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Understanding the Media -Crisis or No Crisis

10 June 2003 at 1:06 pm
Staff Reporter
Several Not for Profits have received what many may describe as a 'caning' in the media recently. Some organisations should have known better and others simply need to understand the media, and quickly, crisis or no crisis!

Staff Reporter | 10 June 2003 at 1:06 pm


Understanding the Media -Crisis or No Crisis
10 June 2003 at 1:06 pm

Several Not for Profits have received what many may describe as a ‘caning’ in the media recently. Some organisations should have known better and others simply need to understand the media, and quickly, crisis or no crisis!

Over 25 years of interviewing or attempting to interview everyone from company CEO’s to private individuals it never ceases to amaze me when I hear “I’m not going to do an interview because the media is not giving me/us a fair go!”

The media is the place to give yourselves ‘a fair go’, take some control and get your message or your organisation’s message across to the people that matter to you. In the case of the Not for Profit sector that audience is your loyal donors, potential donors, grantmakers and even lawmakers!

Sam Elam heads up one of Australia’s leading media strategy and training organisations, Media Manoeuvres and she believes that the ‘fear factor’ takes control before most organisations use their common sense when with dealing with the media.

Elam says in most cases these organisations do have the right information to deliver but get bogged down with fearing the interview situation.

Ignoring media requests to be interviewed in a crisis only adds more fuel to the debate. Radio shock jocks across the country just love to be able to say that the “organisation has refused our request to explain the situation. Who do they think they are…they must have something to hide!”

TV news journalists will stand outside your organisation and look down the barrel of the camera and say, “all our requests for an interview were denied today”.

Obviously media requests are only one aspect of a crisis when there is a situation unfolding inside an organisation that has attracted public attention. But dealing with the media first in an open and honest way even if it is to say that you are looking into the problem/situation/incident/allegation/policy/event etc…and keep them updated.

Your donors are making very quick decisions about where their money will go next time. They ring talk-back radio stations and tell of their good experiences as well as their bad experiences.

The Red Cross handling of the funds for the victims of the Bali Bombings is just one incident recently where a decision to pull out of an ABC talkback show interview caused more trouble than it was worth! This is where long fought for and well-earned reputations get tarnished.

After the media ran the story for several days without a formalised clarification from the Red Cross, the end result saw the organisation making a public apology for not explaining exactly what had happened and how they would spend the donated funds.

In the business world, the Pan Pharmaceuticals recall would have to be the worst example of how to handle the media in a very long time. Waiting until all the critics had ‘had a go’ without a strong message of concern from Pan quickly saw a downward slide in accountability and reputation in the eyes of the consumer.

A Herald Sun report in Melbourne about the Arts Council providing a $10,000 grant for a local artist/jeweller to produce work the artist wanted to hide in rubbish bins around the metropolitan area rather than exhibit in a more traditional gallery setting caused a media frenzy with some early morning radio shows claiming they could not get a response from the funding organisation.

The Australia Council obviously thought it was a worthy project. Within a few hours the organisation had put out a media release to correct the initial story and add their key message on Arts funding…

Here are the opening paragraphs:

Statements in the media today that the Australia Council for the Arts has funded a Melbourne artist to make jewellery to hide in rubbish bins are incorrect.

The Council’s funding had nothing to do with hiding jewellery in rubbish bins. The exhibition and the artist’s promotional activities were not part of Council funding.

The Australia Council contributed $8,750 three years ago towards the artist’s development costs – i.e. production costs, living expenses, the services of a photographer and exhibition framing costs. The artist, Caz Guiney, self-funded the remaining costs of the project.”

This media statement also appeared very quickly on their website.

If you are not prepared to stand by your decision(s) and address it in media interviews or even in a written statement, the public has a right to be suspicious.

In any media situation here are some steps to consider:

 Instigate some form of media monitoring (even if it’s just to record TV news each night and collect clippings from daily newspapers)
 Build a relationship with journalists who might regularly write about your organisation; particularly local newspapers
 Prepare several key messages about your organisation and its core operations or mission statement and have them ready for any media inquiry
 Find out who the Chiefs of Staff are at metro TV stations and newspapers in your city, and the producers of key programs at radio stations and on TV.
 Don’t contact the media about every raffle or fundraising fair. Unique, or special occasions/events/policies etc make for a better relationship
 Immediately correct any misinformation in the media about your organisation
 Don’t say ‘no comment’ or offer ‘off the record’ information –this will always backfire
 Respond in a crisis within the first few hours of any media discussion about your organisation. Even if it is a written statement saying you are not aware or are aware of the situation and are investigating it
 Update your information until you are able to do interviews and deliver clear, concise, truthful key messages.
 Make sure your key people have ‘media training’ to ensure the best possible outcome.

Unfortunately many people believe that the media has control of all interview situations. If you understand that you are in control of the situation and deliver what you believe is appropriate for your audience then most media encounters will be winners.

If you would like to comment on the importance of understanding the media, join our on-line Forum at

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