Chris_Bowes_2011_SmallHow New Media Changes Everything #1 Ė Being Prepared

By Chris Bowes, 8 July 2011

A journalist recently related an interesting incident to me that illustrates how companies are challenged by new media when it comes to PR.

The journalist asked to video an interview with a company executive at a major trade show, one of about half a dozen. But one of the companies couldnít do the interview right away. The executive had to ask permission to do the interview from head office, a process that took around 2 hours.

That doesnít sound too bad does it? Turning around an interview request in 2 hours?

But Iím not so sure that delaying an interview at a trade show is such a good idea. For a start, the journalist involved could easily have lost interest. While this didnít actually happen, they were certainly bemused at least, otherwise they wouldnít have been complaining to me in the first place.

Secondly, any perception they may have had that the executive concerned was senior and able to represent the organisation went out the window. After all, either the company wasnít sure the executive should be trusted to make a decision about talking to the media, or the executive wasnít sure whether he would be trusted by the organisation. Whichever it was, itís not exactly a ringing endorsement.

It reminds me of that old media training adage: "Always buy time in a crisis." While everyone knows that responding quickly to a crisis is paramount, itís even more important not to blow it in the first 5 minutes. Perhaps the executive was buying time to get his story straight. Almost certainly, he was being very careful to protect his right royal behind. But to quote FIFAís Sepp Blatter: "What is a crisis?" Certainly not being asked for an interview at a trade show. That is what is known in the PR trade as an opportunity.

So, on to my main and more substantive point. What if the person interviewing the executive was not a journalist at all? What if they were a blogger, vlogger or even just an avid tweeter? Would the executive still need to ask permission in order to talk to them?

Remember, this was happening at a trade show at the companyís stand. Imagine, someone come up to your stand and asks you a question about your companyís products. They have a smartphone Ė no great surprise, it was a technology exhibition. Before answering their questions, should you ask whether they are intending to post the answers online? Of course not! But whatís to stop them?

Whatís to stop anyone from asking the executive a series of questions and then posting the whole thing on the Internet? Nothing. So what is the executive supposed to do. Not answer any questions at a trade show? Or, perhaps, to only answer questions after asking permission from head office? "Just wait there, young man, while I have a chat to my superiors. Iíll get back to you shortly Ö or within two hours at least. Can I get the list of questions from you first, by the way?"

Itís an interesting thought experiment, if you like, illustrating the challenges companies face in dealing with social media. The bigger problem, of course, is that they are challenged in dealing with the media in general. The ubiquity and possibilities of social media just make it more glaringly obvious.

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