I am not sure how I missed this story when it first happened, but it is worth recapping even if the event happened a couple weeks ago. Those Chilean miners who once were trapped underground and now are hobnobbing with the rich and famous? They were media trained while awaiting rescue. Okay, that definitely deserves an LOL.
There are a lot of jokes that come to mind, but the reality is that sometimes I think the people who trudge into a media training session would prefer to be trapped underground for a month rather than participate in training to prepare them to handle media scrutiny. Their perspective changes once we get rolling, because what we do is fun and interactive, but I haven’t found too many people who get excited about spending a day in a media training session. They just like the results.
As the experience of the Chilean miners proves, though, media training can be invaluable in helping to deliver a consistent, positive message that can frame even the most negative stories as a big victory.
I mean, here is a situation in which dozens of people were trapped for weeks in unspeakable conditions. Yet, instead of focusing on who was to blame, why nobody saw it coming, why government regulators failed to protect the workers, why the workers may have cut corners that contributed to the collapse and so on, the focus stayed narrowly focused on the successful effort to locate and extract the miners.
That doesn’t just happen. It is an end result that someone envisioned and then went to work ensuring happened. And communications played a huge role in making sure the story that was reported was the story they wanted to be reported.
Back to the fact that the miners were prepared for the crush of media attention prior to being rescued, I learned of this excellent story from Radio Netherlands Worldwide, “Chilean miners ready to face the Press.” It describes the efforts of radio journalist and director of the Chilean Organization for Security Alejandro Pino to help the miners cope with the unfathomable level of attention that would be focused on them.
His “courses” lasted one hour a day with recommendations that are universally appropriate for anyone who could face media scrutiny:
- Speak with your heart, not with your head. Be yourself.
- Express yourself through body language as well as through your voice and words.
- Journalists are a medium through which you can communicate a positive message to the general public.
- Journalists need to tell their story clearly and you can help them.
- Journalists are not your enemies.
- If several questions are asked, seize control and choose the question you want to answer.
Consider the outcome of what happened compared to other similar high profile situations. Sure, the miners were rescued and the story was destined to be positive, but BP also succeeded in capping the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico. Every disaster eventually ends. But how often do you see a bunch of people gather round and start singing the national anthem when a crisis is over?
In BP's case, it was a man-made disaster that suffered through repeated communications blunders and it was seen through that prism. It seemed that only those of us who are connected to oil and gas exploration really understood how monumental the technical challenges of stopping the leak were and the heroic stories failed to resonate because they were overshadowed by the sense of glaring incompetence.
The Chilean mine collapse was a man-made disaster that benefited from excellent communications as evidenced by the decision to prep the miners themselves for how to deliver a heartfelt, positive message. The outcome was universally applauded because the information was framed with that outcome in mind.
If you begin your crisis response with the end in mind, you are infinitely more likely to achieve that end result. Just ask the polo playing Chilean miners.