Don't Worry - I Can Handle The Media!
Read in 4 min. Words that send an icy shiver up the spine of any communications director are confident statements by senior managers that they can "handle the media". These days, there are more outlets than ever for news, and even the smallest company can find its reputation at risk from a misplaced quote. However, very few companies ensure that their spokespeople are trained to say the right thing at the right time (and when to keep quiet).
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Everyone remembers Gerald Ratner and his comment about some products in his shops being "crap". The resulting negative publicity cost his company an enormous amount of trade. Almost as bad, however, is saying "no comment" to media enquiries - this is often perceived as having something guilty to hide.
On a more positive note, the media love spokespeople who are always available, say something interesting, and can be relied on not to "oversell" their company. If you have someone like this (or someone who can become like this) in your organisation, look after them well. Over the years, they will be invited back time and again onto radio and TV shows, and your company will receive consistent, free, positive publicity.
A recent survey has shown that over eighty per cent of UK executives fear appearing on the media. If you are in this category, here are a few tips that may help: -
If you or your company has erred, come out with your hands up, and admit your error. Far better for you to be upfront than to be discovered "hiding the facts". Use the opportunity to explain what happened, show that you are dealing with the matter quickly and efficiently, and detail what steps you are taking to avoid a repeat occurrence. Most importantly, say how you will treat any of your customers who have suffered as a result. You should show both empathy and authority.
Don't beat around the bush or use jargon. Imagine that you are talking to a fairly bright 12 year-old. If you over-complicate things, your message will be lost.
Nobody likes to hear people rubbishing their competitors constantly. If you have a better product or service than your rivals, list its merits.
In any circumstance, it is possible to make a positive statement. For example, a passenger aircraft arriving at Heathrow airport veered off the runway onto the grass. Fortunately, no-one was hurt, and passengers and crew were evacuated rapidly. The airline immediately put out a press statement praising the pilots and crew for their professionalism. The next day, rather than "Jet crashes at Heathrow", the headlines read "Brave crew save everyone on stricken jet".
Clearly, the way you look is going to be important for television interviews, and may even distract the viewer from hearing what you say. However, even on radio or in print, your appearance may affect the way in which a journalist treats you, and even whether they trust what you say.
There is no such thing as "off the record". Journalists hearing this phrase will immediately prick up their ears, and will often find a way of working your secret into their report.
Make sure that everyone in your company knows how to handle a media enquiry, and that anyone who may be called on to talk directly to the media has been properly trained and briefed. And whatever you do, rehearse - otherwise you may end up like the senior executives at the press launch of a people carrier. As the gleaming vehicle was driven onto the stage in front of assembled motoring journalists, the executives within discovered that they didn't know how to operate the child-proof door locks. Of course, that sort of thing couldn't happen to you - could it?
Your thoughts matter - more than you can imagine.
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