The Strategy Imperative

Whether your business employs hundreds or a handful, a media strategy
can help build your brand—and save it from disaster

Photo: Camille Ross, founder of Media Coach Cam 

HAVING A MEDIA strategy might not seem essential when launching a business. After all, who has time to worry about media when you have accounting, logistics, growth planning and any number of other pressing concerns? But a well-planned media strategy can be crucial for your business. It can help you promote your company and reach a wider audience, and in the age of social media wildfire, it can be life or death in the event of a crisis.

“A media strategy is like an insurance policy, it can save your business,” says Camille Ross, founder of Media Coach Cam (mediacoachcam.com), a communications consulting business.

“A solid reputation can be destroyed in a single day, but it can also be salvaged with a smart media strategy that gets the public back on your side,” continues Ross. “Crises have hit some of the biggest brands and the best companies, so if it happens to you, know that you’re not alone and there is a way to turn things around.”

In addition to plotting a path for effective crisis communication, a solid media strategy is equally important when you’ve got news about your company and want to get the word out. A lot of people are apprehensive to pitch the media because they’re unsure of how to go about it or when to do so. But according to Ross, a former morning television host and network news anchor with ten years of experience working in the deadline-driven world of breaking network news, journalists love being informed by the community.

“If it really is your fault, admit it, show regret, humility and offer a solution.
There is no room for ego in these situations”
—Camille Ross

“There is no better source,” she says. “If you don’t tell them, who will? You may get a big ‘no’ four out of five times, but that’s okay. Keep trying. It’s not personal. Pitching the media is easier than most people think. If it’s a business story, email the business editor. If it’s an entertainment story, email the arts and entertainment reporter.”

But there are some things to avoid, cautions Ross. “The press release is dead and so are phone calls,” believes Ross. She also cautions against trying to use the media purely for promotion, saying there’s no such thing as a free plug. “The media will gravitate toward unique events and initiatives that benefit or inspire the community as a whole.”

If you do have a few extra dollars to spare, Ross says trade publications are often a great place to start. “If you have a truly unique story that has never been seen before, you may be covered by the publication in a full-blown article for free,” Ross says, noting that trade publications are more likely to do sponsored content. “If you’re willing to pay, you could buy yourself a nice feature story or an article where your business or product is featured. Trade publications are not working with daily deadlines, often do exclusive online content and access a more targeted audience.”

But what to do when the worst happens—when your business is thrown into a crisis? Ross emphasizes that we’re all human, and every organization, small to large, is vulnerable to crises, particularly in a social media age. But the days of playing ostrich—burying you head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away—are long gone. You can try, but your stakeholders will not be understanding or forgiving because they’ve watched what happened with Volkswagen, FIFA and United Airlines.

“First, think before you speak and/or act to avoid a blunder,” cautions Ross. “You will want to respond to the media as soon as possible before they report that ‘the CEO refused to comment’. Give them something to work with. Buy time. Then assess the situation with all parties involved, and come up with a few key messages. If it really is your fault, admit it, show regret, humility and offer a solution. The public will forgive you. Don’t be defensive. Snarky comments are fodder for tomorrow’s headlines and keep the story alive. Keep it classy and always take the high road. There is no room for ego in these situations.”

Additionally, Ross emphasizes the need for practice. “Coaching can help ensure you respond in a cool and composed manner without getting heated,” she says. “It can also help ensure your image, body language and tone are appropriate. Calculated words can go a far way in winning back the public’s trust.”