Thursday, October 14, 2010

Miners and the news

It's been a few weeks since 33 miners captured the world's attention. Yet, how the story was covered is a valuable PR lesson. It's worth a look back to prepare for the future.

When it became clear the miners would finally escape their tomb, television news went into overdrive. As they should. It took almost 24 hours for all of the miners to travel more than 2,000 feet in a metal escape tube to their freedom. In the build-up to the first rescue and the ongoing coverage as each emerged, CNN, MSNBC and others scrambled to keep information fresh.

Prior to 24/7 live news coverage, these stations and cable news outlets would cover a drawn out news event by relying on an anchor sitting at a desk and the occasional cutaway to "the scene." Today, with computer graphics, web cams, and plenty of "experts" for commentary and insight, the story of the day will don multiple layers.

Consider what we saw as the world waited for the rescue to begin and in the minutes between each miner's rescue:

  • CNN made a replica of the rescue tube in their studio and had an anchor go inside to get a sense of how tiny it was;

  • MSNBC found a U.S. astronaut who was "trapped" in space and determine he was the closest thing to someone surviving an ordeal like this.

  • CNN interviewed magician David Blaine, known for his "escapes" from situations that put stress on his body.

In between we had experts talk about the miners' mental and physical health, what kind of let down they would feel once the world's attention went away, the intricate procedures to drill the rescue shaft, the kind of medical attention they were getting and so on. Then, the president of Chile decides to put live cameras in the cave where the miners were trapped and in the rescue tube.

It's been about 40 years to a comparable news event. A lot has changed. Some hasn't. When the world watched Apollo 13 take four days to limp back to earth, television news focused mostly on the scientists and engineers scrambling to find solutions, and on the astronauts' families. But they also:

  • Created a scale model of the Apollo spacecraft and lunar landing craft to demonstrate how the astronauts were surviving on limited oxygen, energy and heat.

  • Took us into a full-scale replica of the spacecraft to get a feel for the cramped conditions

  • Interviewed former and future astronauts about their training and experiences

The PR lesson? Think about how "you" would fill the news, minute by minute and hour by hour - and keep it fresh. This is not an exercise for the timid. The tendency among many PR professionals is to avoid the appearance that you, on behalf of a client or company, are trying to capitalize on someone else's tragedy by suggesting an expert to interview or an angle to cover that leads back to your company in a positive way.

But, TV news is not timid and they are looking for all sorts of stories, as evidenced above. So, "feed the beast" in these prime opportunities. Chances are, a good showing will mean TV news will look to you again, and again.