Because we’re experts in crisis management at Provident, many clients come to us in a panic when they find themselves under intense scrutiny from the media. Whether this attention is warranted or not, it’s almost universal that most companies feel the stories they’re reading about themselves in the media are inaccurate or misleading, and the coverage is causing damage to the company’s reputation — ultimately impacting their bottom line.
So how does a company push back against perceived media inaccuracies or bias?
For starters, the majority of news organizations and reporters in Canada are incredibly professional, thorough and balanced. But that doesn't make them infallible, so they shouldn’t be immune from scrutiny or criticism either. Sometimes reporters will forget to ask for comment prior to a story getting published, or the story’s angle is totally different to what was discussed in an interview with a reporter. These things happen, and there are several options available to help right any wrongs.
A company feeling under siege can suggest background briefings and editorial boards with its leadership to try to change a negative media narrative. And above all else, the most important media relations achievement for any company under the glare of the spotlight is to have strong relationships with the reporters covering your firm and to be fully transparent with them.
But no smart media relations or crisis management strategy involves maligning a news organization or an individual reporter’s reputation in public. Yet that’s exactly what Montreal-based Bombardier has done with its True North Blog and Twitter account.
Leveraging online platforms like blogs and social media for message control is a tried-and-tested strategy. It’s an effective way for a company to share its side of the story and shift the narrative in its favour. But it’s only effective if it’s done in a professional manner that is aligned with the company’s value structure.
To see Bombardier attacking the Globe and Mail as “cheap shot journalism” and its senior international correspondent Mark MacKinnon’s coverage as “slanted” is wrong. The aerospace giant shouldn’t stoop to Donald Trump-like tactics because of unfavourable coverage. If anyone thinks name-calling will change the editorial position of any established news organization on an issue or a developing news story, think again. It doesn’t look like Bombardier is mobilizing public support either as it goes to battle against the Globe. Indeed, the comments on a recent sponsored tweet by Bombardier’s True North account speak for themselves.
The issue here is not the fact that Bombardier is communicating what it sees as unfair coverage, and publishing blogs as proof-points to support their argument. Rather, it’s the tone and manner in which it’s being conducted. The company has every right to issue a full-throated defence of its business practices, but it’s defending itself so unprofessionally that it’s taking away from any strength that its arguments may have.
In business, reputation is everything and here at Provident, we understand that sometimes fighting to protect it can get ugly. But there is no excuse, in our books, to attack individual journalists for doing their job. Bombardier has a lot of other tools at its disposal to make its position known, and none of them require schoolyard antics. More importantly, such tactics take the company far off course from its values and its commitment to being a Canadian champion.