Kate Betts Blog
As a journalist there was nothing more exasperating than someone you wanted to comment on a story ringing back ten days later with their response.
They have missed the boat, the horse has bolted. They have missed the deadline. Their contribution simply won’t be used. They have been offered the chance to be quoted or appear in front of thousands of potential customers/ clients/ contacts and they let it pass them by.
Meanwhile the journalist has contacted their competitor and featured them instead.
News is new. It is not something that waits while you ponder over whether to respond and how to respond. It has gone. The moment has passed.
If it is bad news it will simply run without you and the damage will be done.
Ask Findus who took days to respond to the horsemeat scandal. The horse literally had bolted by the time they responded. The damage was done.
So whether it is good news and an opportunity to get some good publicity, or bad news and the opportunity to limit the damage – you must respond as quickly as you can. And yes, that can mean coming out of the meeting or delaying that trip away. Today’s news is for today. Tomorrow is too late.
What do you do when you are thrust into the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons?
Something has gone horribly wrong and the press want an interview. Maybe a member of staff or client has been hurt or worse. Maybe a product has had to be recalled or you have been slated in an official report.
You feel defensive…… You may think 99% of the report is actually ok. You may not really know the cause of the incident. You think it might not really be your fault. It could just be a tragic accident or mix-up.
Be careful! You must judge the public mood before you say anything. Trying to justify your actions when the public see you as a demon will backfire. Think of Sharon Shoesmith, who refused to say “sorry” over the death of Baby P. And did you see Emma Harrison of A4E on Channel 4 News? (Link here – it is worth watching!)
Or maybe you are fed up with press intrusion and just “want your life back” as the head of BP said he did. Or maybe you think you are being bullied like Emma Harrison even though you took over a million pounds in dividends last year.
At Capital B Media we work a lot behind the scenes with organisations facing bad news. Very often it really is a case of damage limitation. They have messed up, they must hold up their hands and admit it. They must learn the lessons of the mistakes they made and not try to gloss over and use spin to hide anything.
After all your reputation – the very survival of your organisation – could be in jeopardy. And the public are not stupid.
So you’ve sent out the press release. It passes all the tests: it’s about something interesting and it is well-written.
It gets picked up by the local paper, which cuts and pastes it straight into the next day’s edition and onto the website.
But don’t forget that radio and TV may want to interview you.
And you have just gone off on holiday. Or you are spending all day stuck in a meeting with your phone switched off.
And you know what? The journalist who likes the story, but can’t get hold of you has three choices: ditch the story, hold the story (which is getting old because it is all over the papers) or they will go and find someone else to interview about it….. and that other person could well be you competitor.
So think before you send out a press release: will you (or a colleague) be available for any subsequent interviews? Does your receptionist or assistant know that the media may be calling?
Have you got time to deal with any calls from the media?
The calls could come at any time. Often very quickly. As I write this I have emailed out a press release and four minutes after I pressed send the client rang to say two radio stations had rung up in response.
The deadlines might seem ridiculous, but news is a constant cycle of new things. It is planned at short notice. The media may well want to interview you in a matter of minutes or maybe hours. And you need to be ready. If you put them off and don’t do the interview you miss the chance of the story getting used. You also give the impression of not being very media-friendly. So next time I want a comment on your area of expertise I don’t bother to ring you; I ring your competitor.