Breaking news: Mastering the art of rapid reaction comment
Offering a rapid reaction comment to the media on an emerging story can be a risky game. When a big news story breaks – for example, a major cyberattack or breach – it’s a great opportunity to provide expert input to the story, and be perceived as an expert in the field.
Done right, it’s a highly-effective weapon in the PR arsenal. But, if it is executed poorly, it can have a negative impact on your business. The art is deciding when to hit the accelerator and get up to speed with the story, and when to hang back. Deciding which to do isn’t easy: you’ve got to be quick off the mark if you want to get ahead of the competition and participate. So, how should you approach making that decision? Here’s our five-point checklist to help you decide if this is an approach you can use, and to show how to develop the right kind of newsworthy comment:
Are you connected to the story?
Without wishing to state the obvious, it is critical to ensure that your company is not connected to the story in any way. If you are, you could end up scoring an own goal. For instance, if you are a cybersecurity company willing to offer comment on the latest hack or data breach, you need to be certain that the affected company is not a customer of yours, or a major prospect that you’re currently pitching to. Equally it will have a negative impact on the brand image if it later comes out that it was your solution that was partially at fault over an incident.
Is the story relevant to your business?
You would be surprised at the number of times we get asked if clients should provide comment on stories that simply aren’t relevant to them. You should only consider providing rapid reaction comment on breaking news that is about an issue that’s related to your business focus, or might be affecting your customers or prospective customers.
It will not do you any favours if you are sending pointless commentary that adds nothing to the story. Journalists covering breaking news are bombarded with pitches from all directions and in the long run, you will benefit from only pitching when the story perfectly matches your areas of expertise.
Can you offer constructive insight without speculation?
So a retailer has taken double payments from its customers, or a cloud provider has experienced an outage. The media is looking for expert input, and you want to comment. Can you do so constructively? It’s far too easy to be critical of the company responsible or the solutions they were using, but ultimately it will look petty to point fingers, and could come back to bite you if you start commenting negatively.
It is important that you offer only constructive and insightful analysis based upon the facts as they are known, and your experience in helping customers deal with similar problems. Show how consumers or businesses can solve the problem, rather than highlighting what went wrong.
Can you respond quickly?
You’ve reached this stage, which means there’s a strong chance you could be offering commentary or experts for interview. However you must be able to do this quickly; ideally within an hour of the story breaking. Anything after this is unlikely to be useful to the media – others will have already submitted comments, and journalists will have more than enough expert (and non-expert) input. If you can’t respond quickly it might be best to pass on the immediate opportunity, and instead start preparing an analysis-based comment for the follow-up stories that are usually written following major incidents.
Is your expert available?
The final consideration is to double check that your internal expert is available at a moment’s notice to appear on-air or conduct a quick follow-up interview to clarify points for a journalist. If they are not, you are likely to find yourself less than favorable with the journalists who, having spent time contacting you, now have to find somebody else they can talk to.
While speed is of the essence in rapid reaction, take a moment to reflect before hitting send or picking up the phone. Otherwise you may end up with a reputation as an ambulance-chaser. With a little preparation and planning, you can put in place the components of an effective rapid-reaction comment machine, ready to take advantage of the next piece of relevant breaking news. Why not contact us to find out more about how a rapid-reaction comment programme can benefit your business?