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How you deal with that initial enquiry from a journalist or media outlet will go a long way to how bad or good the outcome could be for you and your business.
1. Don’t ignore it - be open
The most important thing to do is not ignore it. Don’t bury your head in the sand and wish it would go away. If you know a journalist or a media publication is planning on writing a story, good or bad, about your company then you need to find out what they know, what they plan to publish and plan your strategy based on that. You might decide that you do not want to specifically comment, but it is very important you engage with the journalist so that you know as much of the information you can before making that decision. It is also in the journalist’s interests to be open to you if they are going to get any comment at all.
2. Act quickly
This is essential. With social media and Twitter in particular now a major source of news, information can be leaked very quickly. If you are dealing with a bad news story it is vital you get on top of it is as quickly as possible. Get in touch with the journalist or media outlet immediately to assess the situation. A quick statement can help turn the story in your favour, and at least allows you to put your context on it.
3. Avoid “No Comment”
A “no comment” response will raise more questions than answers not only in the eyes of the journalist but the person reading the story. It is much better to give a holding statement that allows you to put the issue into a context you are comfortable with.
4. Meet their deadline
Once you receive an official request for a comment from a media publication you are entering into a relationship, wanted or not, with them. The journalist will normally make it clear when they need a response by and it is in your interests to meet that deadline. Not only will it ensure your voice and response is heard, it allows you to some extent control the information the journalist now has.
5. Be professional
You may not like it, but it is important to recognize that the journalist or media publication is only doing their job. It is their responsibility to provide relevant and interesting content for their readers. If what is happening in your company is deemed news worthy you have a responsibility to you and the business to deal with it professionally and politely. It might also be a good opportunity to build a relationship with the journalist or media publication and to offer an enhanced, different story on an exclusive basis that helps you turn the situation on its head in your favour.
6. Plan and practice your response
Time may be of the essence, but if you are going to speak to a journalist then role play what you think are the most likely questions and work out how you want to answer them. Do not ignore planning for questions you don’t want to answer. That could result in you saying something you regret. The key is to be clear, succinct, stick to the facts and don’t speculate.
7. Tell the truth and move on
If a mistake has happened or you need to respond to some genuine bad news then it is essential you address any issues, explain the circumstances around the event and apologize if necessary, and take the steps to put things right. Giving out known the false information will only make things a lot worse for you personally and the business and result in even greater bad publicity.
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