As PR professionals, we are experts in media relations. Having deep, entrenched relationships with key members of the media and knowing what makes them tick is what our clients expect from us. The fruit of these relationships often appears in the form of well-balanced, favorable coverage.
But when an issue strikes, or an unfavorable story appears without warning, it's even more important for clients to rely on the PR experts to determine how to respond. Often, a client's first instinct is to immediately issue a response that is crafted hastily and may be interpreted as defensive. While transparency is always recommended, much more should be considered before determining how to respond or even if a response is warranted.
1. First, consider the source. Is there a major flaw in a study or reference the reporter is basing their story on that's fundamentally unsound? If so, a quick response from the medical team or other specialty group within the organization is appropriate. But if the story is factual and no real inaccuracy occurred, a statement should be carefully considered before distribution so that it says something beyond "we're looking into it..."
2. Do a background check on the reporter. It’s possible that you already have the skinny on how this particular member of the media handles themselves in the given situation but, if not, check out past stories on controversial issues to determine tone and receptivity to outside response/rebuttal. You may decide it’s completely safe to directly engage, or rather, decide that it’s best to stay mum.
3. Be patient. The worst mistake you can make is responding too quickly, before all of the facts have unfolded. A well thought through and thorough response is always more well-received than a rushed, insubstantial commentary.
With any issue or story, you want to be careful not to add fuel to the media fire and spur even more stories that now have your client at the center, under attack. This makes a trusting relationship with your client just as important as those media relationships, so that together you can approach even the most alarming fire drill with composure and smarts.