I was driving yesterday and listening to a news programme when I heard the usual ‘XX declined to come on the programme but has provided the following statement…’. I have lost count of the times that I see the same position emerging particularly when there is a challenging subject under discussion or the organisation is being criticised. And I confess there have been many times in the past that I have accepted this position, when those at the top of an organisation refuse to face the cameras. But is this a missed opportunity?
Having a person represent the organisation by undertaking interviews is preferable. They can bring the words to life. They can explain the situation clearly and answer questions to clarify. They can demonstrate the emotions attached to the situation and show authenticity. Words are important but they can be taken to a whole new level when someone physically shares them. The mere act of being seen in public shows it is an open organisation that is not hiding from the situation that has developed.
So why does the default position seem to be to produce an often lengthy statement that then becomes voiced by an unknown and unrelated person? That person may but different emphasis and intonation than you had planned, and at worst could change the meaning of the statement and even impact on confidence in the business.
The more we see these statements, the more they become acceptable ways of communicating to those in leadership positions. Leaders have a huge responsibility to be accountable and to face up to public criticism and this is even more important when a crisis happens. If you accept a position as a senior leader in an organisation then conducting interviews should be part of the job description. It is not enough to agree the statement that will be written and emailed to the journalist. Leaders need to clear the diary and speak directly to the journalists.
Media training was once a critical element of leadership development. For many businesses as they had to tighten their belt and reduce costs media training was scaled back and may have disappeared. A failure to fund media training added to a feeling that it wasn’t important any more, after all we have social media to do what we need to now – don’t we? In short the answer is no. The past two years of the pandemic have demonstrated the importance of effective media relations and of carrying out media interviews. It is time to bring back the training and to make it a priority for those leading organisations.
Developing media statements to respond to issues is important but it should not be the only way of communicating. It is time to push for media interviews to become a central part of the communication plan if we are really going to effectively deal with situations.