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Your Company Must Think and Act Like a Newsroom. Your Reputation Depends on it.

by Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications

When we help clients break news – good or bad – we often talk about one of the few redeeming factors of social media: Your company’s ability to leverage its social platforms to get its message around the media filter and push audiences to factual, contextual information on your organization’s website.

Why is that necessary? Although you can meticulously craft an award-winning press release and share it with the media, it’s the job of reporters and editors to pick and choose blurbs and quotes from your release and drop it into a narrative they construct. Will that narrative provide an objective and thorough context?

If you’re in the middle of a breaking crisis, opponents, critics and people who just don’t like what they believe you’ve done will likely portray your company in a negative light. Even more likely, they will beat you to the media and have their side of your story published first. And if the people on the other side of your story are adept at giving reporters salacious soundbites detailing untrue or out-of-context allegations – well, that’s too tasty for some news editors to pass up. You’ll wind up with a trashed reputation splattered across TV and newspaper headlines. And you can be sure that gleeful Twitter trolls will dutifully amplify any news that has a whiff of scandal. You’ll spend time and money responding in defense mode, trying to get your voice heard.

That’s what the media filter can do. And as a career news manager, let me assure you every promotion on our air and on our website would “tease” the upcoming story using the controversial elements kicked up by your detractors. That’s what fuels controversy and piques interest. That’s what drives eyeballs to TV news and clicks to the web.

It’s true that right now there are fewer eyeballs – news audience numbers are plummeting. Year-to-year from October 2020 to October 2021, Nielsen data shows that news audiences have dropped precipitously.  The Columbia Journalism Review reports that “between October 2020 and October 2021 … CNN was down 73 percent, to 661,00 viewers. Over the same period, MSNBC was down 56 percent, to 1.2 million viewers, and Fox News was down 53 percent, to 2.3 million viewers.”

That shouldn’t make you complacent. Indeed, that also means there are fewer people watching and reading any good news that might be reported about you via conventional media. You must tell your own story.

Think of your company as a newsroom to protect and to nurture your organization’s reputation. You must be out there, truthfully and transparently, with any company news – good or bad – before your detractors commandeer the media. Before Twitter trolls trend.

When you control you own narrative, you control the trajectory of your story.

When your company has a newsroom mindset, you’ve instructed staff to keep their eyes open for any positive developments you can collect and report. You’re essentially acting as a TV assignment editor, pushing reporters to keep their ears open and nudging them out the door to dig up news every day. Get in the habit of turning these tidbits into news items for your website and email newsletter, news releases and blog posts. This can have a positive impact on your reputation: It’s a foundational search engine optimization (SEO) technique. The more positive content you publish, the more likely the world will see it show up on the first page of Google keyword searches for your company. And this practice can also “push down” any negative news about you that’s floating around the web to the second page of search returns, or lower.

Your staff should be looking for red flags, too: Are your salespeople hearing ugly rumors about your company circulating among your competitors, customers, prospects, vendors or community leaders? Is your IT staff seeing disinformation on social media? Carefully plan proactive communication to set the record straight.

If the issue is egregious enough, plan to draft communications to your board, staff, and other critical internal and external audiences. Post it as soon as it’s vetted and approved and get it to the media proactively, so that your voice is the dominant voice in the first wave of news coverage. Again, tell your side of the story first whenever possible so you’re not caught in a defensive position, forced to respond to nonsense.

Members of our crisis team have earned their stripes running print and TV newsrooms for years, and helping reluctant communicators turn their communications mindset around to repair and to supercharge their reputation. We’re ready to talk and always ready to help. Your reputation is your organization’s greatest uninsured asset. It helps determine the bottom line on your balance sheet. Ignore it at your own peril.


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