Marketing Bootcamp

How to Respond to a Negative News Story About Your Company

People occasionally ask me whether it's ever appropriate to freeze out a reporter, or refuse to speak to him again.
Whenever I hear that, I immediately think of scenes from "The Godfather" and "Fatal Attraction," complete with horse's head and boiled bunny. I imagine frustrated interviewees suddenly appearing as caped crusaders, exacting revenge on unfair journalists by "rubbing them out."

Think hard before you do that. Freezing out a reporter is a dramatic step that often backfires. After all, you probably think a company is guilty when a newscaster says, "We attempted to contact representatives of Huge Corporation, but they didn't return our calls."

Before you blacklist a reporter, consider these remedies:

1. Take it to a neutral party.

It's an age-old truth: The closer you are to a news story, the more likely you will find it flawed. Ask neutral parties to read, listen to or watch the story and give you feedback. You may be surprised to find that the message you hoped would get through did.

2. Talk to the reporter.

Reporters need sources, and good reporters are willing to hear their sources' objections. (They may not agree with you, but they usually listen.)

Remain polite regardless of the reporter's response. Reporters will react better to a discussion about factual errors than a differing opinion, but you're welcome to make your case if you believe his view lacks perspective. If the reporter got a key fact wrong, you're entitled to request a correction.

3. Write a response.

You may have forums to respond, such as a letter to the editor, op-ed or a website's comments section. Don't repeat the original errors in your response, since doing so gives those errors more airtime. Just articulate your view.

4. Speak to the editor.

If you can't get anywhere with the reporter, raise your objections with the reporter's boss. Who knows, you may be the fourth person to complain about the reporter this week.

There is a downside, though: No one likes to be complained about, and the reporter may take it out on you with even less favorable coverage.

5. Respond with statements.

If it's clear the news organization is irrevocably biased against your company, you have two choices:

1. Cut off all access.

2. Respond to subsequent inquiries with precision.

I usually recommend the latter, which means sending a short, written statement in response to queries. That brief statement prevents the reporter saying you refused to comment, and gives you more control over the quote.

6. Cut off all access.

The only time I recommend cutting off access is when you won't gain anything from speaking to the reporter. Those cases may exist, but they're rare. Good media management means finding a way to work with journalists—not avoiding them.

7. Use social media.

Cutting off a news outlet's access to your organization doesn't mean you stop communicating. Use your company website, blog and corporate social media to continue communicating with your key audiences.

This is an excerpt from Brad Phillips' new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. Phillips is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training.


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