On Oct. 20, University of Miami MBA students were in for a surprise when they found out they would be facing the press.
Of course, it was a mock press conference, but the final segment of the school’s inaugural Miami Leadership Program was a peek into what it’s like to answer to the media during a corporate crisis.
The program put the MBA students through a grueling 24 hours of handling a faux emergency— in this case, the water well their company utilizes was contaminated, sending 300 people to the hospital. The teams of five met in a war room to brainstorm a response, withstood an ambush from protesters, fielded nonstop phone calls from residents and political leaders, and created a strategy.
However, they didn’t know that the last event of the whirlwind program was a mock press conference created by SPJ Florida.
The chapter gathered a group of seven journalists in the press scrum: Zak Bennett, a freelance photographer; Lance Dixon, a reporter at The New Tropic; Stephen Feller, featured beats editor at UPI; Christiana Lilly, SPJ Florida president and the web editor at Boca magazine, Rich Robinson, the founder of Rise News; and Mercedes Vigon, a journalism professor at Florida International University.
Some curve balls: Bennett got in their faces the entire presser, snapping photos. Vigon asked questions in Spanish, forcing the teams to handle international media. And the seventh member of the press scrum: Britt Peemoller, who is actually the senior marketing communications manager at Microsoft and the treasurer of the Public Relations Society of America’s Fort Lauderdale chapter.
“Not only did we want the students to experience aggressive questions during a crisis potentially of their making, but we also wanted them to learn from a public relations professional on the right way to run a press conference,” Lilly said.
After the three teams went through the press conference, they were briefed on the strengths and weaknesses they displayed. Peemoller was able to give tips on how to host a better presser.
“SPJ Florida was critical to the success of the Miami Leadership Challenge, the first annual competition of its kind at the Miami Business School,” said Daniel Hicks, a journalist and dual faculty member at UM. “The press conference received rave reviews from faculty, staff and the MBA students who made it to that round of the event. I look forward to inviting the chapter back next year as we forge a partnership based on values of higher education and professional journalism.”