Emmy Award-Winning Mary Civiello Draws Educators from Five Counties

December 04, 2018

No matter how high performing your school district, there will be problems and the press will want to speak to you about them. That reality drew school and district leaders from Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Westchester, and Fairfield Counties to the November 30 workshop “How to Work with the Media so the Media Works for You.”
The event, part of the Leadership Symposium Series created by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Center for Educational Leadership and hosted by Manhattanville College, was led by Mary Civiello, an Emmy Award-winning reporter and anchor for NBC in New York. Civiello, who worked in television news for 20 years, now provides media coaching to corporate executives, government leaders and others.
Like many of the attendees, Jennifer Colman Milillo, Director of Marketing & Communications at Green Chimneys Children's Services, serves on her organization’s crisis team. She came to gain tools for crisis communications.
“We’ve had to deal with certain things and communicate uncomfortable information,” said Milillo. “My philosophy is transparency minus the panic. I know there are strategies that can help me work more effectively with the media.”
“How many of you are in regular contact with the press?” Civiello began. “When you engage the press with the good things it pays off when things go bad.” 
Civiello’s engaging and informative presentation exemplified her key message: Preparation pays off.  “Look at trends of trouble and have responses prepared,” she said. “What is the message you want to deliver? Be prepared to support your three key points in three ways—through analogy, anecdote, and fact.”
Reporters are out to get a story, she reminded the participants. “Control the message by thinking like the press and giving them what they need. Give regular updates. Be quotable.”
“Give press physical access so they can get a good visual of what they need,” offered Ellen Lane, Director of School Communications for BOCES. Civiello nodded in agreement.
Civiello broke communication into the three Vs: visual, vocal, and verbal. “Research tells us that the largest aspect that will assure your credibility is visual,” she said. “Gesture, make eye contact, lean in, smile and connect.”
Midway through the program, participants had an opportunity to put Civiello’s techniques into practice. Attendees had the opportunity to draft a 3x3 message in response to a safety concern they had recently encountered and present to their tablemates. The very real reasons for the program became apparent. At one table alone, the situations ranged from a third-degree sex offender in an elementary school, swastikas discovered on district property and a fight involving a knife in the boy’s bathroom.
One after another, participants practiced. “The safety of your children is our number one concern.” “As a community, our goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students.” “District administrators work hand-in-hand with town officials to maintain secure school buildings.”
Civiello walked from table to table, coaching as needed.
“I heard a few people fielding statements they need to deliver this week,” she closed with. “This preparation will help.”
“The participants felt armed and ready to deal with their next communication challenge,” said Renee Gargano, founder and program developer for BOCES Center for Educational Leadership and Assistant Director of Manhattanville’s Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership. “Everyone agreed these skills are needed not if something happens, but when.”