Surviving a Media Feeding Frenzy

Written by Steve Carey

Anyone who’s ever seen a shark feeding frenzy will know what I am talking about. A sniff of blood in the water and the sharks go mad.

We saw that same phenomena in action when Collingwood President and (ordinarily) consumate broadcaster Eddie McGuire was torn to shreds by the media after an ill considered, stupid radio comment lead to claims he is a racist.

We’ve all heard plenty about what was said but what’s interesting is how the issue began with a silly, off-the-cuff comment and ended in a firestorm of public controversy and condemnation.

It’s a lesson for anyone in public life how quickly things can turn. In Eddie’s case, clearly it was an appalling lack of thought to begin with… but, I think post the comment he did just about everything right. (His mistake? That he talked about it too much later on rather than letting the issue settle after his initial apologies.)

Eddie knows how the media works – left unanswered and without comment, the story would have continued to build and intensify.

If only Ford Australia had taken a similar approach. The company needs some serious coaching in Crisis Management 1A. It began with Ford’s plans to shut down its Geelong and Broadmeadows plants being leaked to 3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell. Instead of a managed media outcome the story snowballed with politicians, unionists and workers claiming the company had abandoned them. Word was out that hundreds of Ford employees would lose their jobs. A PR nightmare that was compounded with a company media release saying the restructure was actually good for the local economy.

So when you find yourself in the middle of a media frenzy always try to get on the front foot by following some simple and common-sense rules:

  • If you’ve made a mistake admit it.
  • Do make time to get all the relevant facts but, don’t leave the issue to hang and fester.
  • Try to have an action plan or crisis management strategy already in place so when things do go “pear-shaped” you have a plan to follow.
  • Bad news is never easy to deliver however adding unnecessary “spin” can make it much worse.
  • Never go into a potentially aggressive interview ill-prepared because you will get caught out.
  • The only apologies that count are genuine and well considered.