I’ve talked about the media misperceptions that some people have and how to go about conducting a positive interview, free of “I was taken out of context” and other concerns.
What do you do when the media calls about a less than spectacular topic?
Perhaps your client/company has an unhappy customer and the dreaded “consumer advocate” reporter reaches out to you. Or maybe you’ve been emailed a request for an interview regarding your recent office closing in which X 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, “We’re outside your office right now because we heard…” for your viewing pleasure?
Good times, I know.
First, the bad news. We must respond to the inquiry, and “no comment” does not count. These days “no comment” or offering no response is French for “I’m guilty,” which immediately hurts our reputation.
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Now, the better news. There are ways to tell our side of the story. To get to that point, let’s take a step back.
I get an email or phone call from the media. Here’s what I want to know, along with some things I ask myself:
- Who is the reporter (what beat/type of reporter), and what is the story?
- What’s the reporter’s deadline?
- Am I/is my company a direct part of the story or are we a piece/part of a different story?
- To whom has the reporter already spoken? (Who else is part of the story?)
- How is the story going to affect my audiences? How will they feel about us?
- Is there any relevant positive messaging?
Answering these questions will help me determine:
- Am I or is my designated spokesperson conducting an interview?
- Will I provide them a statement?
- Is there, legitimately, a better entity/person/company who is better suited to comment on the story?
Interview vs. statement vs. someone else
No matter which vehicle we use, the response itself must be the truth. That is non-negotiable. Anything other than the truth is eventually going to bite you. If your company has done something wrong, just own up to it, be contrite, and move on.
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. As in any interview, ask: What are the things we want to get across? What are the questions that are going to be asked? Can I answer those questions and bridge to the messages?
If you don’t have 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. Also, topics involving security, competitive issues, 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-and would I care to comment?
She wanted the corporate suit to respond defensively. 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—even, I dare say, a positive.
The moral of this story (or blog) is to be prepared. Know the questions you want to ask, and be attuned to how the media presents the situation to you. Be clear on how your company is affected and what your real audience will think.
A version of this article first appeared on AndyShane.