Keepin' It Real

"Just keep it real Dad!" "Hey?don't just talk about it?be about it." "If you're all that?be all that!" Many of you are reading this and wondering what the heck I'm talking about. If you, like myself, happen to the father of an eighteen year old and two younger pre-teens from the MTV and BET generation, you have no doubt heard these phrases before.

These are some of the new mantras now being used by youth that many call the "Hip Hop" generation. They are everyday references and colloquialisms that speak about being honest with yourself, with others, and of not being afraid to express whom you really are. When you sit down and analyze what's being said - we could stand to learn a little bit from the "Hip Hop" culture.

What does this have to do with media relations? Well, as strange as it may seem, these modern day phrases can easily be applied to our professional lives as firefighters, PIO's, and media spokespersons. Let me give you an example.

A good PIO/Media Relations Officer will establish a keen, professional relationship with many of the reporters, assignment desk editors, producers, and news directors, from local print and broadcast outlets. Many of these people will know you on a first name basis, as you will know them likewise. But, the key to maintaining these professional relationships has nothing to do with you and the top anchorperson being able to call each other on a first name basis. It has everything, however, to do with your consistency and reliability as a representative of your department.

While this might seem a little academic to some, if you are an individual who forgets to return phone calls, forgets to follow up with additional information regarding an incident or breaking story, you could be setting the stage for a poor reputation as a PIO/Media Relations Officer.

This brings me to my case in point - to truly "keep it real" as a conscientious PIO/Media Relations Officer. To maintain these professional relationships, there are a number of things you can do improve your visibility, exposure, and how you are perceived by the local media.

1. Introduce yourself and get to know the assignment desk editor.
The assignment desk editor wears many hats, but is responsible for monitoring much of the police and fire radio traffic and determining the newsworthiness of a given incident. They are your foot in the door for meeting news producers, news directors, editors, and others who decide what airs on the newscast, or what is published in the local paper. This is very important when you are trying to promote a newsworthy event or are looking for some good press. They also possess the largest phone book of agency contacts you have ever seen.

2. Make occasional visits to the newsroom.
"Don't just talk about it?be about it!" I can't stress how much credibility and vitality this can add to your media relations. Many news professionals only have opportunity to talk to us on the telephone or to see us on the air in an interview. Periodic visits to the newsroom, not only speaks volumes about you as a professional, but allows everyone to let their hair down and to get know you as a person. There is one important courtesy however; make sure to time your visit wisely. They have a term in the news industry called "crashing". The only example I can compare it to in the firefighting profession is when you're the engineer at a working fire, and for some reason your rig will not go into pump. That's not exactly the time you want to meet people.

3. Hype your department.
"If you're all that?be that!" Once you're in the newsroom, take advantage of the opportunity to market your department's upcoming press conferences, special events, drills, or any other cutting edge procedures on the horizon. Don't forget to do some self-promotion also. Most firefighters get a little uncomfortable blowing their own horn, but promoting your own expertise opens the door for future interviews and inquiries. Whether you have a background in hazardous materials, technical rescue, or arson investigation, don't be afraid to talk about it. You'll be amazed at how many people remember how multi-faceted you and your department is. Those facets will be brought out during your next "breaking news" live interview.

4. Network! Network! Network!
"Representin'" People in the news industry typically have local associations or organizations, that would love to have a PIO/Media Relations Officer come and speak at their meetings. This is an opportunity for you to network and market your department, and also to communicate to them what your needs are as a fire department representative. We've aligned ourselves with several associations. One of them is the RTNA (Radio and Television News Association). RTNA is comprised of radio and television assignment editors, reporters, and news directors, who meet to discuss local issues regarding newsgathering. They are also a voice to corporate and local government agencies. Most large cities have a local RTNA chapter. Check with your television affiliates.

Recently, we have been asked to make presentations to, and become associate members of, the Southern California Association of Black Journalists, the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, and the Los Angeles Association of News Photographers.

Don't forget your local PIO associations, for example, SCEPIOA (Southern California Emergency Public Information Officers Association) and NIOA (National Information Officers Association).

So you may not be a big fan of the "Hip Hop" culture, however, the next time your teenaged son or daughter uses one of these phrases, don't wince. Just smile and say "Yeah?I'm feelin' you on that tip."