Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Everyone in the pool!

Sure, it's autumn. And, temperatures in most areas of the country are starting to drop off as the leaves change. But, there are still a few areas where the mercury is holding high, and the folks who live there are considering one last pool party before everyone changes into their heavier clothes for the colder months ahead.

Everyone into the pool!
While pools can be awesome, they sometimes can be troublesome, especially when it comes to media pools. Those are arrangements where either due to time restraint or the conditions of a scene where bringing every single member of the media through to get video, sound or still photos difficult or impossible.

The downed Bayflite helicopter
My first experience with a media pool happened during an April 2000 crash of a Bayflite emergency transport helicopter. The craft clipped a guy wire on a 500 foot tall antenna in a nature preserve and went down with all three souls aboard. Because the crash site was well back in a very swampy area - complete with alligators, water moccasins and jet fuel - fire rescue units on scene determined that the site was just not going to be accessible to all of the media outlets.

The incident commander did say, however, that one member of the media could come back with the rescue units to get video of the scene. This was the first lesson I learned about creating a media pool - you never select which outlet gets the video. You simply announce to the media members assembled on scene that there is the opportunity, and that they have five minutes to prepare.  At that point, it's critical to let the members of the media decide who will do the deed. In this case, one of the stations was considerably closer to the site than the others, so that photographer went back to his station to get the necessary gear to head into the woods while the other stations offered to cover any briefings if he missed them.

Don't forget the still photographers!
Where we bungled things was by not including a still photographer in the pool, and boy, did we ever hear about that from the print media. Sure, they could get stills from video, but still cameras can give so much better resolution for getting the image on paper. We apologized profusely and promised that we would learn from our mistake.

Of course, the danger for the PIO is that he or she may start to - ahem - set up situations where only single members of the media can be pooled for a situation, but reporters are pretty savvy and can see when you are simply doing that to prevent answering questions from all of the reporters on scene. Don't play that game, it just makes you look shifty.

While it may not be the answer to every situation you run into, for the right situation, the pool may be the right tool for what you need to accomplish.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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