Three Steps to Preventing a Media Attack

Protecting Your Company from 'Investigative' Reporters

by Rusty Cawley

The best method for handling a media crisis is to assume one will happen to you in the future, and get ready for it now.

Unfortunately, you cannot begin to predict exactly what will happen and when. But you can take some all-purpose steps to provide yourself some protection.

A media crisis is like a house fire. If you can stamp it out at the start, or at least contain it from spreading, then you'll better your chances of coming out of it with an intact asset.

What intelligent executive of any well-managed firm would allow his company to operate without property insurance? Then why is it that intelligent executives are willing to risk their company's reputation, which is far more valuable than any physical asset, to the whims and vagaries of the mass media?

The intelligent executive will make media-crises management at least as high a priority as buying insurance.

Step 1. Assess Your Company's Exposure to 'Bad Press'

Before you are ready to play hardball with the media, you must be ready to play hardball with your own company's culture. Now is the time to assess just how likely your company is to expose itself to negative media coverage.

Your best bet is to hire an objective consultant - an fearless ombudsman - to conduct a thorough investigation and to deliver a confidential, candid report.

The ombudsman should look for these symptoms at every level of your organization:

These are the weaknesses that allow an antagonist to convince the news media to join an attack. A solid ombudsman will fearlessly uncover these weaknesses, point them out to you and force you to deal with them. Better that than give an antagonist an opening to destroy your company.

Step 2. Create Your Rapid Response Team

If you plan to defend your company effectively, you should begin now to pull together your Rapid Response Team. This is the group that you will train and prepare to snap into action at the first sign of negative media coverage.

This team should include:

In addition, now is the time to designate and to maintain a war room that is reserved for your Rapid Response Team. This room should be outfitted with multiple phone lines, personal computers, Internet access, encryption technology, fax machines and any other information/communications capabilities that it must have to function smoothly and effectively.

Step 3. Adopt the Powell Doctrine

The United States lost the Vietnam War because it adopted a policy of gradually escalating its military presence in direct response to the actions of North Vietnam. This strategy left the conduct of the war in control of the Communists. It was doomed to fail from the get-go.

A young career soldier named Colin Powell saw this mistake first-hand and vowed to abandon the escalation strategy when it became his turn to lead America into war.

His chance came during the Gulf War. Rather than easing into a conflict with Iraq, Powell pushed the White House and the Pentagon to adopt a new strategy:

  1. Establish an overwhelming military presence.
  2. Strike with power and speed.
  3. Give the enemy no chance to adapt.

This became known as the Powell Doctrine. If you plan to use Hardball PR, you are advised to adopt the Powell Doctrine as your personal credo.

Pre-crisis preparation is the Hardball PR version of establishing an overwhelming military presence. But that's just the physical aspect. There is a mental aspect as well.

When the day comes that you are under attack, you must be mentally prepared to strike your enemy down and give him no chance whatsoever to recover. You must be merciless.

If you lack the stomach to see this through, then forget about Hardball PR. Stick to the traditional tactics.

Copyright 2003 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

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About the Author

Rusty Cawley is a 20-year veteran journalist who now trains corporate executives and their PR teams to protect themselves from spurious 'investigations' by the news media. For your free copy of the ebook "Hardball PR," please visit right now.

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