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Just over a week ago, dozens of coach passengers found themselves at the centre of a terror alert after a concerned passenger dialled 999 on their mobile because they had seen smoke coming from a fellow passenger’s bag.
17 police cars and vans, 13 fire engines, four ambulances and the military all descended on the southbound M6 Toll plaza in Staffordshire and after four long hours, the cause of the smoke was confirmed to be from an electronic cigarette.
The chaos left thousands of motorists delayed and the motorway closed for more than six hours before police finally revealed the cause of the alert – an electronic cigarette.
This made me wonder….is any press exposure good press exposure? The whole incident was played out minute by minute on all major news channels and the following day the story dominated the headlines in the national press.
Although the authorities have since faced allegations of ‘gross over-action’, the driver of the Megabus en route from Preston to London has been praised for his professionalism and calm manner. Furthermore, more has been written about electronic cigarettes and how they work over the past week than when they first came onto the market.
The measure of a successful PR campaign is if the right messages are being reiterated about your client by the right people and at the right time. However, no matter how excellent a PR campaign may be, the reality is that there are some incidents like the Megabus story, which can’t be controlled or predicted.
In the event of an incident of this scale, all any PR professional worth their salt can do is to advise his or her client to stay calm, be proactive and available for interview and handle the incident with the care, compassion and control it deserves. In fact, it is during major incidents like this one, where a company is suddenly propelled into the media spotlight, where sound PR support can make all the difference.
Not all PR is good PR. Some stories can bring a company crashing to its knees. What is important to remember though, is that the hallmark of a great company is not whether it is or isn’t ever involved in stories like this one, but how it behaves and reacts if it is.
I’ve been asked to write a blog entry. I’ve got nothing of any importance to say and, worse of all, nothing that anyone should waste their time reading. But as we have a blog it needs to be kept up to date, and in the absence of anything worth reading, with utter drivel.
And that says everything about the digital age. The cost barriers to becoming a publisher in the digital age are next to nothing, and so any wannabe journalist can tap away on their keyboards.
Does anyone read the nonsense that most of them churn out? Does anyone care what people say on their blog? In most cases, the answer is almost certainly no.
But occasionally, one of those wannabe journalist’s followers could be a real journalist – one who writes for an influential trade website or, perhaps, a national newspaper.
And there are cases when major national stories that have been damning of a company or product have started from a blog written on a kitchen computer.
The threat that this poses means that those of us in the communications industry need to be aware of these new digital threats to an organisation’s reputation and put in place strategies to ensure that online content is monitored and issues dealt with before they can escalate.
With the numbers of people posting content soaring, it’s clear that monitoring and responding to bloggers can be a burden for any organisation, but can such reputational threats be buried under the carpet?
Online should be treated like any other channel of communication. The first step to addressing the challenge is to identify which bloggers carry influence. Fortunately, there are tools and people to help.