The other Side of the Media Fence…

Written by Steve Carey

It hit me the other day, while doing some crisis management for a large organisation, that there are two sides to the media game… just as there are at least two sides to every story.

A friend I’ve known for about 25 years, and an exceptional journalist renown for not pulling any punches, sent me a blunt text message the other day beginning with the phrase “Poacher to Game-Keeper!” (see a definition of the phrase)… I’ve deleted the embedded obscenities in order to protect the innocent.

In a nutshell, my friend was appalled that a former senior TV news executive was now working for the other side.

To drive home the point, at the time I was advising key talent on the best times to appear on TV, how to handle the questions thrown by TV reporters and when it would be appropriate to avoid the press and stay out of the limelight.

For the record, I’m all for accountability and the media’s right to know. It’s been a cornerstone of my entire working career. I still believe that good, solid investigative journalism will always prevail…

But there are times when, despite the media attention, it’s better to say nothing.

In my view, cut off the oxygen and the fire dies out. Journalists will warn you that if you don’t talk first, you’ll be found out somewhere, sometime… often when you least expect it.

There’s a lot of truth in this… but there’s a fine balance between facilitating a great ratings grabbing interview and the cost to a company’s brand, the effect on staff morale and the consequences of a public backlash.

Here are some points to consider before you allow the media in:

  • Why are you doing the interview? It is due to public pressure or because you genuinely have something to contribute?
  • Do you have a key/strong/single message to impart?
  • Will speaking out add fuel to the general debate rather than help clarify the situation?
  • Do NOT be afraid to upset the media but DO explain this to them politely and firmly.
  • Engage an expert to guide you through the process. That person can then be the conduit for any ill feeling and help prepare your response strategy
  • Consider the opportunity cost of allowing an interview to happen, be it TV, radio or press. Sometimes having “no comment” is still preferable to fanning the flames and allowing the debate to continue.