Adapting to changing media needs

September 2016

Media trainer PETE BURDON says retirement village operators and aged care providers must adapt to the changing needs of digital news media.


Pete burdonSome leaders in the retirement and aged care industries have attracted negative media publicity over recent years because they have been unaware of the changing needs of the news media.

Most leaders avoid the media like the plague for fear of being misquoted, quoted out of context, or humiliated at the hands of an aggressive interviewer. This fear is nothing new, but many are unaware of the changes they need to make when dealing with reporters in the age of social media and the internet.

Speed of response

An important change is the speed with which you must respond to media requests when it’s an issue that could damage your reputation. This could be an allegation about staff that’s likely to be false, or something more serious like a minivan crash causing death or serious injury to residents.

I often hear clients in the aged care industry say the news media is not a priority and they can wait. I agree that in an emergency or crisis, other stakeholders are the priority. But the media must be a close second for good reason.

Firstly, the media will produce stories about your issue whether you are in them or not. If you are not available, the story will probably be one-sided against you and be full of misinformation or speculation.

Your contribution is likely to read something like, “The CEO refused to comment”. You’ll agree that’s not a great look, even if you are busy doing more important things.

The story will then spread through social media like wildfire where you will be accused of either not knowing what is happening, or not caring. This will damage your reputation and bottom line.

The answer is to know how to prepare a message quickly and have messages ready to go at a moment’s notice on issues that could blow up.

Shortness of message

If there is an incident like a serious minivan crash causing death, you can’t hide behind a media statement. You need to front up to cameras. Some leaders have been trained to do this, while others are unprepared.

But things have changed over recent years; nowadays you need to select a few points you want to get across in the interview and be able to sum them up in about eight seconds each. This requires a new set of skills. 

If you can’t make your points in that time, you run the risk of being misquoted or quoted out of context.

Remember that journalists will only use snippets of what you say. That’s why you must be as brief as possible and be skilled at coming back to your key points regularly. These are the new rules of the media interview.


Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Bill RalstonIt was Warren Buffet who once said, “It can take 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about it, you’ll do things differently.”

Media trainer Bill Ralston believes retirement village operators and aged care providers need to be mindful of this when things go wrong and the media swoop. Ralston shared his advice for delegates at the recent Retirement Villages Association conference in Auckland.

Among his tips was that managers, when approached by the media by telephone, should feign that they’re just about to go into a meeting, but ask what the phone call is about and who else has been approached. This allows some information to aid the hour of ‘damage control’ that ensues before returning the phone call.

If something major has gone wrong and an apology is warranted, Ralston recommends operators publicly say sorry and in doing so, convey empathy and sympathy if appropriate.

However, ‘sorry’ on its own isn’t sufficient. Any apology needs to be followed by what they’re doing to address the problem.

When crisis strikes, Ralston believes there is an advantage to establishing your position quickly, clearly and effectively. If you don’t spell out your position, the danger is that your competitors will do it for you.

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