Of all the questions I get as a media trainer, tips for dealing with bad or negative media attention is in the top three. In this hyper-aware media and social media world, just about any company or organization should be prepared to deal with negative attention, as you can find yourself literally one tweet or Facebook post away from a crisis. While every situation and client is different and each demands a customized approach, there are some consistent, broad approaches which generally apply to all situations and organizations:
Be proactive and as transparent as possible.
So many organizations make the mistake of “building a wall” when the ***t hits the fan. The very worst reaction is to ignore the media inquiries and hope the attention goes away. While it will eventually dissipate, the bad press will leave your reputation ruined. Instead, get ahead of the story as much as possible and address what you can. Open your doors to the media, don’t close them. Just this week I covered an officer involved fatal shooting at a mental health clinic and was greeted by a confrontational employee who told me to get off the property. While the clinic was understandably rattled by what happened, they missed an opportunity to establish a civil, respectable relationship with the media. What was an avoidable confrontation could have been a polite request to respect privacy while exchanging contact information for a follow-up statement. Instead, the clinic created unwarranted animosity and further motivated the media to “get the story”.
Say What You Can Say
There are a many reasons to choose NOT to speak to the media. Legal issues, privacy concerns, sensitive subject matter, etc. I get it. But when you put a human face on a topic and are willing to address the issue, albeit generically and carefully, it usually helps to ease the pressure. The optics are so much better than hearing from just one side. The public is often willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, at least until the full story is known. “There’s a lot we still don’t know, but understand we are working on getting answers…”, “We have a long history of doing good work in this community, our standards haven’t changed and we will be making changes, if needed.”
Educate The Media
More times than not, the media does not have a full understanding of your organization or what you do. They only know the story at hand. Educate them. Help them understand the scope of your work and the complexities involved. Many times, there are valid reasons as to why something happened; unfortunate but valid. It is your job to educate them to the best of your ability. Creating a more complete picture can only help your cause.