If there is anything to be learned from the Mutts & Moms debacle (and we are NOT going to rehash it) it is that most animal rescuers and other groups serving animals are not public relations savvy. Most of us who work with animals prefer to avoid those kinds of human interactions that involve dealing with the press.
As some of you may know, among my various activities, I have worked in public relations for going on two decades. So I thought I would offer you some public relations basics. These tips are designed to help you be ready when the media strikes.
Have an emergency public relations plan
You may never need it but if you are involved with an organization you should have an emergency pr plan in place so there is no fumbling around during the crucial first few hours of a pr emergency. Who should speak for your organization? Who is the back-up person in case that first person is unavailable?
Speak to the media as soon as possible after a pr emergency erupts
Oftentimes the first person or group to speak to an issue sets the tone for the media and the public. If you wait until the other side has had face time with the media then you are battling up out of a relative hole. Instead of framing the issues in your favor, the other side has already had time to subtly or not-so-subtly bias the media and public in their favor. Also, the less accurate information you put out there, the more likely that inaccurate information will arise. Remember, people don’t like a news vaccuum. If you don’t fill that need for information for accurate info, rumors and inaccuracies will grow and spread.
Respond quickly to media requests
Media writers, reporters, producers and others are under extreme time constraints. If you get a call or email, respond ASAP! Even if you are not ready to talk to the reporter, call back or email back and ask for the questions. Then turn those questions around as quickly as possible. In other words, let the reporter or writer know you are paying attention to them and sensitive to their deadlines. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen articles that leaned in one direction or the other simply because one group got in touch or stayed in touch with the reporter and the other side didn’t. This isn’t because the reporter was lazy or biased; he just didn’t have all the information because one side was too slow to respond.
Prepare yourself for all potential questions before going head to head with the media
Spend an hour or two before you begin media interviews by having one person or a few people familiar with the situation asking you the hardest questions they can devise. This pre-grilling will help to prepare you when those same questions come from reporters or interviewers. You’ll feel more prepared and ready. The worst thing you can do in front of cameras is hem and haw as you try to frame your answers on the fly.
Have pictures available for the media
Today’s media is extremely visual. They will want pictures. Larger press will want to take their own but smaller media will often be happy to take what they’re offered to speed things along. Have your photos ready for them. This goes back to showing the issue according to your side.
Never, ever lie to the media
Although I will tell you to make sure your side of the issue or controversy is very clear, I will also tell you to never lie to the media. You don’t have to air your dirty laundry for the evening news but if you get a direct question either tell the truth or decline to answer.
I hope you never face a situation where you need these tips but if you do, I hope you’re prepared.
BTW, if you want to share these tips please credit the For Love of Dog Blog. You’re welcome to share them but please make sure your readers know their origin.