Are you Effective if the Media Coverage is Bad?

We’ve all been there. Hard work, improved media relations and significant employee communication make us seem like veritable “must haves” at an organization…then the winds of change blow and BOOM all the talk is negative. I’m no stranger to this. 8 days into my last job, I was thrust before a schlew of cameras to brief the media on a pretty big accident on a construction site. The job before that, I worked at a hospital (you class=”mceItemHidden”> do the math on the publicity good and bad). Inevitably in these negative times, someone will say – what’s the point of a Communications Unit if the media coverage is bad? That’s your time to shine. It’s time to prove your value.

Communicators, let’s be real. Everyone thinks our job is easy. Dress nice. Take some pics. Be nice to the media to get coverage and you’re in. The reality is few people even on your Executive team (if you’re lucky enough to be in the room with them) understand or REALLY care about your work. They care about what you bring to the table and since it ain’t revenue, you gotta prove yourself. So, when the coverage is bad, here are some tips to help ensure the Company values your energy and, more importantly, the real story gets covered.

  1. Get the Facts out to Your Staff: Fact: lawyers shut up communicators. Fact: Saying nothing can lead you to a lawsuit. Fact: Saying the wrong thing can lead you down the same path. So, what do you do? There is ALWAYS something you CAN SAY. You may be unable to place your statements in writing/ email but then hold a meeting with your staff (at  the very least your top management) to share the facts and at least 3 talking points;
  2. Get Feedback & Build Talking Points: Ok, they heard the basics – what do your staff think? If you CAN answer their questions , it will prepare you for public discussions (which, guess what? They’ll start anyway!) so – use their feedback to craft 1-3 core messages on the topic. Ensure they receive this info and have it ready AT ALL TIMES to answer in response to queries;
  3. Talk to Your Key Media  People: If you have earned the media’s respect, at the very least, you’ll get a call letting you know there’ll be a story and requesting a quote. If you can’t give one on the record, there are still ways you can help. Now, this depends on your relationship with the reporters – talking off the record is not for the weak hearted or inexperienced – note, you CANNOT share anything you are not authorized too but perhaps there are tips, angles approaches you can suggest that can help the media get the “right story” without compromising yourself. Have your CEO/ Company head sanction these approaches before hand – don’t move by the “seat of your pants or you’ll get up tomorrow without a pair!
  4. Talk to With Your Staff (Wait – is this a repeated point?): Your staff are your KEY COMMUNICATORS! Guaranteed if the media can’t get a story out of you, they’ll call your company a few times to try to shake facts out of your junior people. I know. I worked for a media house once (super briefly). Sooooo – have them track enquiries on the issue at hand OR better yet, do spot “walk bys” or discussions to get their sense on how the issue is being handled, how they feel and their suggestions on containing same.

How does this prove value?  Ever saw the movie Doubt? When the priest compared gossip to goose feathers being scattered in the air  and showcases the difficulty in retrieving same?  Its the same with Communication – you send those messages out to your staff and work with them – constantly asking for feedback and no matter what, the “feathers” of the “right messages” will be disseminated. The doubters may not see the goose – but they’ll remember the feathers and in the end, the feathers offer more comfort and ultimately more value.

If that analogy soared over your head – have no fear. You can also simply track the media stories that include even a snippet of the “right” information from your ONE media release or talking points. Keep a diary of your media discussions and, yes, share same upon request. Nothing shows an accountant value more than a chart with some numbers and basic info!



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