On Friday, I got a call from a PR friend of mine, asking for my thoughts s one of her clients was the subject of TV investigations. I thought it might be useful to share her problem, and the advice that I offered.
The client had received an email from someone purporting to be from a TV company.
In it, he asked her for evidence that the methods she used in her business worked (she’s a therapist) and told her that if she didn’t provide that evidence, a ‘segment’ would be broadcast about her methods in a programme in a few weeks time.
No details of which channel the programme would be broadcast on. No information about what the programme was. No details of what he actually did or who he worked for (he had a hotmail account) other than the name of a very very large holding company. No information about what allegations he was planning to make.
My PR friend asked my advice about how to respond to TV investigations. She had already Googled the chap and found nothing.
If he is what he says he is – a journalist working on a TV programme – this is extremely unusual. Most will pop up on Linked In, on a production company website, on programme credits, on IMDB, on Journalisted or elsewhere.
I suggested that they asked the chap for the following information – and if he didn’t supply it, they may be able to dismiss him as a crank, but depending on his answer, they may be able to consider taking action. I’m pretty certain (though don’t quote me) that the manner of his approach thus far is in breach of broadcasting guidelines, so they would probably have a good case.
1. What channel/programme/production company does he work for?
2. What is his role – researcher, assistant producer, producer, editor, executive producer?
3. Who is the executive producer or editor of the programme? This is the person who will have overall responsibility for the output.
4. What is the name of the programme that is investigating her client?
If this information is forthcoming, then they should contact the company/programme and ask if he did indeed work for them and if he was indeed working on such a programme.
5. When is the programme due to be broadcast?
6. What is the duration and style of the programme – is it a documentary, a consumer undercover investigation, factual entertainment, a magazine show?
7. Is her company the only one being covered/investigated?
8. What subject areas is the programme covering?
9. What are the specific allegations he is making?
10. Who else is he talking to? It’s important to know who might be in the programme – others working in the same field and also being ‘accused’, patients, authorities.
I also wondered if he had tried to ring her client, and if he had asked for an interview.
When I worked on consumer investigations for the BBC, we had a very strict protocol, and in the first instance we’d always ring and ask for an interview, then send two letters, by recorded delivery with a set interval of time between them, and then doorstep them.
We had to be clear what any allegations were, and set out the evidence, but were not obliged to show the subject any footage we had.
Once my friend and her client knew what they were up against, they could then decide the next step.
If his his approach was breaching regulations, they could contact Ofcomm.
If there was any substance to the allegations, they then had to decide how to respond.
It would be very damaging to give no response. A ‘no comment’ instantly makes an organisation appear to have something to hide or as if they are guilty.
They could give a statement – but this can also be risky. The programme producers has no obligation to show all of it, and they can decide which bits to show. This would then be voiced over by a presenter, who would have the freedom to give the words whatever intonation or emphasis they chose.
Alternatively, they could agree to give an interview on the programme. The problem is that if they face a very aggressive and accomplished interviewer, and have not done any interviews before, this can be difficult to cope with.
However, if they are clear and confident about what they want to say, and comes across as sincere, then that may be ok. Of course, media and crisis communications training can help with preparing for such an interview.
We regularly give strategic advice to clients who are going to be featured on TV programmes.
If your organisation is in this position, it is well worth asking for the help of broadcast professionals who know how the system works and can help you present yourself in the best possible light.