How to Predict A Call From the Media
Wouldn’t it be great if you could predict exactly when and why the news media might call you? Well you already have that ability at your fingertips, you just didn’t know it! Of course there are the obvious instances when you can expect a call. If your company experiences a strike, a product recall, an environmental disaster or a fatality you can pretty much assume the news media will be looking for answers and information.
But what about those times when the media catch you totally off guard, calling you about an issue that you didn’t even know was an issue? Half of your brain listens to the reporter on the telephone while the other half of your brain frantically asks, “What did we do? Why are they calling? What has happened that I don’t know about?” What’s happening here is known in the broadcast profession as the ‘Could It Happen Here’ story. This is the art of taking a story that’s making headlines nationally and finding a local angle to the story. It gives a local flavor to the story. Viewers want a hometown connection to stories of national importance. They want to know what, if anything, it means to their lives and their community.
Most local television stations produce newscasts at noon, 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock and at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock depending upon the time zone and network affiliation. Many local affiliates air a 9 o’clock newscast in hopes that viewers will want to watch the news an hour earlier and get to bed. Some affiliates do up to three hours of local news in the morning, plus a 9 o’clock show and at least two other newscasts from among the 5, 6, and 10 o’clock timeslots.
Unless the television station is located in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston or some other major city, not enough local news happens to fill all of those newscasts. Frankly, even in those big cities there is not enough news to fill up to five newscasts per day. That’s why you see news stories repeated from show to show. Many stories you see at 5 o’clock are repeated on the 6 o’clock and the late news. Thus, stations are always looking for creative ways to fill the time. The ‘Could It Happen Here’ story is the answer to many a producer’s prayers. The producer can fill time by first reporting the details of the national story and can then follow it up with a second report on the same story only this time with a local angle.
When the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in April of 1995 local television stations across the country went into Could It Happen Here action! You would have been hard-pressed that evening to find a local newscast that didn’t begin with details of the actual bombing followed by the local Could It Happen Here angle. The local story most likely included information about security measures at the local federal building. You would have seen interviews with law enforcement officials as well as with people who work in the local federal building as to whether they were concerned for their own safety.
School shootings have sadly become a nearly weekly occurrence. These tragedies gave local television stations the opportunity for several related Could It Happen Here stories. Beside reporting on the actual shootings which were of national interest, local stations aired stories about the security systems at local schools, parents were asked if they were concerned for their child’s safety and guidance counselors were interviewed about the warning signs that might be displayed by a child prone to such violence.
Whenever devastating tornadoes hit parts of our nation local stations produce stories concerning local tornado preparedness, the reliability of warning systems and whether agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army are prepared should such a disaster occur.
Could It Happen Here stories are usually associated with, but not limited to tragedies and disasters. An extension of the Could It Happen Here story is the localizing of any issue of national significance. When the male sexual performance enhancement pill Viagra hit the market national newscasts gave extensive coverage to the drug that would save America’s sexual relationships! Of course local stations aired the story and followed up with reports on how local doctors and pharmacies were being inundated with requests for Viagra.
Each time the Federal Reserve Board Chairman announces a drop or a rise in the prime interest rate it provides fodder for a Could It Happen Here story. Local stations first tell the story of what happened to interest rates that day complete with a statement from the Fed Chairman himself followed by a locally-produced story about how the announcement will effect the local real estate and homebuilding climate.
I’m sure you are now beginning to see that you can predict when the media may call and that you can be ready for it simply by starting each day with a Could It Happen Here mentality or checklist. It doesn’t require much effort and you won’t even have to change your morning routine. When you turn on your television or radio to catch the morning news or when you open the morning newspaper, be on the lookout for any Could It Happen Here stories that might relate to your business. Examples of what you might look for are limitless. As we said earlier the Could It Happen Here story has its roots in tragedy or disaster. When the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the waters of Alaska, port cities along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as those on the Great Lakes were under the Could It Happen Here microscope. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant disasters will go down in Could It Happen Here history!
When you turn on your television or radio to catch the morning news or when you open the morning newspaper, be on the lookout for any Could It Happen Here stories that might relate to your business.
Most of the Could It Happen Here stories you will be faced with will concern products or services. Here are some examples which you may have heard about. Each year following the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tournament there are stories of fans who were victimized by unscrupulous ticket brokers. These brokers offer all-inclusive event packages which include air fare, hotel and the broker’s promise that “your game tickets will be waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive.” In many cases the broker sells these event packages before he actually has the tickets in hand. He gladly takes your money and then bets, hopes and prays that he can get his hands on enough tickets before your ‘FunJet’ group of fans arrives at the hotel. If his prayers aren’t answered however, it’s the unsuspecting fan that goes through hell by either being forced to buy tickets at scalper’s prices or by watching the event from the hotel room! When these disgruntled and disappointed fans return home their first call is to the Better Business Bureau. The second is to the local news media who contact local, reputable travel agencies to do a Could It Happen Here story with tips on protecting oneself from being victimized in such a fashion. Yes, the media do try to contact and interview the offending broker but this is always an exercise in futility-– his telephone is no longer in service, there never was such an address and he’s gone!
When a child in California is injured or killed by a collapsing playpen , Could It Happen Here stories can be seen from Connecticut to Colorado. Cellular telephone companies were on the Could It Happen Here hotseat when it was reported that there was a possible link between cell phone use and brain cancer. Just one isolated case of tainted meat is enough to put all fast-food chains under the Could It Happen Here broiler. A car dealer convicted of odometer rollback sends reporters into Could It Happen Here overdrive. A convenience store robbery, especially one that ends in the injury or death of a clerk will lead to a Could It Happen Here report on local convenience store security.
Many companies find themselves the target of a Could It Happen Here story as the result of an issue-oriented incident. When a well-known national restaurant chain was accused and convicted of discriminating against customers who were members of minority groups, other restaurant chains found themselves answering questions about their own track records when it came to treatment of minority groups. The devastating tornadoes in the southeast hit insurance companies not just financially but from a reputation standpoint when it was alleged that one large insurance company had altered damage figures so as not to have to pay out as much money to policyholders. When golfer Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament in a sport often accused of excluding minorities, country clubs nationwide had to answer for their own exclusive membership policies and publicly discuss exactly how many minorities they had as members. How ironic that country clubs look and operate like plantations and golf’s premier event is called ‘The ‘Masters’!
When it comes to Could It Happen Here stories, if it’s a product or service you provide and if that product or service becomes newsworthy for some reason, be prepared! It usually means that someone in your industry has made a big mistake and you and the rest of your reputable colleagues are put in the position of defending yourselves against the bad apples of your business.
Don’t Wait For the Call! How To Get Publicity Thanks To Someone Else’s Mistake
You can take a Could It Happen Here story and turn it into a public relations windfall for your company. All you have to do are two things: Find a Could It Happen Here story that pertains to your business and second, pick up the phone!
For instance, if a national stock brokerage firm is caught in a scandal and you are in the financial industry, call your local media outlets and offer your expertise on not only how the scandal happened, but how investors can protect themselves from having it happen to them.
If you own a landscaping company and a story breaks about children or animals being sickened by the improper application of lawn chemicals, pick up the phone and offer your expertise on how such mishaps happen and how your own and other reputable landscaping companies guard against them.
Offering your expertise to the media is essentially a free commercial for you. A second benefit for you is that anytime a story about your particular industry makes headlines, the media will be sure to seek out your expertise.