Handling Media Relations With Sensitivity: Video Interview

By on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thanks to Mary Fletcher at Conversations in Public Relations for talking with Ami Neiberger-Miller about the challenges in working with reporters on behalf of an organization called the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, that works with gold star families who have all lost loved ones serving in the Armed Forces. These losses are often violent, sudden, and unexpected – so families are coping with the affects of the loss for a long time and rebuilding their lives.

Because virtually all of the families involved with TAPS have suffered trauma, media relations has to be conducted with a great deal of sensitivity and caring. Honest  communication between reporters and public relations staff is critical when working on a story and talking about potential news coverage. Ami talks about the variety of reporters she’s met – from those having very prescriptive requests, to those that operate with a degree of caring.

Having agreement within an organization about how you manage media when the stakes are so high is also really important, so you can respond consistently to media requests. Ami focuses on giving trauma survivors a degree of control of their own voices and situation. While sometimes people going through trauma don’t want to share their stories, for many, sharing can be a part of their healing. But for others, privacy is really important and necessary.


Also in this interview, Ami talks about the Fort Hood shootings and the challenges it brought. the TAPS office at Fort Hood was locked down – with staff locked into the office with widows and children who were supposed to go on a field trip that afternoon. Reporters were calling Ami at the main TAPS office in DC and trying to get a sense of what was happening on post. We were issuing information to reporters as we knew it, and doing the best we could.

The TAPS Call Center experienced a 250% increase in calls by families of fallen troops seeking extra support due to the shootings. Because of the publicity around the shootings and so many service members died, and because military death notification operates according to very specific protocols, every gold star family in America knew that that evening, a group of new families would be getting the dreaded “knock on the door.” This led many – even those with losses from years before – to remember their own notifications and for those feelings to re-surge. As a result, TAPS brought in extra support staff with mental health training to assist in talking with families.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


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