When you really mean “no,” say it 36 times

Go ahead and say “No,” out loud 36 times. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Now be thankful that someone didn’t tape you and play it on the evening news. That’s exactly what happened to Melanie Streeper, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Comptroller, when she tried to ward off an aggressive reporter who was filing a hard-hitting story about the city official’s use of a mid-range sedan. I can only assume it was a very slow news day in St. Louis.

View the clip here. (Trust me, it’s worth the click.)

nox36

Ms. Streeper’s reaction was far from eloquent – but I don’t think she was the most annoying person in the clip.

Instead, I’d give that prize to Eliott Davis (and the producers at FOX 2) for spending three minutes of air time on a segment about a car that looks like something the St. Louis Police Department decided they didn’t want anymore. (I’m sure there’s a backstory on the vehicle, but there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to sit around and figure it out.)

Frankly, neither Ms. Streeper nor the comptroller had any real chance of coming out of that interview unscathed. When a reporter decides to be a honey badger, there isn’t a lot you can do to escape. Just ask Prince Charles’s press advisor, Kristina Kyriacou, who found herself in similar circumstances a few months ago and swatted a microphone out of a reporter’s hands. It happens to the best of us.

So I have sympathy for Ms. Streeper – mostly because I don’t think I would have done much better in her situation. In fact, I know so.

And any frequent reader will recognize that this is the point in the post where I segue into a story about something ridiculous I did at work – which in this case was to grant an on-camera interview to a producer who stopped by a booth I was staffing at a convention in Las Vegas.

He wanted a spokesperson to do a live video interview that would be broadcast on the main show floor’s monitors. I agreed – which was fine because we were accepting just about any in-booth interview opportunity that came our way.

Here’s where I went wrong: I failed to ask, “When?” and “With whom?” – the answers to which turned out to be, “In 90 seconds” and “With you.”

I learned just how important those details were when I turned around and found a camera in my face and a producer mouthing “WE’RE LIVE!”

I was shocked, but I had to roll with it – so I started giving a booth tour as best I could. It was something that I had done hundreds of times that week, though you’d never know it if you had been watching that interview.

When we came to our “excer-gaming” station (which is a fancy way of saying that we had a set up an Xbox to play a dance video game for 10 hours a day) I made the conscious decision to run out the clock by dancing to The Ting Ting’s That’s Not My Name.

As soon as the camera was turned off, I said to the producer, “Please tell me that piece isn’t going to live online.”

It wasn’t. He assured me that it was only being played live on the show floor. At worst, a couple hundred people saw the piece as they waited in line to pick up their convention passes. That was good news to me. If it was posted on YouTube afterwards, I probably would have said “No” 36 times myself.

All this is to say, I feel for you, Melanie. I’m sure that if you had a dance floor to escape to, things would have turned out much differently. I hope you and the comptroller treat yourselves to a little ice cream run in the sedan. You earned it.

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Related: In my most recent attempt to drive my former employer absolutely batshit, I wrote another guest post for Cision called Dear PR People: Calm the Hell Down. It’s one of my favorites, if I do say so myself.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments
  1. In public relations, perception is reality.

    Just acknowledge the inquiry and address it: Many public officials receive legal benefits for their service at the public’s expense. The ethics of the matter is another realm of consideration, but the issue is made into a “controversy” when evasive tactics are used.

    Fear can lead even professional communicators to behave in ways that aren’t intuitive, and we will blunder. But let’s just hope those occasional gaffes aren’t witnessed by hot mics and cameras.

    • Totally agree – by avoiding the discussion, you’re only perpetuating it. It certainly wasn’t handled well. But I do feel sorry for her in that we all mess up every now and then… most of us just don’t have the misfortune of seeing our worst moment on the evening news. Thanks for reading!

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