacked… by his daughter Riley. He could’ve handed her over to mom or dismissed her. Millions of viewers from dozens of countries wouldn’t have been surprised. He could have scolded her, which most parents might have done in private under different circumstances. Instead, the World’s Greatest Basketball Player morphed into the World’s Greatest Dad right before our eyes. It was an authentic moment in a space normally reserved for canned quotes. For one moment, this sports hero was a dad, doing dad things. He was relatable. The world instantly adored Riley and loved Curry more than ever. Though not a Skype interview, it was a clinic in how to handle a Skype-jacking.

Just imagine if he had snapped at his daughter.

In the world of TV news there are few opportunities to be truly authentic, but that’s changing as more and more as news programs conduct live interviews with experts via Skype. Interviewees are inviting millions into their homes and offices where real-world distractions lurk just outside a door. If you’re home alone with kids, they will barge in. If you have dogs, they will see a squirrel. If you’re a teacher, a student will enter without knocking. All of them will get viewers’ undivided attention and immediate sympathy. The only thing you can control in this situation is yourself. The only one who can look bad is you.

So, remember Stephen Curry. The ball is in your hands and little time left on the clock. What would he do?

Invite your student to have a seat and learn about the topic. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to scoop up your child and put him on your lap. Introduce the world to your dog. At that point, all the audience watching is how you react.  

Kent Barrett

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