The Inside Word

Planning for unplanned media success

Opportunities in business – or in life, for that matter – rarely come along at the perfect time, or in the perfect form. The greatest success stories – such as the chance discovery of penicillin or the accidental invention of removable “post-it” notes – are often completely unplanned.

This can also be true of securing “earned” media that enhances your reputation. Businesses and individuals will go to great lengths to manufacture an event or announcement that gets them an opportunity to tell their story to the world through traditional news media. Often, however, it’s the fast-response, opportunistic media engagement that really gets your message across.

As I write this, the SAS Group has had two clients dealing with unwanted and unexpected attention from the media.  In one case, the coverage represents an escalation of an issue into the public arena well ahead of the client’s preferred timeline.  For the other, it is an issue that cuts across sensitive business developments and negotiations. 

While the instinct for many people in this situation is to “go to ground” and not respond, we almost always recommend at least engaging with a journalist at the point they are seeking to engage with you. The hardest thing in dealing with the media is to get them to listen to what you have to say on your terms. So, say it when you are dealing on their terms – when they are paying attention.

Start your management of a difficult issue with the expectation that you may not be able to control the timing of media coverage – sometimes you can, but not always.  Then plan for that day and moment when unwanted media coverage comes your way. Take it and run with it. Tell your story to your important stakeholders. Put your key messages into the public sphere. Use the platform you’ve been given, however unwanted it may be.

Some years ago, we had a client in the retail space that discovered a very large underpayment of its staff, including refugees and very young workers in their first ever jobs. What should have been a reputational disaster for them turned into a positive, with an increase in their net promoter score among customers and staff. While there were a number of factors in the outcome – including the company’s honest response to the mistake – there’s no doubt that making the most of the unwanted media spotlight to promote positive messages was a very significant factor in improved staff and customer perceptions.

It could be said that the first rule of media management is to be ready for any situation you find yourself in. But it’s probably more that you need to be ready to take advantage of any situation you find yourself in. 

The timing may not be perfect. The circumstances may not be what you imagined. But if someone is offering you a chance to tell your story, take it and run with it. You’ll almost always get a better outcome than if you decline to comment and outsource your storytelling to the media.

Contact us  if you need help planning for unplanned media success.

Sign Up

Subscribe to our newsletter