The Learning Log: PELP – September, 2008: Media Relations

Author’s Note: Goal number #4 of our University System’s Strategic Plan calls for investment in the University’s human resources. To that end, the President’s Emerging Leaders Program was initiated to develop and hone the next potential generation of University system leaders. I’ve been privileged to have been selected for this opportunity and will share some of the nuggets of leadership gold I have gleaned from this program with you.

PELP reconvened yesterday for our September meeting. As I took a half-day vacation I actually tuned into the training via HITS at MauiCC as opposed to trekking to Manoa for the main feed which was actually nice. I got to spend some time with the ultra-cool Maui PELP peeps and had a chance to visit with my WLC sister whom I haven’t seen since March 🙂

As you may recall, if you’ve followed my Twitter posts on PELP, PELP met for a week straight in early August (it was INTENSE) after which we’d be scheduled to meet monthly thereafter. This was the first of our monthly meetings following our “Bootcamp” in August.

This month’s topic of concern: “Interacting with the Media.”

Media training is something I have a bit of experience with as my undergraduate degree is in Communication. As an undergrad I studied video production, media studies, telecommunications, communication campaigns and public relations. As an MBA I also studied marketing. With 4 years of junior high and high school speech and debate, 8 years of student government and 4 months of improvisational acting, I consider myself fairly well versed in oral communication so I was definitely looking forward to this session in particular as I felt it played to my strengths well.

Carolyn Tanaka, Associate Vice President for External Relations and University Affairs, conducted this fun session where we learned strategies on how to deal with the media and interact with them in crisis situations. We spent the morning going over two scenarios and then role-playing as the University rep who had to speak to the media.

I won’t go into the scenarios themselves but I will, for the benefit of you my readers, go over some of the key points VP Tanaka shared with us which include the following:

  1. You cannot control what spin the media will put on what you say, but you do have control over what you say — your message.
  2. Always have a list of key talking points that you wish to share with the media and STICK TO THOSE POINTS no matter what types of questions the reporters ask you
  3. Stick to the facts, don’t leave things open for conjecture. Always stick to your talking points

I liked this session a lot. Given my background it spoke a lot to me but it also spoke to the martial artist in me as well. This session dealt a lot with public relations and damage control as the scenarios we discussed did have potentially damaging effects on the University’s image. The heart of what VP Tanaka shared spoke to protecting the University as well as being able to maintain control over what we could control and letting go of the things we have no control over. That’s the same self-defense principles we learn in the martial arts — it’s all about establishing and maintaining control over what we can and ceding what we can’t.

The one thing I’ll always remember now about PR and talking with the media, always present and reaffirm a clear, consistent message. It’s not necessarily rocket science as I remember learning this all those years ago as an undergrad studying Comm and as a kid in high school studying debate, but it’s something we can and should always be mindful of in all of our daily dealings with others. One of the keys to success in life is always remembering, getting back and sticking to your basics. In the dojo we ALWAYS start of practice by drilling basic blocks, stances and strikes (kihon) before doing anything else. Everything begins and ends with a firm foundation in the basics. Yesterday’s training allowed me to do just that, get back to some solid Communication basics. 🙂


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