Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Managing My Message at the "Managing the Message" Workshop

On occasion I get offers and requests to do things that are rather intriguing. Sometimes they are meant to benefit others but in the end I always suspect I am the one who has walked away with the most benefit, and so I am always so grateful to have had the opportunity. Another example occurred this week when Russell Thomas invited me to participate in the workshop he was facilitating called "Managing the Message".

"Managing the Message" was a workshop for those who work in non-profit organizations, and it's all about helping those individuals and organizations learn how to deal with the media. Russell asked me if I would help out by taking part in a little mock media scrum, designed to show those individuals who will likely one day face this kind of scenario what a press conference can be like.

Now, Russell recalls my very first press conference in this community, and so do I. It was the one where they announced KISS was coming to town, and I remember it well because I had taken the bold step of inviting myself to the announcement. I know there are many who would dispute it when I say I am shy, but in the beginning of all this I was. I did not know my role, and wasn't even sure if I had one other than as a stay-at-home mom. I wasn't sure about this whole blogging thing, what it meant or where it could go, or where it fit into the fabric of this community. And so it was pretty out of character for me to contact Russell and ask if I could attend the press conference that day. I was delighted when he said yes, and in fact he encouraged me not only that day but every step along the way of this journey, too. He made me feel welcome and like I did have a place, an act of kindness I now try to "pay forward" to other bloggers who make that bold leap into this world of "new media" in Fort McMurray. But I digress...

As I said I recall that first press conference well. I guess I sort of thought as press conferences as dry and dull, but I'd picked a good one for my first. There I was when Claude Giroux, then Executive Director of Events Wood Buffalo appeared in his full Gene Simmons regalia. I wondered if I had press conferences all wrong at that point, although since then I have been to many of the dry and a bit dull variety too(although I've come to love them because they always signal something new and I love new everything - shoes, events, buildings, whatever). I remember the media scrum afterwards, when the media crowd around asking questions, and I couldn't do it. I was far too intimidated, far too unsure of my place. I was terrified, frankly, of asking the wrong question or saying the wrong thing.

Now, after a couple of years, I've been on both sides of that experience, interviewer and interviewee. I've felt the butterflies on both sides of the equation, and I've learned. And so yesterday along with Nolan Haukeness of Rock 97.9 and Jordan and Craig, our new Shaw super-duo, I got to "play media" and be a part of a mock scrum.

Media is important to all organizations, but perhaps even more so for non-profits. They tend to have very small advertising budgets (if any) and thus free press is something that can benefit them in enormous ways. Getting their message out there is huge, because no one can support you if they don't know about you, and so this workshop is, in my opinion, a brilliant idea. Some in non-profits are excellent at handling media while others are uncertain, much like I was at the beginning of all this. Having a situation in which they can experience it while learning what to do (and not to do) is invaluable, and so yesterday the participants at "Managing the Message" got to face a rather aggressive media scrum.

And I will be very honest - that was the most aggressive I've ever seen any local media. In this community the media tends to be quite laidback and easy-going, not "in your face" and difficult. But yesterday we were encouraged to "ramp it up" a bit, and so we did, grilling the participants who had been tasked with holding a mock press conference and then facing us down.

There I stood, arms crossed, and my most cynical side showing. The funny thing is that isn't me at all. I'm likely the easiest interviewer ever. I'm the kind who buys you coffee, chats with you about your kids, makes a few notes, records it on my iPhone, and says "tell me what you want to tell the world and then I will write it in a way that I hope conveys what you feel". I am not the person I was yesterday, the one who asked one participant (after he had given his opening spiel): "That sounds great, now what is it you ACTUALLY DO"? That sort of aggression is completely foreign to me - but for some in the media, perhaps not local but from other places, it is standard.

I did an interview once that was of that nature. By the end of it I was angry, and I felt abused. I felt they had deliberately tried to bait me, goad me, force me to say things I did not wish to say. I handled it well, I think,  but I also determined I would never do that to anyone else. It was perhaps "tough journalism" and it has its place, but it has no place with me, at least not when it comes to non-profits (I'm afraid politics is a different scenario and there I can - and will - play a little hardball).

I think for the participants yesterday it was a tremendous experience. Some were shaking when they faced us, the aggressive media, but they all handled it well and did brilliantly. They faced a trial by fire and they came through unscathed. I felt like I needed to apologize to all of them afterwards and explain I am a really nice person at heart and not some arm-crossing loudmouth jerk, but I hope most of them know that.

Yesterday I suppose I learned something too, about managing my own message. It has taken me time to find my place here, and my role. It has taken some time for the concept of "new media" to be recognized, and it has taken me a great deal of thought to determine what it meant for me to be part of that new media. I no longer fear scrums and I jump in when I think it is necessary, although I still prefer to buy you a coffee and just chat. For me if someone has a passion about something and wants to share it then it is very likely something I will want to write about, because passion is infectious. If someone can make me feel their emotion, help me to understand why they do what they do, then I see my role as helping others to understand it too, becoming a conduit for that passion. I am all about passion and vision and drive, just as I always have been, and that is where my role lies - helping people like non-profits share their passion, vision, and drive with others. After two years I think I have learned to manage my own message, which is to share what is great about this community with the world while also talking about the challenges we face. I have finally found my role and my place, and I am no longer afraid of scrums and press conferences, and I suppose I would no longer characterize myself as even slightly shy. It's been an interesting journey, and yesterday it was truly delightful to share some of that journey with some of the people in this community of whom I am so very fond, the ones who run the non-profits that form the backbone of who we truly are. I loved seeing them learn to manage their messages, to find their role and place and find ways to share their passion and vision and drive with all of us.

I've come a long way since that KISS press conference, people. And I gotta say I am still waiting for a press conference to top that one, where someone appears in an outrageous costume. Until then though I will just keep on keepin' on, doing what I do, and managing my own message about this tremendous place we call home.

My thanks to Russell Thomas
for inviting me to participate at
"Managing the Message",
 and to the participants of the workshop.
I really am a nicer person than I
may have seemed to be yesterday -
and if you give me a chance to buy
you a coffee and share your passion with me
I'll prove it!

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