If there’s something familiar sounding about the name Brantly Houston, it’s no accident. The Abilene Christian University senior advertising and public relations major is the nephew of Kent Brantly, M.D. (’03), the now world-famous medical missionary whose seemingly miraculous recovery from the Ebola virus still has the medical world buzzing.
Houston spoke to fellow students and faculty in ACU’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication during a special Chapel on Sept. 2, sharing lessons he learned dealing with media after his uncle’s illness became international news.
While Kent Brantly was beating the odds to win his fight against Ebola, his namesake’s role was to fend off reporters from major media outlets whose persistence had besieged the family for days. One came all the way from London to ask for an interview, while others have made good use of the phone. At one point, Houston said, calls from inquisitive journalists across Europe and the United States were coming at the rate of one every five minutes.
Houston said the stories he most enjoys telling about his uncle are the ones involving family get-togethers – of birthdays, Christmases and special visits. “I have lots of good memories, and I treasure all the time he invested in me,” Houston said.
But it’s the stories of how Houston dealt with international media contacts that had his fellow students so interested. Here are a few things he said he learned:
- When dealing with media, learn to keep personal details to yourself. Reporters will ask for the moon, but it pays to know when to quit talking.
- Reporters are persistent. Give them a “no” and many will keep coming. Some will be pushy, while others will be respectful.
- Mass media is not always reliable. Houston said every network misstated at least one significant fact or resorted to fear-mongering. “I challenge you future journalists that when you’re working for major news organizations, get your facts straight,” he said.
- Networking is important. Houston says he was glad he had older adult friends who knew plenty about crisis communication and were willing to share their knowledge with him on short notice.
- Ignore the haters. Donald Trump tweeted and Ann Coulter shared comments by way of an essay that were hurtful to the Brantly family. “You just have to shake it off and remove yourself from the situation,” he said.
- Remember to seek spiritual strength. Houston said he has found himself praying “constantly, without ceasing” all through the travails his extended family has faced. He also tried fasting and found the practice to be a source of strength.
- Remember your community. “Several people came up and said, ‘Hey, we’re praying for you and your family. How are you doing? I know everyone is saying this to you, but I want to let you know you’re on my mind.’ Well, that was comforting to me every time,” he said.
- Keep your ACU community even closer. “Look around the room,” Houston said. “These are people you might grow apart from, but these will be the same people who will rally around you when you need them. Hold your ACU friends near and dear to you, because they really are the ACU difference.”