Media Coach Training Tip: Fight for your Reputation! How to Respond to Negative Media Attention

I find it unbelievable that in the 21st century we still find executives who don’t want to take on a reporter or news outlet that has wrongly damaged their reputation.

The traditional way of responding to a media outlet that makes a factual error is to ask the management for a retraction. But sometimes the issue is not always factual but a difference in your point of view. If a newspaper does a hatchet job on you, the correct way to respond is to always write a letter to the editor. The letter should be short and to the point, with about 200-400 words. In some cases, you may want to ask 3rd party supporters to also write short letters on your behalf.

Yet I still find executives who say, “We’re not going to respond. Just let it die. You can’t get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” That statement was wrong 50 years ago and it is even more wrong today.

Braud Communications Training web photo

In the past, a negative story may have run on TV or radio once or twice for 60-90 seconds, and then it was gone. In the past, a negative story appeared in the newspaper for just one day, and then the paper was thrown out, never to be seen again.

But the internet has changed all of that. Today, those negative stories live on in archives on the internet forever. Additionally, media websites are among the highest ranked websites on the internet because their information is deep, the site is constantly updated, and it is perceived by search engines as highly credible. The media sites are so highly ranked that if your organization or name is mentioned in a news report, the media website could come up as a higher ranked site on the internet than your own site.

What this means is that if I do an internet search for your name, or that of your organization, I may see and read the negative things written about you on a media website before I read the positive stuff about you on your own web site.

So what do you do?

Well, just as always, if it is a newspaper that has damaged your reputation, you should write a letter to the editor as I’ve outlined above. That letter to the editor now becomes part of the online archive linked to the story. That way, in the future, when people stumble across the story they will immediately find your point of view as well.

In the case of radio and TV, you should place your comments on the media outlet’s blog on their website. Please be aware that other web users and opponents may verbally attack you and your comments once they are on the media outlet’s blog. You need to be ready to clearly state your case.

Additionally, you may wish to place a response on your own website and blog. Blogs are highly valued by search engines and will help counter the negative comments from the original story.

Finally, don’t take it personally. Your response is as important as a business decision. Hire professional PR writers to help if necessary. They will take the issue less personally and likely choose better words that may temper any anger you are feeling.

Media Training Coach Tip: The Top 4 Reasons Media are Considered Biased

There is much debate about whether the media are biased; especially whether there is a liberal bias. If you truly want to explore that subject, I suggest you read the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg. (http://www.amazon.com/Bias-Insider-Exposes-Media-Distort/dp/0895261901)

It has been my experience over the years that much of what is perceived as bias is really the result of the following:Gerard Braud media biased

• Editors send reporters out of the door armed with only partial facts or rumors

• The reporters and editors have misconceptions or misperceptions about you or your issues

• A competitor or opponent of yours has approached the media and only told them half of the story

• Ignorance by the reporter

All four of the above result in the reporter calling you, asking for an interview, asking you negative questions, and putting you in a defensive posture.

Let’s break it down.

Partial facts are usually the result of rumors and innuendos. We all share rumors every day. “Hey, you know what I heard today…?”  In the newsroom, a reporter or editor turns that rumor into a research project and must confirm or refute it. “Hey Gerard, I heard a rumor today that… Why don’t you go check it out?”

That rumor would become my assignment for the day. If there is a rumor that the mayor is on cocaine, then I try to prove that the mayor is using cocaine. If he is, it is a story. If he isn’t, then there is no story.  If the rumor is that the married congressman has a girlfriend, then I try to prove the congressman has a girlfriend. If it is true, I have a story. If I can’t prove it, then there is no story.

You may not like it, but it is the nature of the business.

The next issue is very similar; it’s the impact of a misconception or misperceptions. Often this is purely subjective. Perhaps you are proposing a new development, but something just seems shady. Then the news report may likely reflect a tone of skepticism. The reporter may even seek out a 3rd party who is willing to cast further doubt on your project or credibility.

On the issue of opponents – I’ve watched many opponents make compelling cases and provide an enormous amount of supporting material and a hefty helping of innuendo. In the U.S. they’re often called “opposition groups” while around the world they are called “NGOs,” which stands for non-government organizations.

Usually the members of these groups are very passionate about a specific issue and those issues may be considered liberal issues. If a member of one of these groups makes a compelling case to a reporter, they could trigger a news report about you or your company. The reporter may come armed with reams of documentation supplied by the opponent, placing you in a defensive position. The resulting story could portray you in a very negative light.

And the final issue is ignorance by the reporter. Sometimes reporters just get the wrong idea about something and pursue it as a negative story. For example, most reporters look at steam belching from an industrial facility and think they are seeing pollution. Hence, they may do a story about industry polluting and fill the report with images of the stack belching what looks like smoke.

When you are faced with a situation like this, you need to explain everything to them in simple terms the way you would explain it to a 6th grade class at career day.

Chances are the media are not “out to get you.” But somebody else may be out to get you and they are letting the media do their dirty work.

Media Training Coach Tip: The #1 Technique to Shut Down Reporter Speculation

As a media training speaker and media training coach, my clients can sometimes find themselves asking, “What’s the worst that could happen? How much worse could it get? But what if…?”Gerard Braud Media Training photo

Oh, those great “what if” questions – reporters love those.  Why?  Well, reporters love a great story and sometimes the story doesn’t materialize the way they hoped it would.

Such questions indicate that the reporter is as disappointed as a 4-year-old who was hoping you would stop to buy them ice cream, but you didn’t.  Beware of reporters who ask you to speculate, because you are heading into very dangerous territory. If you do speculate, you’ve made the story bigger than what it is.

The most important phrase you can use when addressing such questions is to say, “I couldn’t speculate on that, but what I can tell you is…”  Another variation of that answer is to say, “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on that, but what I can tell you is…”

In my media training work, I often recommend that when you’re asked to speculate, apply the

Block, Bridge and Hook Technique:

  • Block: “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate…”
  • Bridge: “But what I can tell you is…”
  • Hook: Redirect the reporter back to one of your key messages and one of the facts that you have previously confirmed.

Ideally, you should create an additional hook that keeps the reporter from asking another speculative question as a follow up. But the most important thing that you are doing is immediately putting an end to the speculation and sticking to the facts.

Use the Block, Bridge and Hook Technique when a reporter asks you to speak for someone else.  The block response should be, “I can’t speak for them, but what I can tell you is…”

One more media training lesson we should address here is how to handle the reporter that misstates certain key facts in their question.  It has been my experience that most spokespeople try to gingerly work their way back to a key message and then correct facts without ever clearly telling the reporter they are wrong. Well my friends, that seldom works.

If a reporter misstates a fact in their question you have permission to stop them dead in their tracks if necessary and say, “I’m sorry, but you misstated a key fact in your question.” At that time you should give them the correct fact. Another variation is to use the phrase, “I can’t agree with the premise of your questions.”

Over the years many spokespeople have confessed to me that they are afraid that such an approach could be perceived by the reporter as hostile. I personally think you can do it without being hostile.

In fact, I have found that the dynamics of the interview or news conference will change in your favor because the reporter sees that you are in charge and that you are holding them accountable. The reporter will not only choose their words more carefully in the remainder of the interview, but they will also choose their words more carefully when writing their script.

Final media training tip: In the end, you must realize that YOU are in charge of the interview. Don’t relinquish control to the reporter. Tell your story your way and you win!