Media Relations 101 - don't hide under your desk
I can't count the number of times when, back when I was a journalist, I'd call some company or organization to get their side of the story over something or other, usually because they were being criticized in the public.
It was amazing the number of times the response would be something like â€“ â€œLook, thanks for calling but we have a policy here that we don't comment in the media.â€ And often that would come not from the CEO or manager, but from someone underneath them whose job it was to make sure the reporter doesn't get access to the company spokesperson.
Depending on how pressed I was, or maybe even on my mood, I might ask why. And often the response would be something like â€œWell, we were burned once by the media and we swore we were not going to ever let that happen again.â€
I'd ask about that, to find out that it was sometimes years earlier, and ever since, the policy was to avoid the media.
At the time, as a reporter, I'd say â€œOK fineâ€ and then write the story based on the other side's views only, because that's all I would have. So through no fault of mine, the story would be unbalanced, and quite possibly served to turn public sentiment more against the company in question. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
Now, as a media consultant with clients and as a media trainer with those in the class, I push how dumb a strategy it is to not deal with the media, especially when you are in the news anyway.
I talk about that mindset where CEOs actually instruct assistants or receptionists that part of their job is to run interference and keep the media away. â€œTell them I'm in a meeting, tell them I have gone to Bermuda â€“ tell them anythingâ€.
And then when this results in the reporter going away, they see it as a victory. Mission accomplished. He or she didn't have to deal with the media.
Sometimes I talk about the lengths some would go, to avoid the media. And often I would joke that it's almost like they would hide under their desk if they had to.
As I mentioned â€“ I said this as a joke â€“ Now, under the category you can't make this stuff up, catch this story. And when you do, consider the impression it leaves of the company in question.
This happened the other day. It's a TV report from a station in St. Louis, but it is typical of the â€œOn Your Sideâ€ stories many TV newsrooms do, including ones around here, based on investigating consumer complaints.
Obviously the story makes the receptionist look pretty silly, but it's not her fault. She was simply doing what she assumed her boss would want her to do â€“ and that was not to have anything to do with the media.
What are the takeaways? For one thing they could start acting like a responsible company. But for another, it's as good an example as any I have seen of why not just the top people should have media training, but front line people as well.
Watching this kind of story as a TV viewer is fun. For the company at the centre of it, probably not so much.
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