I have done a lot of media training in my time. My last business rehearsed a full-scale emergency once a year, where we would employ an external company to come up with a scenario and then bombard our switchboards with phone calls from pretend journalists. This really brought home how on your metal you need to be when dealing with a national emergency, not least when you know so little detail.
I have also had to deal with real PR incidents. I was once on a train into work when I got a call from my press office asking if I could make a live call into BBC Radio 5 Live.
The press office said they didn’t know what it was about but they had every confidence in me. So, I jumped off the train at the next stop, rang the BBC and the researcher put me straight through to Nicky Campbell.
After introducing me on air, he asked: “Would you like to comment on the story on the front page of The Guardian today?”
Panic spread through my body as I rummaged through the bins on the station for a copy of the paper. “It is clearly very disturbing,” I replied.
“Disturbing?” Campbell screamed. “Is that all you have to say? What are you going to do about it?”
The more I squirmed, the more I panicked. I made some apologetic statement, saying that it was a serious incident that we needed to look into, which appeased no-one but at least got me off the show long enough to give my PR team the biggest rollicking of their lives.
It has not all been disasters, though. I remember one PR stunt around Christmas time, which saw me spend two hours in a tiny studio with two pantomime dames, syndicating interviews with radio stations across the country. It made great radio, but boy did I struggle to get my brand messages across with two actors in character delivering camp innuendos and over-used one liners.
What did I learn from this? Always remember to look behind you!