The first they knew was when the program cornered an exec on-camera – a walk-in – and asked some embarrassing questions. That’s when they called me.
So as I listened to the executives explain their very significant dilemma .. something that may dominate their lives for some years .. while I’m digesting the story part of me is wondering .. what aspect of this situation will be the biggest challenge for this group.
Admitting the truth?
Getting consensus to act?
Will it be their ability to act quickly and be flexible?
Maybe legal complexities?
I ask the executive, the man walked-in on, to call the journalist. When is the story going to air? Who else is being spoken to and what are they saying? There are two sides to the story and you only have one.
The journalists offers to allow a sit down interview – the right of reply. It’s an offer that needs to be considered carefully. It’s an assessment of benefits vs reward – a risk assessment. Sometimes we agree, sometimes not.
As always my preference is to be invisible – the presence of a ‘spin doctor’ can impact on the outcome. So as I’m listening I’m also wondering… because there’s usually something going wrong within an organisation for it to be attacked. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
So now, I spend some time overnight considering the situation.
Our aim is to move from a situation that is potentially very bad to a situation that is ‘less bad’.
We have three options:
- Appear on the program
- Not appear
- Retain lawyers to write a strong legal letter outlining the potential damage and the possibility of a court case further down the track.
As with all these situations there are no certainties in the advice I give. However it is based on having worked as a journalist on aggressive programs for over 30 years, and since , for over a decade helping many clients in this situation. Normally companies decide not to appear, but we’ve had excellent outcomes by appearing – completely turning a story around.
No certainties, just patterns of behaviour.
My recommendation: this time I recommend “No” to the interview, but “Yes” to the legal letter.
Outcome: When the story goes to air is appears thin and confused. It looks like, this time, the lawyer’s letter has led to a last minute re-edit to reduce the damage that may lead to a court case. We were right not to appear as it would have made a weak story strong.
Our assessment? It could have been a lot worse. No media followup, very little social media. No loss of clients so far. No employee issues.
So a good outcome.
But now the real work must begin – addressing the problem that led to the story, so that it never happens again.