What to do if your company keeps getting shafted by media
I have been talking to a Big Media journalist about blogs over the last few days, and some interesting viewpoints have emerged from the conversation. We started out talking about how blogs and journalism differ from and complement one another, and ended up talking about why that is relevant to corporations and other organisations.
In journalism, you have a large number of generalists trying to produce authoritative, extremely reliable content about subjects that may be incredibly complicated. Some of them can manage it; many of them cannot. If our interests are in an educated public as a result of journalists producing the most informative and accurate reporting possible, then the tendency of many journalists to misinform - despite what may be the purest of intentions - cannot be ignored as simply "how journalism is".
This is why blogs as a PR/crisis PR tool can be so crucial to so many organisations and businesses: There are a large selection who know that they rarely, if ever, get a fair hearing in the soundbite culture. If your argument is more complicated than "4 legs good, 2 legs bad," forget it. Companies that deal in serious and complex issues - especially scientific or economic ones - usually do not fare well in mainstream media representation. If the argument cannot be summed up in simplistic terms that require only scant knowledge of the industry, then regardless of the fact that your organisation is right and the other side is shamefully misinformed (and possibly actively seeking to misinform people), you lose the debate in the public's eyes.
This is what happens when you rely on other peoples' media to disseminate your message. Especially when your message is not simplistic enough for supposedly informed journalists to grasp, let alone the audience, you do not get a proper hearing. The business case for using your own medium - a blog - that allows for rapid and widespread distribution of your message, to say what you need to say, how you need to say it, is hugely compelling. The fact that blogs allow you to work inside the news cycle makes it even better.
By the way, I can think of one example of this off the top of my head: British Gas has been raked over the coals recently for increasing prices, but I know for a fact (a trusted business associate of mine is quite close to one of the higher ups) that British Gas has been doing everything it could for the last two years to keep prices down for its customers, and have their backs against the wall on this one. But hey, that angle might take a bit more knowledge and understanding than the usual "Big company hates its customers, eats babies at shareholders' meetings" reporting, so it doesn't get told. That's not the kind of journalism we need.
And it's not the kind of journalism these corporations need. But they cannot just wait for journalism to reform itself. They need to employ their own medium, their own blog, to explain themselves and foster an understanding of where they are coming from, how they got there, and where they are going next. Relying on traditional media to act as an intermediary between your organisation and the public has never worked as companies have hoped it would - the control has always resided with one party (hint: not the party that had to do four years of j-school just to learn how to report). Companies now have a new way of circumventing that process to spread their message much more effectively than ever. As Sun Microsystems' COO Jonathan Schwartz has said:
There's no fundamental difference between giving a keynote speech in Shanghai in front of 30,000 people and doing a blog read by several million people.
There is a fundamental difference between sending out hundreds of press releases and doing a blog: People will actually read your blog. They will then most likely pass the link on to others, getting more people to read your blog.
As crisis PR firm Sitrick & Company's strapline says: If you don't tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. Instead of only having your say in media that belong to other people - and other interests - take your message to the people.
Make the most of a cutting-edge technology that allows you to reach a network that cannot be ignored.
Let the members of that network spread your message for you.
Make it easy for them.
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