Last week I talked about media misperceptions some people have and how to go about conducting a positive interview, free of “I was taken out of context” and other concerns.
But what do you do when you receive a call from the media regarding a less than spectacular topic?
Perhaps your client/company has an unhappy customer and the dreaded “consumer advocate” reporter reaches out to you. Or, an email asking for an interview regarding your recent office closing in which XXX employees (fill in your own amount; whatever it is, it is too many) were laid off. Can I interest you in “nobody is using your wasteful product” or maybe “we are outside of your office right now because we heard…” for your viewing pleasure?
Good times, I know.
First, the bad news. We need to respond to the inquiry and “no comment” does not count. Think about it. These days “no comment” or not responding is French for “I’m guilty” and immediately hurts our reputation.
Now, the better news. There are ways to respond that will allow us to best tell our side of the story. To get to that point where we can best tell our side of the story, let’s take a step back.
I get an email or phone call from the media. Couple of things I want to know and some things I’m asking myself:
- Who is the reporter (what beat/type of reporter) and what is the story?
- Am I/is my company a direct part of the story or are we a piece/part of a different story?
- Who else has the reporter spoken to/is part of the story
- How is the story going to impact my different real audiences? How are they going to feel about us?
- Are there any relevant positive messaging?
Answering these questions will help me determine:
- Am I or my appropriate company spokesperson conducting an interview?
- Will I provide them with a statement?
- Is there, legitimately, a better entity/person/company than is more suited to comment on the story to make it better?
Interview versus Statement versus Someone Else
No matter the vehicle we use for the response, the response itself is going to be the truth. That is – as they say – non-negotiable. Anything other than the truth is going to bite you in the long run. If we have done something wrong, own up to it, be contrite and move on.
Reality is, in most instances the reporter already knows what he/she wants us to say. This premise is reinforced if you learn that the deadline is very tight and you are the last piece of the story (meaning the reporter has already spoken with X and Y).
If we have something positive to say and have the time to prep a spokesperson, use a spokesperson or do the interview yourself. Like any interview, what are the things we want to get across; what are the questions that are going to be asked; and can I answer those questions and bridge to the messages.
If you don’t have the time or we don’t have anything positive to say, use a statement. Short and to the point. “That shouldn’t have happened. We are working directly with our customer to make this right. We are also taking the necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.” Remember, you don’t have to get into every detail and certain topics involving security, competitiveness, etc. don’t have to be addressed.
In certain instances, there may be a chance to have someone else answer the question for you. A couple of years ago, a reporter called saying she was doing a story that afternoon on how nobody uses or benefits from my wasteful product. Do I care to comment?
She was wanting the corporate suit to defensively respond. Instead I offered an alternative. “What if I get you a business owner who relies on my product to feed his family,” I asked. Sold! A segment that started out as a negative turned into a neutral or, dare I say (I dare, I dare) a somewhat positive.
The overall moral of this story (or blog) is to always be prepared. Know the questions you want to ask and be attune as to how the media presents the situation to you. Be clear on how your company is impacted and what your real audience will think. Doing so will prevent massive cases of flop sweat (and you were wondering how I would tie that picture together).