When companies or organizations ask me about media training, they’ll sometimes say they need help getting the media off their backs. I can hear the frustration in their voices. “The media is twisting the facts,” they say, “And we need to know how to make things better. A lot better. Now!”
Every time — yes, every single time — I have then met with those companies, we were able to identify within just a few minutes of chatting a number of events that led to such an unhappy situation. Invariably, the sequence went something like this:
- A group or individual had made a statement or gotten a story in the media that presented their side of a disagreement or issue.
- The media had then called the company to ask for clarification or to get an interview.
- The company did not have time to talk, or were caught off-guard and didn’t have time to prepare a reply, or were so offended by the story that their reply was to launch into a tirade and then hang up, or give a terse “No comment.”
- The story ran in the media, presenting the other party’s claims and giving no fair coverage of the company’s side of the story.
- Other media picked up the story, calling for interviews or comments. The company, by now absolutely furious at what they saw as misrepresentation or biased coverage, refused to return the calls or offer any comments.
- The publicity got worse, until someone on the team finally suggested calling a PR firm or media relations consultant to clear things up.
- My phone rang, or I found an urgent email in my Inbox.
Now, any of us can look at that sequence and say, “Of course they didn’t get the coverage they deserved! They didn’t give the media their side of the story.” Even the execs themselves recognize that when they look at it in retrospect. But in the heat of the moment, with emotions running high and all deflector shields up, such decisions are easy to make, and even seem prudent. Only later or with proper media training does the illogical nature of such moves become obvious. And if this situation has happened repeatedly for years, the distrust between the company and the media can run extremely high on both sides.
The good news is that, even after such a debacle, companies can generally get things back on track and get their story out there… if they’re willing to be humble enough to genuinely learn from their media mistakes and turn things around. The even better news is that they never needed to get themselves caught in that downward cycle in the first place. And neither do you.
Be prepared for the media.
One of the core elements of media training is to be prepared. Believe it or not, there is no such thing as an unforeseeable crisis. Every single situation that is likely to surprise you can actually be imagined and addressed before it occurs. In fact, 95% of the crises or serious challenges your company will ever face will almost certainly be some variation of six or seven general scenarios. Even one hour with your management team to brainstorm possible crises can yield a pretty concise list of situations that are likely to ever darken your doorway. By collecting them into similar groups and then identifying immediate actions that would be needed for each, you can considerably heighten your readiness for whatever your worst day may bring.
In the meantime, remind yourself that no matter how high the heat may be, the media is not “out to get you.” They are ultimately looking for a good story, and neither they nor you would be well served by their generating stories that ultimately are proven to be false or poorly researched. Having your facts straight and easily accessible will do wonders to make it a much more productive call for your company as well as the reporter.
Consider media training.
To ensure an even higher level of readiness, consider professional media training for you or anyone in your company who will be in contact with the media. Having the chance to address contentious issues and then assess your performance on video can bolster your confidence in speaking with the media and empower you to present your company in a much more positive light.
Don’t forget your internal communications.
Regularly remind your employees and management team that any media inquiries are to be referred to you or the designated media contact. Make sure that contact information is easily available to anyone who is regularly at a company phone or front desk or email account.
Finally — and this is a point that many companies miss — keep your staff and key stakeholders informed of any media contacts before your statements hit the media, and be honest and consistent. People should never hear news about their employer from the media first, and should never hear one thing from you but something different from the media.
Media relations is not so much about handling the media as it is about handling your own level of preparedness. The more you can quickly respond to a media request by supplying them with accurate and clear information, the more you’ll find your company’s time in the spotlight can truly be a good news story.