Lessons in Media Relations: Carnaval Style
I stood in line, fake diamonds hanging from my elaborate purple sequin outfit. With five-inch-heeled boots and 20 pounds of feathers on my back, I was ready to dance in the Carnaval Encarnaceno, Paraguay’s Rio-style dance parade and largest yearly event, drawing people from all over the country. Unlike the other weekends I had been dancing in Carnaval, this Saturday night the nation’s president, Fernando Lugo, had come to watch. A former priest with several illegitimate children popping up recently in the news, he was a controversial figure, to say the least.
I was studying abroad in Paraguay for the semester, dancing in Carnaval before beginning an internship in Asuncion later that month. I knew the opportunity to meet Lugo was not to be missed, and I quickly developed a plan to make my introduction. Little did I know that my run-in with the president would be an early lesson in media relations, particularly the importance of controlling your message and preparing properly before media interactions.
Approaching the gate, I only had to deal with Lugo’s press secretary, as I had talked my way past the easily charmed security guard. After hearing my request, he set me aside to wait. After 40 minutes, I started to fear I might be benched eternally. Like any good PR person chasing an opportunity, I continued to insist, and when that didn’t work, I leveraged my network.
Seeing a woman I knew in the neighboring booth, I quickly walked over to say hello. Asking what I was doing, I explained my mission to meet Lugo, and as everything else works in Paraguay, she pulled some strings through her connections. The woman was a former classmate of a friend of the president of the Carnaval, and per her request, he said a few words, and I was in.
I happily shook the president’s hand, introduced myself and joked he should get a new hat, as his had the logo of the rival Carnaval club to the one I danced with. A few of the media near the president snapped photographs of us shaking hands, but I didn’t think much of it.
The next morning I woke up to find myself on the front of Paraguay’s largest tabloid as Lugo’s new mystery girl. My innocent joke to Lugo about the hat became a secret I whispered into his ear and the first question of a radio host who tracked me down to ask what I had said to the president. My three-minute interaction had turned into a source, albeit short-lived of national gossip. I learned quickly that walking into an opportunity with media, one should always be prepared for every scenario.
I take this lesson into all of my work, always trying to be one step ahead and expecting the unexpected in order to make sure if my clients are in the news, it’s not by surprise—it’s because we want them to be there.