Stefanie Gordon boarded a Delta Airlines flight for West Palm Beach, Fla., last week not knowing what was about to hit her. An experienced traveler, she had the sleep-fast-before-flight thing down pat (there was a Yankees game and loyal to the bone, she was at Yankee Stadium the night before) and planned to sleep on her trip from New York to the Sunshine State.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m that exhausted, there are few things short of an alien peering through my window that would make me look at what’s going on outside an aircraft. Lucky for Gordon, a pilot jostled her awake via loudspeaker and said that there was a chance that passengers might be able to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which was scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center which is a pretzel-bag toss away from West Palm.
Gordon, who lives in a picturesque area of Hoboken, says she rarely misses an opportunity to record a beautiful, interesting or fun visual. So, with an iPhone camera at the ready, she caught the Shuttle in still photos and video as it sped through the clouds toward space. Pleased with her “get,” she quickly glanced at what she thought would be great photos to share with friends and family, and when she deplaned, tweeted them to her one thousand-plus followers.
What happened next put Gordon into media booker and expert mode. Outlets of all kinds saw her tweets, thanks to her followers and their followers retweeting and forwarding the incredible Shuttle visuals. They resulted in local and national television interviews, chats with newspaper reporters and calls from dozens of outlets asking for permission to use the photos on their newscasts. Gordon, working on less than four hours of sleep (remember the extra-inning buzz from the night before) blearily tweeted her excitement late into the night about what the photo adventure brought to her that day.
Needless to say, Gordon got a quick lesson in media relations. From ABC to CBS, NBC and its affiliates to the The Washington Post and others, Gordon’s phones and email pinged well into the night and the next day.
“This taught me that media is everywhere and can find anyone if they want to,” Gordon said. “News outlets in South Florida called my parents house. I don’t know why I didn’t ask, but how did they find the number? I’ve never lived there!”
Gordon said within an hour of posting the photos, she received queries from media on Facebook.
“Media fight to be first…but are ok if they’re not, too.”
Gordon knows a bit about media, but said her more-than 15 minutes of fame caught her somewhat off guard.
“I have my bachelor’s degree in communications and I have interviewed for and written articles, so I knew how to answer questions,” said Gordon, who attended the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University. “What I didn’t know was how to handle all of the requests. I didn’t think right away about copyrighting my picture or talking to anyone about it until it was too late.
“I would suggest to anyone who finds themselves in my situation to step back for a moment before you do anything or agree to your work being used, and talk to someone that you trust: a PR person, lawyer or a journalist that you trust. I was blindsided by this. I was just tweeting what I saw on the plane, just like I tweet what I see at sporting events or as I walk down the street.”
Not having her extraordinary photo copyrighted came back to cost Gordon. While many outlets were honorable and either paid for the rights or at least gave her credit for her images, others did not.
“I was asked permission by several outlets to use my photo on TV or online and I said, ‘yes, as long as I am given full credit.’ Well, it didn’t always happen that way.”
Sure, she lost a little sleep and could have made a lot of money with her photos, but all said, Gordon is still pretty excited about the experience. It also gave her an entree to promote herself. She happens to be in the market for a job. The experienced meeting planner would love to parlay that and her love for sports. Maybe she’ll even shoot some really good photos, too.
If you find yourself in instant media demand, begin, as Gordon suggested, and take a step back. Here are a few things you can do:
• Consult with a PR or media relations professional.
• Contact an attorney regarding copyright rules to protect what’s yours.
• When media contact you, verify their affiliation before you agree to speak with them. There are a lot of kooks and impostors out there. Asking how they got your contact information will likely disarm the distrustful ones.
• Think about what you’ll say. Write down three or four talking points on a 3 x 5 card or create a smartphone memo and memorize them.
• Don’t feel pressured to talk or appear on camera immediately. If you need time to gather your thoughts, say so.
• Be accurate. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Reporters will appreciate your honesty.
• Be gracious and say thank you to an editor or reporter after they’ve gathered their information.
• Create a Google News Search for your name and the topic. You’ll want to keep track of what media outlets run with your story.