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Adopt a crisis PR strategy; don’t hide behind Ofcom’s doorstepping code

Doorstepping, the headline grabbing tool of the TV reporter, has been all but stopped by Ofcom. In an attempt to protect the privacy of public figures, the days of thrusting a microphone under the nose of people in the news is over. The impact of Ofcom’s new code is explained very well by Jonathan Maitland in GuardianMedia yesterday, http://bit.ly/5s4Hcj, but who are the winners and losers?

From a broadcaster’s perspective it will mean less news worthy off the cuff quotes and more turgid, staid pre-prepared quotes. For those in the news with a story to hide, or a reputation to manage, it gives more control. So, you might assume the real winners are the PR teams advising the public figures Ofcom is seeking to protect. Particularly when it comes to crisis management – which (up to now) has been defined by many media training companies as a camera crew on your door step.

Control is the key word here. In the murky PR world of reputation management making sure you know the full details of the story and being able to manage the impact is crucial if you are to maintain the appropriate and desired profile for a client. Unfortunately, customers with something to hide – and that goes for colleagues at board level working alongside an in-house team – don’t always opt for full disclosure to the PR team. So then, the Ofcom ruling doesn’t really do too many favours for the world of PR either. Whilst providing an element of control, it does not encourage PR best practice from anyone with a story to manage, but it is not a reason to hide behind prepared statements.

In terms of the reputation and profile of an organisation or individual it will always be best to face up to the cameras and journalists and tell things straight. Not talking to the media gives the impression of hiding the truth. Bland statements impress nobody. So, all the more reason for people to invest in the trusted counsel of the PR consultant.

Any organisation dealing with an aspect of the public – i.e. if your product or service has a member of the public as an end user – you have a responsibility to be open and honest. In operational terms that means setting up crisis management protocols, agreeing a hierarchy of spokespeople and taking a proactive approach when things go wrong. It might be OK to play for time whilst you assess the facts, but do not hide behind closed doors, offer ‘no comment’ or issue statements that make a bad situation worse.

Be prepared by working with your PR team.  And, no matter if your advisers are in house or an agency, be open with them because otherwise you are not doing anyone any favours, least of all yourself. The Ofcom code is not an excuse to shy away from the truth – manage a situation by adopting an effective PR strategy and plan for the worst.

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