Last week, after finishing a series of very well-written, but heart-wrenchingly depressing novels, I decided I needed a change. Something light. Something funny. I needed a book that would make me laugh, rather than cry. Enter Tina Fey.
Bossypants has been out for a while, but I had been so busy sobbing my way through highly acclaimed literature that I hadn’t gotten to it yet. I read it in two nights, in the hopes of escaping both sadness and work (I read enough about PR and higher ed during the day) and my biggest takeaways are: There are media relations lessons everywhere. (You can’t escape them!) And we are all just like Tina Fey—bear with me.
Sure, Tina (I can call her that because I know her so well now after reading her book) is wildly talented and famous. And maybe it seems like even though we’re technically all writers, her prose is slightly different in nature and impact. And sure, her interactions with NBC are not exactly the same as ours. But, despite all that, one of the more serious stories Tina told in her book was about a media interview gone wrong. It was a perfect case study, particularly for those who feel like they don’t need media training, or those who joke around after official questioning appears to be over and are upset when those jokes end up in print.
Consider that my bestie Tina had graced magazine covers and done countless interviews for years before she sat down with a TV Guide reporter she considered a friend. No doubt she had learned a lot about what it means to engage with the media through her experiences, and I’m guessing she was well versed in how to conduct herself and what pitfalls to look for.
Tina spent the day on the set of 30 Rock with the TV Guide reporter and then the two had dinner in her apartment. It seemed like a lovely day shared by two friends, but remember, the reporter was still technically working. “Long after what I considered the ‘interview portion’ of our day to be over,” Tina wrote, “Damian asked me what I would do if McCain-Palin won the election….I said in a jokey, actress-y voice, ‘If they win, I will leave Earth.’”
And we all know what happened next. That quote was in the article, and Tina took a lot of heat for it.
These kinds of missteps can happen to the best of us. And in some ways, it’s kind of comforting to know that even the more seasoned among us can trip up. I share this not to discourage anyone from participating in media relations (clearly Tina has benefitted more than not by doing so), but more to illustrate that it’s a complex process. Lean on media relations professionals for help and advice in approaching media interactions to avoid similar situations. And remember us if you ever end up hosting SNL. We are happy to provide on-camera tips backstage while meeting famous people, getting autographs for our kids and slipping writing samples to Lorne Michaels.