8 Ways to Mitigate Negative Media Coverage

Like it or not, the news media is going to do what the news media does. When the reports are negative, the senior management of an organization placed under the media’s microscope can get angry, even vindictive.

This happened after the Los Angeles Times reported on a deal The Walt Disney Company had struck with the city of Anaheim, California. Disney subsequently announced the Times would be barred from previewing its holiday motion picture releases.

When I read about Disney’s reaction, I envisioned the scene in a meeting room somewhere in Hollywood. An upset senior manager decides to make the L.A. Times pay for a story that put the company in a bad light. The Disney PR folks are pretty savvy so it’s likely they warned of the blowback such a decision would invite.

And blowback it did, so badly in fact, Disney relented. The Times is now previewing Disney’s holiday season offerings. That’s good for Disney and good for the Times, the way things should be.

Public relations professionals are confronted with scenarios like this from time to time. It could be an unflattering profile of the CEO or an FDA product recall or a bad product review. The anger and frustration over negative media coverage is understandable, but there are ways to react or not react that can and often do lead to positive outcomes:

  1. Remember, you need the media more than the media needs you. There are some exceptions to this, but rarely are PR pros in a position to dictate what reporters will cover or how they’ll cover it.
  2. Good reporters will substantiate and/or confirm what you tell them. Thus, transparency is always advisable. Also, avoid “no comment.” If you don’t tell your story, someone else is bound to.
  3. “Off the record” comments should be avoided. Assume everything you say can and will appear in the media.
  4. If you don’t know, say so. Then explain you’ll get the answer and report back promptly.
  5. Similarly, when you feel pressed on a tough question, buy time. It’s very reasonable to say you will get back to a reporter with a response after you consult with management. Just make sure you do!
  6. After a negative story appears, if management starts talking about payback, pushback. Explain there is little to gain and much to lose when you acrimoniously confront the media over negative coverage.
  7. If the negative coverage is factually wrong or incomplete, contact the reporter or editor and politely explain what’s wrong or what was left out, point them at sources that will substantiate your side, and request a follow-up story or at least a clarification. Anger will get you nowhere, so keep your cool.
  8. If the story is accurate, there is little to be done but field the inevitable follow-up questions from other media and be prepared to answer them truthfully. For example, “Yes, the story is accurate and we are taking the necessary steps to (review, litigate, repair, etc. ….).

The media and PR pros have a transactional relationship; we can help the media and the media can help us. It’s best to always remember this in times of stress.

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