Monday, February 28, 2011

The Leslie Knope School of Media Training

The February 17 episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” entitled “Media Blitz,” featured a storyline about a local media tour by Pawnee Deputy Parks Director Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) and state budget expert Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott).

A little background – the recession has left Pawnee nearly bankrupt, and Ben and his boss (played by Rob Lowe) are in town to see if they can slash budgets and save the town from bankruptcy. Leslie decides to resurrect an old town tradition – the Harvest Festival – to raise enough money to keep the Parks Department operating. Complicating matters is that Ben was elected mayor of his home town in Minnesota at 18, but bankrupted the town with a failed construction project called the Ice Palace.

Anyway, Leslie and Ben talk to local TV and radio stations to promote the Harvest Festival. But all anyone – including Perd Hapley, host of “Ya Heard with Perd” – wants to talk about is Ben’s history of fiscal mismanagement.

The resulting interviews are hilarious, but also instructive for those of us charged with preparing clients for interviews. I present to you the top three lessons from the Leslie Knope School of Media Training.

1. You set the conditions of the interview. Ben’s first experience is with two morning “shock jocks.” Maybe not the best fit for a budget-cutting, good-government type.

2. Preparation prevents poor performance. Ben finally shuts down the questions with a message approach that explains he was way too young to be mayor and that everybody made mistakes at 18. A little preparation could have surfaced a better message in time to avoid (hilarious) disaster.

3. Effective communicators are made, not born. Even number-crunching Ben Wyatt became an effective spokesperson for the Harvest Festival. If he can do it, anyone can.

I have no idea whether anyone on the “Parks and Rec” writing team spent anytime as a journalist or in PR. But Ben Wyatt’s experience in “Media Blitz” rang true to me.

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