The media frenzy spawned by the BP oil well spill and the government’s response to the disaster reminds us that the security agent plays an integral role in managing the way a story gets reported and, therefore, the public perception of the company or government agency. Even a good PR message can be squandered or even destroyed if the presentation is mangled because of poor control.
During the very public clean up of the oil spill, there were multiple events where members of the media were reportedly denied access to interview clean-up workers. These reports became serious enough that Mr. Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP America, Inc., issued a formal statement on June 9, 2010, flatly stating that these reports were not true. However, video footage clearly depicted one such event between reporter Scott Walker, a reporter from NBC New Orleans affiliate WDSU, being denied access to do just that by individuals purporting to be private security officers two days after Mr. Suttles reportedly denied this was happening.
Security agents are not often in control of the content of the media message. Nevertheless, they should always be in control of how that message gets delivered, because how it gets presented and reported will affect the company’s brand. There are some proven effective methods for making sure you get the best results from the press corps.
There are really only two ways you will have contact with the press. There are planned appearances such as a planned news conference, and there are impromptu contacts where the press just shows up in your area or they happen to recognize your principal. In the latter instance, they may try to take advantage of the “target of opportunity,” such as when the principal is moving from a building to a motorcade, to ask questions.
Inappropriate contact with members of the press can get a protective service agent in a lot of trouble, so I’ll discuss ways to deal with this part of the job. American journalists have certain rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and they guard those rights vigilantly. Your principal, like everyone else, also has rights that guarantee him freedom of movement and a certain level of privacy. Your problems can begin when the rights of the media and the rights of your principal come into conflict.