November 20, 2013
Prepping for Daredevil Nik Wallenda’s Tightrope Walk Across the Grand Canyon
By Kaylee Hultgren
Managing and preparing for a cable network PR crisis is one thing. But how about when the star of your special is crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, live, and without a safety net? Prepping for such a daredevil event, that by nature could quite easily turn disastrous, is a whole new tier of crisis management. Here are the crucial steps the team followed to prepare for “Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda” on Discovery Channel this past June, according to Laurie Goldberg, EVP, Communications, Discovery & TLC Networks.
The Right Talent. It’s important to use professional talent who really know what they’re doing. “We vetted Nick,” Goldberg told a crowd at the PromaxBDA Sports Media Marketing Summit Tuesday in NYC. He’s a professional who’s been on the wire since he was six years old. Additionally, the network “allowed Nick to control every aspect of this,” she said. “We touched nothing.” Another part of the equation: hiring the right staff to work it. Discovery used on-air hosts from NBC who are far more than just “hair and teeth,” she said, and were equipped to handle a crisis. Moreover, during pre-production every department was involved in the process.
Rehearse. It occurred to the crisis team that they hadn’t considered what would happen if he did make it across the wire (spoiler alert: he did). They rehearsed their roles during the actual walk so it would be committed to muscle memory. The network also worked closely with Navajo Nation, as the team was traversing their land. Building that relationship and keeping the Nation informed was key, Goldberg said.
On-Site Media. One of the promises the network made to Nik that helped solidify his choice to work with them as opposed to another channel was that if he did fall, no media would get that shot. To guarantee this, the team positioned the designated press area so that such an angle wasn’t in journalists' line of sight. Nik was also promised that he wouldn’t have to wear a harness. And, there was a 10-second delay. 63 Praise Jesuses later, he made it.
Averaging 8.5 million viewers during the broadcast, the live event earned numerous benefits for the network. “It had lasting effects," Goldberg said, such as spawning a deal to do a few more specials with Nik. Moreover, the net will show off new talent soon and plans to air live specials of a few of its shows.