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Posted on 09.08.2011

Knowing when it’s your turn to talk: A reality check for toddlers....and CEOs

As the mother of an (almost) two-year-old, taking turns is a frequent topic of conversation in my house. We’re still working on mastering the fine art of sharing but – despite an occasional “my turnnnn!”-induced meltdown – it’s a concept my toddler innately seems to grasp. Aside from the occasional aggressive driver and that guy in the Southwest boarding line who pretends he didn’t see you, most adults seem to understand when it’s their turn as well. However, even the most fundamental lesson can be forgotten in the glare of the media spotlight. I was reminded of this recently when working with a hospital client that had been involved – ever so indirectly – in an unfortunate event that generated quite a bit of media attention. While I can’t       share the details, I can tell you that the hospital did not cause the event, nor were any of its personnel involved. As news crews descended upon the hospital’s campus, the CEO – who understands the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with local media – began preparing for an on-camera interview. Normally, this would be the right move. We often blog about the do’s and don’ts of media relations and the importance of being accessible – especially in times of crisis. Yet, speaking out on news that isn’t “your’s” can sometimes do more harm than good. Rather than respond to inquiries – and become the de facto point of information about this event, we advised the CEO to provide minimal information off camera and politely refer media to the local authorities for more detailed answers. As a result, the hospital was largely excluded from media coverage – likely a different outcome than if the CEO had gone through with the interview. By acknowledging the incident without assuming ownership of it, the hospital made the best out of a bad situation. Yet, sometimes the lines aren’t as clear. When something bad happens to someone we know – even indirectly – it’s human nature to want to help by providing information and even expressing sorrow or regret. Apologies are appropriate in many cases, however they can backfire in others. While there are no “textbook” answers in public relations, it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of each media request carefully. Stop and ask yourself “is it my turn to talk?” Sometime the answer will surprise you. Photo by: Maggie Smith  

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