How To Improve Your Public Image
Your worst nightmares might include being chased by thugs with guns, by a thundering tornado or even by a television news crew. Hiding in a closet might help with the first two, but it’s the worst step you can take when the media calls.
Despite the hits to credibility reporters have taken recently, surveys indicate many people are still keeping up with current events by watching TV, although use of the Internet for this purpose is growing rapidly.
What that means to you is this: the media will cover a crisis whether you talk on camera or hide in a closet. Hiding in a closet or its verbal equivalent, “no comment,” can give the public the perception you have something to be ashamed of. You may not be a professional spin doctor, but here’s advice a spin meister will charge you a lot of money for–honesty goes a long way in the hearts and minds of the public, even when the news is damaging, tragic or scary. Hill and Knowlton, one of the nation’s foremost public relations advisors, gives this advice to companies in crisis: “Tell the truth. Tell it all. Tell it now.”
In some cases, your image will be protected by pending litigation. Instead of “no comment,” give a reporter at least six seconds of a quote. For instance, if you say, “I’d love for the full XYZ story to be made public so people could understand what’s really going on behind the scenes, but because this issue is before the judge, I’m not at liberty to give details” everyone wins. You’re a hero to the media—they have their soundbite… you gave the perception that there is another side to the story, you didn’t look evasive… and best of all, you don’t face contempt of court charges!
Addressing problems quickly and thoroughly makes good sense for organizations that want to be around for a while. Look at Tylenol. After product-tampering deaths in 1982, Johnson & Johnson spent $100 million to make sure you would feel secure about taking a red and yellow capsule today.
On the other hand, remember the grocery store Food Lion? Rather than addressing and resolving consumers’ worries about tainted meat, the grocer went after ABC’s hidden camera strategy. I didn’t care how ABC got the footage, the damage was done—I saw rotten meat being re-wrapped with my own eyes. I wanted Food Lion to convince me that its products were safe. Apparently, so did a lot of others. Today, no Food Lion stores operate where I live.
In short, if you find yourself being chased with cameras, please don’t panic. Turn and face the reporter confidently, then say what policy and circumstances dictate, honestly. About those other nightmares, when the tornadoes and thugs with guns come after you, run!
Lorri Allen is a journalist and media coach. She works with people that want to look smart on TV and groups that want to use the media effectively. To contact her, please firstname.lastname@example.org. For permission to reprint this article, please call the numbers below