Man Bites Dog is based on the idea that ‘watchdog’ organisations - be they official regulators, private ‘consumer advocate’ groups, or extremist groups that target specific industries - should not just be reacted to, they need to be pre-empted when possible and actively engaged when that is not possible… and the means to do this is using blogs as a tool to implement a crisis response.
Taking the Man Bites Dog approach means presenting the company or organisation’s point of view in a crisis in an overtly confrontational manner. It is less a defensive attempt at damage limitation in a crisis and more a counter-attack on the group’s persecutors.
For example, British Gas might employ their own medium - their own blog - to explain that, far from what the mainstream media would have the public believe, they did not put up their rates in order to satisfy “fat cat” executives’ hunger for bigger pay packets. They could detail exactly which industry circumstances and government regulations forced them to take such a decision, and the lengths they went to for two years to avoid having to pass their increasing costs of doing business to their customers. Further, they could directly challenge those regulations and encourage customers to get angry about those rather than making British Gas the target of their dissatisfaction.
If it’s more complicated than “4 legs good, 2 legs bad,” forget it
In a soundbite culture, people who deal in serious and complex problems – especially scientific or economic ones – usually do not fare well in mainstream media representation. If the argument cannot be summed up in simplistic terms that require only scant knowledge of the industry, then regardless of the fact that you are right and the other side is talking rubbish, the perception is that you have lost the debate.
This is what happens when you rely on other peoples’ media to disseminate your message. Especially when your message is not simplistic enough for supposedly informed journalists to grasp, let alone the audience, you do not get a proper hearing.
A question worth asking
So what is the business case for not using your own medium – and one that allows for rapid and widespread distribution of your message – to say what you need to say, how you need to say it?
Being believed matters
In order to be believed, your credibility must be obvious and undeniable. Do journalists really help you on that score?
How many members of the public actually read your press releases? Of those who do, how many take them as gospel? More to the point, how many media outlets represent the content of your press releases faithfully, as you would have them do it?
Pre-act, not react
Don’t just wait for watchdog groups to attack you. Pre-empt their blows when possible and actively combat the foundations of their thinking and public image on a constant basis. Cultivate an authentic, credible organisational voice, free of slick PR-speak and emanating from an identifiable human (or humans) within your company or association. Spread the messages that underlie your and your members’ interests on a perpetual cycle, widely disseminating the right ideas on a grand scale, via the 4 million-plus blogs on the web. Then, when PR crises happen, have your say via your own medium, making the most of the credibility you’ve established with the public.
While it is conceivably possible to set up a crisis blog and maintain it without previous blogging experience (provided training on blogging best practice is provided), ideally the best crisis bloggers will be people who are already experienced bloggers and who understand the medium and techniques for blogging effectively: companies which already blog will find it easiest to blog to maximum effect in times of crisis.
Speed of light is the speed of right now
The rapidity with which you can tell your side of the story is crucial. For best results, you must operate inside the news cycle. Blogs allow you to do just that.
By the time the morning papers land in the front hedge, your blog will already have a measured, credible response there for all to see. Acknowledging issues and spelling out what you have done and are doing about them will go a long way towards blunting the ability of the media to present news as some kind of scoop. It also allows you to engage any disgruntled parties without using the press – other peoples’ media – as an intermediary. And journalists will have to use your blog as a source, driving even more people to read it and get your side of the issues.
Relying on others to explain why you are right will not work
As crisis PR firm Sitrick & Company‘s strapline says: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. Instead of only having your say in media that belong to other people - and other interests - take your message to the people.
Make the most of a cutting-edge technology that allows you to reach a network that cannot be ignored.
Let the members of that network spread your message for you.
Make it easy for them.