September 27, 2012
Hurricane Isaac was coming ashore on Aug. 29. The Weather Channel and CNN dispatched its correspondent to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, tethered to a $65,000 HD camera and a half-million dollar satellite truck.
Meanwhile, the weather anchors back in the studio were conducting a series of phone interviews with emergency managers and public information officers (PIOs) in the area.
So why — with the wealth of official knowledge available — did The Weather Channel and CNN suddenly cut away during storm coverage to interview a resident 30 miles away, standing in rising flood waters at his home along Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, La.?
The answer? Because I’m the resident, I’m in rising floodwaters, and I have an iPad, iPhone, Skype, Wi-Fi and G3. In short, they picked me because I offer great visuals, first-hand information and the technology to broadcast to the world from my front porch.
The reporter has better equipment and the PIOs have official information on the phone, but the resident has added the much-needed sex appeal that this story has been missing. It is better TV.
As times are changing, spokespeople and media trainers need to prepare for the interview of the future. This means you should take these three steps:
You must follow all three steps because operating and holding the technology while being a spokesperson is a daunting, multitasking event. There isn’t a camera crew; you are the camera crew. There isn’t a producer; you are the producer. This is network news in which we clearly need to see you and see what is in the background.
What spokespeople and PR professionals will discover is that the media will expect you to be ready to do an i-Interview and if you are not prepared, then they will skip over your official information and get it from an eyewitness who is on the scene.
Furthermore, your readiness gives you an upper hand when you can pro-actively show and tell the media something that they cannot get from a lesser source.
Here’s what you need to know to start:
During Hurricane Isaac, Lake Pontchartrain pushed six feet of water into my lakefront yard. From my house and front porch — raised 15 feet above the lake — you could see waves and white caps in my driveway. I started with my iPad using Wi-Fi and Skype.
When I lost electricity I shifted to my iPhone, Skype and G3, taking viewers to the heart of the story. Holding the iPad and iPhone at arm’s length, I offered scenes better than correspondents for The Weather Channel and CNN. And producers put me on the broadcast before their own reporter because less was happening where they were.
iPhones, iPads and laptops, with a built-in video camera, top the list of the technology that you need (but other smart-devices may work).
Using these for a live interview means that you need to be connected to the Internet and that you need the free Skype application. You can also Skype from your smartphone with 3G.
A network producer will call you via your Skype address, and you switch on the video feature for your live broadcast.
Periodically, between live interviews, I used my iPhone and iPad to take video of the flooding. I then emailed the raw footage to producers, making me a triple threat: I had great videos; I had a great location; and I had the technology and information to communicate effectively at a critical time. I also uploaded reports for CNN i-Reports and YouTube, giving access to other media outlets.
There are two parts to the technology training. Part one is learning which keys to push and what applications to use. Part two is having the talent to manage the technology, while holding the technology and conducting an intelligent interview with the news anchors.
You don’t have a margin for error when you are both managing the technology and interview on live television. So you need to combine the training in order to practice using the equipment — while holding it yourself, while talking.
The technology training should also include how to shoot additional video at the scenes of your event. That means learning how to hold your camera phone or iPad still, as well as knowing when to “pan” or turn the camera to enhance the video that you provide to the network.
These days, the media will use even well composed still photos from a smartphone.
While pictures and videos from the untrained eyewitness are often poor quality, you have the ability to offer more compelling images that better tell the story.
Annual media training should be standard operating procedure for every spokesperson. Talking to the media is a skill much like playing sports is — you must practice on a regular basis and increase the intensity each time to master it.
You should learn how to hold the iPad, iPhone or laptop at the proper distance so that your arms aren’t visible. Next, you need to learn how to “frame the shot” so the network sees you and what is going on behind you.
Then, you need to learn where to look, since the web-cam on these devices tends to be off to one side or at the top or bottom. Looking good goes hand in hand with looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. Likewise, saying what is most important upfront is critical, because your live shot will likely last only 90 seconds.
In the world of crisis communications, expect live interviews on the scene via Skype to become the norm. Soon you’ll see TV stations interviewing police officers from crime scenes and first responders on the scene of disasters.
But this technology shouldn’t stop with just the media. It also allows you to post videos and interviews to YouTube, Facebook and your own website, so that your audience, employees and the media all have access to the best, most up-to-date information.
The media are slow in evolving toward i-Interviews. Likewise, many corporate spokespeople are also still fighting to get their IT departments to authorize i-Pads and similar smart technology.
But as media revenues continue to fall and as layoffs continue among reporters and photographers, i-Interviews will be the media’s low-cost alternative. The question is: Will you be ready for the interview of the future?
Editor's note: PRSA is offering this topic as a special workshop on Dec. 6 in New York City.