When the Media Get It Wrong, Here’s How to Set the Record Straight
- Posted by Megan Paquin
- On March 5, 2020
- crisis, journalism, legal marketing, media, media relations
Journalists don’t get in the business to get it wrong. Reporters are truth seekers; they want to hold power to account and they want to tell compelling stories that matter to people’s lives. While they don’t always get it right, they don’t want to get it wrong. But they are human, and it happens.
The misinformation usually happens in a breaking news situation or in an evolving communications crisis when information is coming in and going out fast and furiously.
Here’s where a crisis communications plan comes into play. At Poston Communications, our commitment is to help clients plan and prepare for the unexpected, and help command and control the narrative when it’s unfolding. We view any communication challenge as an opportunity to help our clients plan, respond and advocate.
Planning means establishing things such as an incident response manager, a communications cascade, internal and external stakeholders and a spokesperson. When we work with new clients, the first thing we often observe is a lack of any prepared communications materials. No statement, no press releases, no FAQs. If you take the time now to draft templates and test messaging in planning scenarios (such as a tabletop exercise), you will be that much more prepared. When a crisis comes along, you have no choice but to get into response mode. Don’t be left without a plan. We love to help clients think through every scenario imaginable.
Responding to any crisis is all about doing it quickly, succinctly and correctly. In the absence of information, misinformation reigns. This is when the media are most likely to get it wrong. Reporters are going to tell the story regardless so if your input isn’t there, it’s being filled with another view. If you don’t have the answer, it’s okay to acknowledge that, and explain how you’re working to get it. How you respond and how often you communicate helps you control the mayhem internally and externally. Responding with care, concern and confidence helps build trust amid the spiraling situation. We tell clients all the time about having “one clear voice.” This means you are providing accurate, timely and consistent information to audiences such as employees, vendors and/or clients. You want to get this right, because it’s the right thing to do. And keep in mind, the media are going to verify your public-facing comments.
Advocating means proactively mitigating negative client, internal and media reaction. It includes taking a hard-look assessment of lessons learned and having a productive and honest conversation about deterring future potential crises. It’s also vital to provide consistent, timely updates on the response to the current matter. This goes a long way with rebuilding trust, and therefore your brand. Advocating may also help mitigate legal risk. Research from Magna Legal Services shows we are a belief-driven society that demands integrity and transparency, and that includes juries of our peers in courtrooms. Declining corporate trust affects verdicts, the Magna Legal Services research shows, with 76% of jurors believing corporate executives lie and cover up, and 30% believing it takes billions to send a message to corporations.
Crisis or not, if the facts in a story are incorrect, respectfully be in touch with the journalist and correct the record as you know it. More often than not, you will get a correction – or if the facts are in dispute, at least an attribution with your side of the story.
Megan Paquin is a vice president at Poston Communications, leading its crisis and litigation PR team.