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    Tuesday, December 30, 2008

    No Comment

    Various companies have different approaches to dealing with negative press. I knew of one large international company that was in the habit of refusing to discuss anything negative in the public arena. Its standard line was ‘we do not indulge the discussion of rumours’.
    Another company took to fervently defending itself, to the point of implicating others (a la ‘you are wrong we have never treated our staff unfairly, unlike such and such who is renowned for it..’)
    My favourite approach, at least on the entertainment scale, is the ‘no comment’ one; I actually sat through an analyst meeting with a CMO who intermittently replied to perfectly benign questions with ‘no comment’ because he didn’t know the answer.
    The effective handling of negative media is a fundamental element of maintaining a long term positive profile; even the shining stars of the business world can’t please very single customer all of the time and with the countless avenues available to people who wish to express their views, proper handling strategies are not to be ignored. There are a few basic tips for navigating those occasional unflattering comments brought forward during media interviews.
    Believe it or not, the company in my first scenario was onto something; it’s not helpful to indulge rumours and engage in an all out public bun fight. But at the same time, it’s not wise to churn out the same unhelpful statement time after time as an obvious blocking strategy, journalists will simply go elsewhere for the information and you won’t even get a say.
    Instead, if you are about to be interviewed and you are anticipating a negative comment, prepare a response beforehand that addresses the facts only and doesn’t lend weight to untruths or exaggerations. Explain that there has been some rumour mongering and these are the facts and this is what your company is doing to address those. Don’t be drawn into speculation, simply stick to the facts and firmly state your commitment to dealing with them. Use the opportunity to underline your core company values. If you’re careful not to stray from what you have prepared, your statement will be clear and reassuring to customers.
    On the other hand, if you weren’t anticipating the question you can explain that you are presently investigating the best options for addressing the issue at hand. Do look into them as a matter of urgency though and do respond immediately after the interview; dropping the ball will only reflect badly. During TV interviews, be sure to explain where interested parties will be able to go to find updates (e.g. the company website).
    Avoid ‘no comment’ at all costs; at best it’s hostile and it can even be perceived as an admission of liability. Basically, this is a response that belongs on criminal investigation TV shows.
    Always present an open and helpful face and never respond with disparaging remarks about the competition, they won’t help you to gain the respect of your customers. Alternatively, the efforts you make to elevate the impression of your company are likely to reap significant rewards.
    It goes without saying that a large-scale crisis requires a well-planned approach to crisis management, however the occasional negative episode needn’t bring the business down if handled thoughtfully and with the customer’s needs in mind (because in the end they’re what business is all about, right?)

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    No blankets’s cold

    As a PR consultant I sometimes help out companies without a PR department that have issued a piece of company news under their own steam and are seeking advice on how to maximise its impact. Invariably I’m passed a list of email addresses and almost without exception there are a great many contacts that are not relevant.

    Blanket mailing to a complete list of journals in a certain sector is quick and easy to do, right? You just add all the names into the ‘BCC’ field and hit go. Wrong, it's plain cold and impersonal. In reality it’s not a genuine time saver and guess what, it’s just irritating for the publications that have to sift through the information that they couldn’t possibly use to find the good stuff (some publications don’t even accept unaddressed email).

    It’s been said a million times before, but I really think it can stand to be repeated; in my opinion, blanket mailing simply doesn’t give a good piece of news its best chance.

    The fact is, indiscriminate email blasts are becoming a thing of the past, especially in light of the growing and widely varying number of online publications and blogs; a targeted approach is a must. How many publications do you know that all require the exact same angle for their readership? The chances are, the time you save in blanket mailing you will spend in follow ups, if you haven’t taken the time to pitch correctly to your target media in the first place.

    Here’s what I suggest. Take that list of 50 publications and turn it into a top tier list of far fewer, perhaps your magic number will be ten, or maybe even only one or two. Take the time to know those publications inside out: who reads them, who writes for them, what similar articles they have featured recently, what sections they carry, what type of material makes the news pages and so forth. Work out why your information is interesting to that particular publication and then track down the most appropriate section editor or journalist (maybe the general news desk is the right contact, if the news is genuinely relevant it will find its way out of the newsdesk inbox.

    Prepare variations of the same news that bring out different aspects of the story. For example, if you know a publication is interested in new products, prepare a product release that dives into the great features and functionality of the new product. But if you know another publication is more interested in the potential impact on users, create a news release geared towards discussing those issues instead (keep it factual).

    Perhaps you will find that you are only able to get one all-purpose version approved by corporate head quarters; in this case you can always head your email with a brief explanation as to exactly why your news might appeal to the target audience. The idea in each case is for a journalist to be able to glance at what you send them and know within a couple of lines what is newsworthy for them. Or for bloggers to instantly know what it is about the information you are passing before them that is likely to appeal, more importantly assist their community.

    Another tip is to have spokespeople waiting in the sidelines to offer commentary (these should not only be from the company issuing the news, but also from other relevant industry parties where possible). And, have a selection of good quality images ready to fulfil any request for accompanying photos.

    That said, there are occasions when a piece of news is clearly of general interest and getting it out there as quickly and as early as possible is beneficial to both the issuing company and the media. I certainly don’t mean to devalue news distribution services here; there are some high quality establishments of that genre. What I am saying is don’t be tempted to rely on general distribution as your sole strategy for sharing news, the one-to-many approach is dated and unlikely to carry you far; a little leg work up front will get you a lot further.