Webinar presenter Katie Nelson answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Is Your Chief Ready for Media Interviews – Preparation is Key. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: A couple of simple ones upfront here, Katie, a couple of folks are asking if you could go back and explain what is step and repeat meaning again?
Katie Nelson: A step and repeat is a very fancy way of saying a backdrop. When you are thinking about the press conferences that you’ve seen on television or streamed online, and there is a backdrop behind a chief that has maybe the agency star or badge, or logo and name and it’s repeated over a canvas. That is what is called a step and repeat, and usually, they’re an easy put up, easy takedown, cloth background. You don’t want it to be shiny. That’s basically what it is, is a very nice backdrop. And the term if you were to go and purchase it so that the company knows what you’re talking about, is a step and repeat.
Audience Question: How do you fight the narrative that gets a lot of views? Like on Tiktok, the information was completely false, and people are following and sharing the information on Tiktok, aren’t viewing our local news. They’re not viewing the police departments, Facebook, or our Twitter accounts. And to make it worse, our police department doesn’t have a Tiktok account, so we didn’t have anything to do with it. How do you combat that kind of social media of misinformation?
Katie Nelson: That is an excellent question. And the first question I was going to ask was, does your agency have a Tiktok account? So, if they don’t have a Tiktok account, I would make a concerted effort to calling your friendlies. So, the local journalists that you trust, that you’re saying that you can present this situation too, and then create a story out of that, frame a story around it as “The pitfalls of social media and the spread of misinformation”, and help curtail it that way. Now, there is no silver bullet anywhere. I hate to break it to you guys. But what we can do is double down on our efforts to do the right thing by ensuring that we are making every effort to connect through as many channels as possible to re-orient the narrative. And that will take time. It is not going to be a one and done scenario, so while this story is spreading, maybe like wildfire on Tiktok and you don’t have a Tiktok. Find every other avenue to amplify your response, your message, and then do that repeatedly. So if you have to do that every couple of days, as hey, just a reminder, we’ve been seeing this information online and we’d like to ensure that everybody has the correct information and doing that over the course of let’s say a week, you will start to see some dissipation there. Inevitably, Tiktok also moves so fast that, much like Twitter, that news is going to disappear. But what you want to do is get as much as you can back into the driver’s seat and ensure that you are doing everything you can in the channels that you have and the capacity that you have to address the misinformation there. I cannot stress this enough, do not think that either sweeping something under the rug, or ignoring it will help. In fact, if anything, I would say, now is the time to address things head-on.
Audience Question: Could you explain again, where should the chief be looking? Should they be looking at the reporter, or should they be looking directly into the camera?
Katie Nelson: The chief should always look at the reporter. If the reporter is not there and the interview is being conducted by a camera person, only have your PIO stand off to the side and act, as the villain. You never want to be looking directly into the camera. It’s very jarring and it is, quite frankly, more often than not, a turn-off. The only time that your chief should be looking directly in the camera is if you are doing a direct message to the community. And it is not being the video is not being done as a recording for an interview. So, like the video that you saw that we shared in this presentation with Chief Swoboda from Fort Collins, that was a direct message to the community. That was not an interview but again, it addressed, it could be utilized by the media to be a soundbyte or a clip for a total story. So, more often than not, I would say, and suggest that you have the chief looking directly at the reporter, not into the camera, or if the reporter isn’t there, have somebody stand-in for the quote, reporter.
Host: And that’s different than if the chief is being interviewed via remote, where they’re being interviewed by the anchor back in the studio and that talking directly.
Katie Nelson: That’s correct. If it’s a Zoom interview, go ahead and look directly into the camera because there is no other place for you to look.
Audience Question: Do you think an agency head should always be the face for the media, or should that interview, if should an individual have a PIO? What do you think about that face to the media?
Katie Nelson: Yes. So, I think there should always be an opportunity for the chief, or the agency lead to be present in front of the camera. But what it really comes down to is the communication culture that your agency has established. So, if you have a communications team, or if you have a PIO, and there is some regularity with them being the face of the department or the agency for interviews, utilize them to the best of your ability. When I would say it is critical for the agency head to be in front of the camera, is when there is a crisis. The news and the responses should always come from the agency head or the chief in a crisis. But subsequent interviews, you can potentially pivot back to your PIO, or whoever is part of the communications team that has been, you know, building these relationships over time with the media. That’s okay. It really is incumbent on you, though, and that’s something that’s scalable by the agency. So, whatever your communication culture is, take a look at that. Do an audit or have a tabletop exercise, you’re like, okay, here’s where we would like to have the chief on camera, versus when I can have the PIO on camera.
Audience Question: What do you think about instead of having the chief do an interview or be at a press conference? What do you think about making sure you’ve got other people available? So, like, the assistant chief, or maybe a key or lead investigator. What do you think about other folks being available to do interviews?
Katie Nelson: Absolutely. I would say if there are others available. This is not when the chief says, “Oh, I don’t feel like doing it.” This is when the chief is legitimately unavailable. If there is number two, or number three in your agency, that can step in, for the time being, absolutely go for it.
Audience Question: What’s the thought process that you would recommend for a PIO to consider using alternatives, other than the chief?
Katie Nelson: I would say if the Chief is physically not present in the city, or, if the chief is laid out on a hospital bed, or something of that nature, it has to be fairly extreme for the chief to be unavailable. That or that the relationship between the chief and the local media is so contentious that it would, it would do more harm than good to have the chief be interviewed by local media. Then, yes, I would, I would consider an alternative. But apart from that, really, give your agency head or your chief the opportunity to exemplify leadership in those moments. Those are really kind of the key opportunities for the chief as a leader/head of an agency to showcase what he/she can do when it comes to being able to be the champion for the work that is being done, and how they are going to respond to a critical moment in time.
Audience Question: Should, basically, all police departments at this point in time have Tiktok as well as their Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, and what would you consider, the “gotta have” social media accounts for a police department?
Katie Nelson: Remember, guys, these are not nice to have platforms anymore. If you do not have these platforms, at this point, you are allowing somebody else to tell your story, and you are becoming obsolete to the point of irrelevancy. So, you should have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Next door. And then perhaps if you so choose, Tiktok or Snapchat. So those four key ones are vital because those are the most used platforms in the world like there’s no escaping them. The fifth either Snapchat or Tiktok depending on what your community is more inclined to use, I would begin to hop on those. And that’s only because I don’t think we’re going to see them dissipate or disappear, particularly Tiktok. And there are some great agencies that utilize Tiktok to help tell their agency’s story really brand and market. It hasn’t been done yet, but it could also definitely be utilized in a critical incident. So, I’d be very curious to see which one, which one of you, end up using Tiktok to your advantage to help amplify your agency and your chiefs’ message during a critical moment in the future.
Audience Question: You also mentioned YouTube video during your presentation. What do you think of the notion of using Facebook Live or other live video feeds on social media for these outreach activities?
Katie Nelson: I cannot stress them enough. In fact, what we have seen over time, at least from a marketing perspective, and oftentimes, I think we forget this, is that platforms are leaning more and more towards video, more people are watching videos, more than ever. And so, having as many video opportunities to be able to present your message as possible is increasingly crucial to your agency’s ability to connect with your audiences. So, YouTube can be utilized Facebook Live, Twitter now has a live video recording component. Instagram has reels, or it has IG TV, which you can have up to 10 minutes of video in that. So, the way that you incorporate an employee video, is going to become, again, something that is necessary, not nice to have. It’s just how you do it, and so when you’re ready to make that jump into it, I would say it should be sooner, rather than later.
Audience Question: Katie, does all of your leadership goes through media training? Or how do you actually prepare them to handle those questions? I mean, are you literally dress rehearsing them, with hardball questions? Videotaping them so that they can see… oh, you’re getting fidgety there on camera, you need to sit still. I mean, how do you literally prepare your folks?
Katie Nelson: Yes. So, yes, all of our leadership has gone through media training. I will give a very recent example. Recently, we had a new chief sworn in here in Mountain View and the day before. He was to. We had a virtual swearing-in, so he was he wasn’t doing media interviews or anything like that, but he had to read a speech and I recorded him and we picked apart his mannerisms, his body language before he went live the next day. So that by the time he got up there, not only was he fairly comfortable with his speech, but he knew where he needed to put those inflections, or that emphasis so that the audience would take away the key points in his message for his swearing-in speech. And so, when we have moments where we need to go on camera for interviews, not only have they already been previously trained, but before we bring anybody in, we’re doing a couple of practice runs just to make sure. Because oftentimes, the luxury of being able to have a day or so to rehearse it isn’t there. Let’s say it’s maybe an hour. And so being able as a PIO to be quick on your feet with messaging and follow up questions and pretending to be the reporter is important. And also ensuring that you have, and something that I didn’t address in the presentation that I wish I did. Having that trusting relationship with your chief is critical because they’re going to look to you for some semblance of protection. And, reassurance that they’re doing okay. And you always want to ensure that your chief, no matter who’s in the room with them as a reporter, they’re going to know that they’re going to be okay because you are there. So that additional component of trust is probably one of the primary and key factors, in terms of preparation that you can have.
Audience Question: You talked about media interviews, and certainly most of us when we think media interviews were thinking newspapers, local magazines, TV, radio, etc. But there are a ton of new media outlets out there who are just as commanding and are as just as professional and have as big of a reach. How do you go through vetting these online-only journalists, podcasters? How are you triaging this whole new realm of reporters?
Katie Nelson: I would say, if you cannot find a byline by that individual and you cannot find any stories that they have posted, they are probably not legitimate. Because the news is increasingly moving into a digital space. It should become an expectation that that’s going to be more of the norm. But what you want to avoid is bringing somebody in where you have not done any research on them, and you don’t know anything about how they write or the way that they think, or, you know, the tone or bias that may exist in their stories because you don’t want your chief to be caught off guard. So, the more research that you can do, and give that to your chief as those folks are coming in so that they can mentally prepare, that just is to your benefit.
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