By Sarah Whitelock, Green Apple Communications.
You think it will never happen, after all, it’s really, really hard to get the attention of the media to help with the marketing of your business so surely the day will never come when a crowd of reporters and photographers will be standing outside your door demanding an interview? Most of the time that’s right but for the unfortunate few an unexpected event linked to their business can lead to some very unwelcome media attention and damage a brand to the point where it will never recover.
Archers fans will remember the despair felt by Tony and Pat when they had a case of E Coli at Bridge Farm. Although the Archers is fiction the scenario is not uncommon and it’s a particular risk in any food related business. But it can happen anywhere – there could be an accident on your premises or one of your customers might go to the press with a complaint before they come to you. So it’s important to prepare ahead. Here is a brief summary of the steps you need to take.
- Sit down and do a risk assessment, you may already have one prepared as part of your business plan.
- Consider which of those risks are likely to attract media interest. Use your judgement to decide whether or not they are going to lead to local or national interest. If a customer slips and breaks a leg in your shop the local press may pick it up but if a child develops E Coli and becomes seriously ill as a result of some food you have prepared the national press may start following the story.
- Draw up an action plan and responses to the press for each of the significant risks that you have identified. You should draft a press statement for each risk which you can alter and send to the press if you are asked for a comment on the event. This statement, and any more that you need to make, will be critical in forming public opinion about your business. For example, if a customer has gone to the local press because their child was taken ill after a visit to your premises you will need to express regret at the incident and promise to investigate it thoroughly without prejudging why it happened. Dealing with an event like this is very stressful and having some words prepared for such an eventuality can make all the difference to the image you project.
- Consider who will be your press spokesperson. This is fairly straightforward within a small business as it would normally be the owner but if you are in a partnership or you have several employees you may want to agree on one or two key spokespeople.
- Ask yourself if the spokespeople are going to be comfortable doing interviews? If you have identified risks that could lead to national press interest bear in mind that Channel 4 news would be a tough place to start! Consider some media training. A good trainer will help you talk through the key messages you need to communicate within the interview and give you experience in all types of media.
- Think about the ways you would communicate while the incident plays itself out. It may only be a case of a short news story in the local paper but even then it is helpful to already be active on social media so that you can be aware of what is being said about you and correct any mistakes.
- If the incident is serious you will need help – keep the details of an agency you know and trust (perhaps the person who did the media training with you). The agency should be experienced in this sort of situation and will work with you to help you come out of the situation with your business – and your sanity – intact.