Every media staging situation is different depending upon many factors. There are certain things you can put in place before any newsworthy event to ensure you have everything under control when it finally happens.
Building a successful media staging area and process will go a long way to creating a better relationship with the media and ensuring that the facts and your communication strategy is exercised more smoothly.
We've put together some tried and tested guidance for an at-a-glance resource that could help save you time and stress when the pressure is on.
What do the media want and need?
Anticipating needs of others in any situation will always stand you in good stead. If you are able, take a few good shots that you know the media can use if you are unable to provide access to the scene.
Providing a media package as soon as possible will help you manage the narrative of the story and give you time to adjust your media strategy based on the facts and information that will undoubtedly change and evolve over time.
If you can establish a few holding lines and some good, clear professional shots you can upload this to an online file sharing site and then direct the media to the initial resources that will help them establish the first meaningful story sooner rather than later.
Establish your staging area away from the scene
Every scene is a potential impromptu media staging area and quite often there will be more than one scene to take into consideration.
You can't control where the media go, but if you provide more in one place that is set up to accommodate them and help them get their story, then they are more likely to stay with you rather than go looking elsewhere.
By facilitating an easy flow of information, you're avoiding a vacuum that will inevitably filled with rumor and conjecture. Allowing this to happen will almost certainly lead to you having to do more 'clean up' work than being able to focus on the situation at hand.
Practical considerations to take into account;
- Checking for cell service, preferably with data. It goes without saying that if you don't have this you won't get the updates you need and you won't be able to communicate them to stakeholders.
- Ensuring safety for everyone. This means educating people about unseen hazards and also ensuring they are aware that they could jeopardize the safety of others working the scene or residents who may live close by.
- Allowing the work of others to continue without hindrance. All non essential people should be kept away from the scene to allow for the recovery of life and property and preserve the integrity of any evidence. This also relates to the privacy of people working a scene. Some key people may not wish to be filmed or cannot be filmed for security reasons.
- Ensure you and your command team or other key workers have a private and safe space to be able to set out your dynamic response.
- Take weather into account and try to protect from wind and rain so it does not affect any live interviews. Always carry some golf umbrellas with you!
Be mindful of security and privacy
Always check where you plan to set your media staging area. Is there any sensitive information in the background or left on the dash of a car? Can people see mobile data terminals in emergency services vehicles? If it's a school or workplace, can you see sensitive and private information about pupils or employees?
Create your own media headshot and contact guide
Sometimes it's hard to know who you have at a scene and identify journalists easily. Making a laminated contact page that has details of all your local media, including their headshots, will help you and your coworkers know who people are. That way you can also contact them easily if you didn't get to talk to them. You may have a great relationship and know them yourself but anyone you work with would benefit from having an at-a-glance guide to hand. It's also helpful for when you have to brief others about who you saw at your staging area.
Create a handy guide for staff who are on scene when you aren't
If you're stretched thin and there's only one or two of you then you need a quick way to ensure that any of your department's staff know how to deal with any media that might turn up. A small card that can be carried easily and referred to will help those understand what the media can and can't do at a scene. This is particularly helpful if you have support from other agencies and departments at larger incidents.
Things like the main PIO contact details, agency social media channels, website address and a short list of what they should and should not do when liaising with the media will help you give consistent service.
And finally, always debrief with lessons learned
There is no doubt that something would have gone wrong at some point. The key thing is to ensure you allow for a free flow of feedback to learn what went wrong and most importantly, how it can be improved upon the next time. One thing is certain is that there will always be a next time, so treat your mistakes as the best way to learn and improve.