You don't have to talk to the media

Posted by Kate Betts on 17th December 2018

What would you do if your sector has been engulfed in some terrible news? It doesn’t directly affect your organisation, but a reporter from the BBC, Sky, ITV, the Times or Guardian has asked you for a comment.

Wow, you think, this is our chance to get on national TV or in the broadsheets and get our name out there. Stop. Think. Do you want forever to be associated with that story about bad health, dodgy charity practices, uncaring employers or financial disaster?

I do go on about creating a good relationship with the press, but not at any cost. There are times when you can say ‘sorry, we’re a bit busy right now. But I am sure we can help you another time.’

And just because a producer/ researcher/ reporter is persistent it doesn’t mean you have to agree to an interview. A charity PR told me they were thinking of talking to a Radio 4 reporter about a national negative issue because the reporter kept ringing up. They will do until you agree to talk. You can say no!

I love the hospital trust comms person who told me whenever a national TV reporter doing a general negative story about the NHS contacts them for a location to film, they tell them about the really noisy building works that are going on (and on and on, if Channel 4 Dispatches is on the phone).

However, if they’ve just had their kitchens refurbished or are pioneering new surgery and that is relevant to the story, then, with care and planning, you can become the good example among the bad.

Sometimes even when you are involved in the story, it can be better not to do interviews. Broadcast media particularly need interview material to be able to run a story of a decent length. If you are not available the story may end up being shorter or dropped altogether.  Or if there are other parties involved and they do the interviews, then they become the focus of attention.

I am not saying say ‘no comment’. I am saying be careful how much you say when dealing with the media over a negative story. After all you are not under oath when dealing with media, but anything you do say can be used in evidence against you.

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