Behind the media scenes at the trial of the century

Huge shout-out to the leadership of SCPRSA for their wildly successful professional development conference on April 19! It was my first time being back among a large group of communications professionals since COVID started. I sure have missed my professional networks!

I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel with City of Walterboro, SC officials who successfully navigated the media onslaught during the recent Murdaugh trial. Panelists were Mayor Bill Young, City Manager Jeff Molinari, and Director of Tourism and Downtown Development Scott Grooms.

There’s a lot to unpack from the many insights and observations they shared, but here are three takeaways (more detail coming in a full article including the backstory of the mayor being mistakenly identified on CourtTV as John Grisham).

1 – Mayor Young knew from the start there would be so much beyond their control with the trial in town, so they focused on what was in their control. Walterboro already had a strong hospitality brand as the “Front Porch of the Lowcountry,” so they set out do all they could to accommodate the media to make them feel welcome. A camera operator from a national television network commented to the mayor that the Walterboro team treated them even better than what they see at the Master’s or the Heritage.

2 –  Grooms, who has 30+ years in local broadcasting, was responsible for setting up and managing the media center. He had a goal of solving any media issues immediately – ideally within 15 minutes. The staff treated the media well, and in turn, the media members were in the city’s corner when issues popped up. Comfortable office space in the city’s wildlife center (shared with snakes, gators and frogs), extra high speed internet, accessible parking and food trucks to accommodate the short 90-minute lunch breaks were just a few of the services the city organized.

3 – Molinari said city leaders wanted to make sure that local businesses wouldn’t be disrupted. Only two small downtown streets had to be blocked off, and city public works and public safety staff quickly took care of any concerns that could have escalated into issues. Molinari said he was surprised at how quickly the trial became the “new normal” for city staff who adapted quickly to keep regular services running while, at the same time, accommodate the thousands of visitors.

On a personal note, one of the things I love most about being in the communications field is the years’ worth of relationships I’ve been able to establish and maintain. Today, two of these worlds intersected with these panel members – all three of whom I’ve had the good fortune to work with in my previous lives with the Municipal Association of SC and my first stint at SCETV.

Published by Reba Campbell

Reba Hull Campbell established the Medway Group in 2020, bringing more than 35 years of professional success in politics, government relations, organizational leadership, fundraising and communications to her clients and her teaching.

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