Dealing with an onslaught of media attention can be quite overwhelming, but you should look at it as an opportunity to maintain a positive relationship with the press. In fact, how you respond during times like these is often just as important as what you say.
Lessons learned while handling high profile cases – such as Sawmill’s work on behalf of the family of Chandra Levy (the young woman whose remains were found in Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park a year after disappearing and who had romantic ties to Congressman Gary Condit) – include the following:
* Sometimes the best – or only – option is to not talk to the media. But a terse “no comment” isn’t the solution. You need to say something so the media will have a comment to include in a story. Work with your PR firm to craft an appropriate message. As a news producer at Baltimore’s WBAL radio told us, “at least tell us something.”
* In the Chandra Levy case, the family elected to stay out of the press after the initial hard news interest in the case ended. Today, they want their attorney and law enforcement officials to take the calls and provide updates, so as to not further sensationalize the case. Sawmill’s job was to re-direct inquiries to the proper authorities and help preserve the family’s desires for privacy. This is important to the family, and it can only help.
* When in this mode, the PR firm’s role is to manage media inquiries so every reporter and producer is handled professionally and consistently. Playing favorites is not fair to the media, and will come back to haunt you at a later time.
* If you decide it’s in your best interest to handle the press this way, make sure the media understands your rules and that everyone is getting the same treatment. Once you break them, you lose credibility.
If the press honors your ground rules, then when there is a break in the case they already know that they will be be treated equally and fairly.