Yikes… so here is a confrontation, caught on tape, of local ABC news investigative reporter Dan Noyes in California arguing (and nearly getting into a boxing match) with communications director Marc Slavin of Laguna Honda Hospital. Noyes wanted to question hospital officials on alleged improper use of funds meant to help patients. Slavin kept touching Noyes in an attempt to shut him down, and from there the confrontation got testy. Suffice it to say, this is a case study in how not to handle aggressive reporters.
When serving as in-house PR staff, you must anticipate that your company or business may be subject to activist campaigns, protests, investigative reporters and other, ahem, touchy situations. The attempt, rightly or wrongly, is to make the people on-site uncomfortable and, ahem #2, box them in a corner. What are some PR tactics to deal with confrontational visitors in a way that doesn’t embarrass your business?
• Always remain calm. In the video, Slavin was holding his ground as a PR staffer quite nicely until he started slapping Noyes’ camera away. Big mistake. Not only has he taken the reporter’s bait, but he may have committed assault and/or battery under California law. Good media training can always coach you through what to do/not to do.
• The mike is hot. If someone tells you that the camera and microphone pointed in your face aren’t recording, don’t believe them. Even if that camera and mike are pointed down, assume another lens is pointed at you from somewhere else.
• Inventory first, respond later. The agitator’s intent usually is to provoke a response. But, until you fully understand the crisis and what’s fueling it, it’s best not to respond at length. Calmly explain that you handle the PR and media, ask the nature of the inquiry, get all relevant questions and facts, and tell them someone will respond at an appropriate time. AND live up to that promise – this step is only good if you follow through on it, and failing to get back to the inquirer only fuels their attacks even more, not to mention hurting your credibility.
• If all else fails… No matter what, at some point boundaries may get crossed. If the person is trespassing, ask them to leave. If they won’t then call the police – but always go back to rule #1 – always remain calm.