Sometimes life and work come together in ways I could never predict. One of the biggest attractions about working here at Zone 5 has been our focus on the healthcare sector – not because I had a lot of professional experience in this area prior to coming here, but because I have a tremendous personal attachment to the industry.
I was diagnosed at a Planned Parenthood with breast cancer when I was only 27 years old, with no family history of the disease. To say that the whole experience was bizarre would be an understatement. But I made it through and eleven years later, I am still in remission. I have also been asked by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to be a national patient spokesperson. I recently spent three days in NYC going through media training and participating in video and photo shoots.
I’m usually on the other side of that experience! In fact, I have a Zone 5 project going on with Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson right now. It’s been an honor to work with them as a communications professional, and it’s now an honor to illustrate their service offerings.
I had a lot of fun. I also learned some things. It’s been some time since I left the digital world to work on straight up media relations.
Lesson One: Trust between the subject and the communications professional is important.
“You are very comfortable in front of the camera, for a civilian,” my photographer told me. After laughing a moment at the idea I could easily slide into a world populated by models and entertainers, I concurred.
I wasn’t comfortable because I felt attractive that day. In fact, I hated the “natural make-up” look they gave me. Spending three days without eyeliner was some sort of record for me. I wasn’t energized because I felt glamorous either. We were shooting outside in NYC. They know what real models are like there – and I wasn’t fooling anyone, especially myself.
I was comfortable because I was 100 percent assured that the people behind the scenes – the folks that styled the shoot, did my hair, picked my clothes, and told me how to pose – all had the same goal. The goal was to make me look as attractive and approachable as possible.
No matter how silly I felt, I knew the communications professionals were looking out for me. No one was going to use that photo of me mid-sneeze, or spotlight the confused look on my face when I lost my train of thought on video.
All in all, when you trust in the communicators, and the communicators trust in you, the whole process goes a lot more smoothly.
Lesson Two: Don’t assume you’ll be asked again.
I fell into a pretty bad trap during the video interview portion. I’m familiar with my own story, as I’ve been sharing it for over ten years now in different forms. I’m intimate with the details, and knowledgeable of all the arcs, places of tension, and emotional pay-offs. When I tell my story, I do so with my kind of storytelling – a conversational back-and-forth and an unfolding of elements.
For some reason, I was assuming the producers would be as familiar with my story, and storytelling style, as I was. I kept baiting them and leaving open great opportunities for follow-ups, to which my replies would been stunning examples of my wit and storytelling skills, of course. I didn’t want to seem rehearsed.
But we just moved onto the next question.
After a few rounds of this, I realized what I was doing and was able to ask for a do-over, so I could share in a more complete kind of way.
Because this was a friendly environment, that was no problem. But in instances where one would speak to a journalist, or answer questions from a crowd, I learned to never assume there will be a follow-up question, or that you’ll be given a chance to clarify. Ain’t nobody got time for that, so leave the clever unveiling for a different time and err on the side of completeness the first time around.
Lesson Three: Passion still makes for the best stories.
Media training is all well and good. It helps save time and prevent PR accidents from happening. But sometimes there can be too much training and not enough time to practice all the techniques so they become seamless. The biggest challenge for me was putting aside my “professional communicator” brain in favor of the “grateful thanks” one.
Sometimes my insider knowledge was useful. I knew the pauses from the crew in shooting had nothing to do with me, and more to do with a muffled bang coming through the wall that may have been picked up by the microphone, or a stray shadow created by someone walking by. The starts and stops didn’t throw me off.
But I found myself overthinking it. Was that one of my messaging points? Was there a better way to answer that question? Did that example reinforce the brand?
My best answers came when I silenced the questions in my head and focused on how Planned Parenthood made me feel: grateful, happy, and alive. And as a professional communicator, I knew that’s what was needed – my passion, not my curated thoughts. For once, I just told my story, and left the editing to someone else.