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Preventing big news from becoming a big mess

Earlier this week at MYOB, we had some pretty big news to communicate to the world. It’s exciting times ahead for us (if you’re keen to hear the full story, you can read comments from MYOB CEO, Tim Reed), but it was an announcement that required liaising with news outlets and sharing our story with the business world.

Public relations can be a delicate task.  Journalists, while vital in the communications mix, are finely tuned wordsmiths, who have a knack for finding an interesting story in even the most insignificant flyaway comment. Making an announcement, responding to an issue or even just telling your tale to the press can be a daunting task for business owners, and it’s easy to lose control of the situation if you’re not careful.

But don’t be scared! PR is an essential part of any marketing strategy, from a sole trader to a large international organization, and it can do wonders for building your brand image and presence. It’s just a matter of handling it thoughtfully. Here are some hints to help you collaborate with the media, and make sure your reputation comes out on top!

Early in the day is better, but be mindful of what the rest of the world is doing. It’s an old PR trick used commonly by celebrity agents, to wait for a major news story to break before they release potentially damaging information about their clients. The theory is that their story will be background noise to the bigger story, and thus reduce its impact. Unfortunately this trick works really well, so take note! If you have an important statement, check that the waves are clear before you release it to journalists far and wide, to ensure it achieves the maximum coverage and impact.

Don’t be pressured into releasing more than you’re prepared to. It’s a journalist’s job to get the biggest and best news story, not yours to create it! Once you’ve written and distributed a press release, do not feel obligated to go into further detail. If you can, create a dedicated page on your website for your statement and direct people there with a simple ‘our comments on the matter can be found on our website’.

Direct all media enquiries to one person or team. If you don’t have a dedicated PR/media team, make sure you nominate one person as media liaison to ensure that your story is consistent and remains in your control at all times.  There’s nothing worse different statements coming from different people within your business to confuse the story, or create a PR mess. And remember, no comment to the media is ever, EVER “off the record”!

Make friends with the reporters covering your industry at your local news outlet. Not only does it give you a direct contact to pitch stories to, but if there are whispers and rumors rumbling around about you, they’re more likely to call and give you the right of reply before printing anything unsavory.

For the particularly sensitive stuff, consult the professionals. PR agencies have seen it all, pitched it all and survived it all. If you’re worried about your capacity to handle the situation, don’t be afraid to engage their services and skills. Here at MYOB, we have a wealth of in house communications experience, but we still work closely with an external agency to ensure we’re prepared for pretty much anything! They also have great media contacts, and can open up doors to even the most seemingly inaccessible news outlet.

As a business owner, have you had much contact with the media? What has worked for you? Have you ever had to deal with any negative PR?

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Julian Smith

Julian Smith

Julian Smith is responsible for MYOB’s corporate affairs, government and public relations in Australia and New Zealand and is also New Zealand general manager. The qualified lawyer has spent much of his career at large multinationals in a range of senior legal, sales, marketing and customer management roles. Julian is a regular keynote speaker and business commentator and sits on a number of government and industry boards and advisory panels. Julian can be found on Twitter <a href="http://www.twitter.com/JulianTSmith">@JulianTSmith</a> or contacted via email Julian.smith@myob.com

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