Command the Camera

Even through his thick Cajun-accent, Joe Trahan is crystal clear when it comes to handling tough media questions.

No comment or short answers won’t cut it and is a missed opportunity for your school district.

“A lot of times people stop with just an answer,” said Trahan, a veteran communicator and founder of Trahan & Associates, media and public relations firm specializing in crisis and media communications. “Superintendents want to make sure their message gets out and that their side of the story is told, especially today, with a five-headed media monster that we’re dealing with.”

Trahan spent 22 years in the United States Army as a public affairs officer and another nine years as a Department of Defense media relations trainer. For Trahan, media relations is an opportunity for superintendents to engage with their community and audience. 

But let’s face it, media relations is not necessarily a skill with which most are born.

There are two key concepts that Trahan says superintendents should understand: command statements and bridging techniques.

A command statement, or talking points, are the main ideas that you, as a source, want to get across to a reporter or a group from your community. It is crucial for communicators to take the time to draft those main ideas that you want to get across. It will help you later.

Trahan recommends that in the current climate for school leaders, there are four pillars your command statements should communicate:

  1. Hope
  2. Stability
  3. Compassion
  4. Trust

It’s a lesson he’s teaching his FEMA trainees, too.

“It allows us to earn trust, especially today more than ever,” said the man who is referred to as “Doc” Trahan. “People are doubting every single organization.”

That’s backed up by the research, too. Recently, the Pew Research Center released its latest public confidence survey results. It found that confidence is down in many professions compared to pre pandemic. School leaders, who have historically outperformed peers in other professions, felt it too.

The Louisiana-born Army veteran shoots the truth as straight as they come with it when it comes to questions that you may not want to answer.

I think it’s really important that you, of course, answer the question if you know it,” he said. “If you don’t know if you tell them that, and then you use a bridging statement and you go to your command message. Don’t just stop with the answer.”

Here are 10 bridging statements you can use to help you pivot the conversation:

  1. “It’s imperative that we remember…”
  2. “What’s important is that…”
  3. ” Let me emphasize that…”
  4. “Our record demonstrates that…”
  5. “What we’re focused on is…”
  6. “That’s the main reason that we’re…”
  7. “Let me reiterate that…”
  8. “However…”
  9. “It’s important to note that…”
  10. “The Key Issue is…”

“I think bridging adds that additional comment that I think it’s so lacking a lot of time and comes across to me as somebody that is truly engaged and truly cares about their community,” he said.

Want to see it in action? Take three minutes to see how those being interviewed deftly pivot by bridging to command messages on a tough topic.