Screen Shot 2022-02-16 at 3.39.03 PM

Preparing for Media Exposure During Your Transformation

Organizations worldwide are executing aggressive business strategies to leverage technological advances to integrate and simplify business processes, move crucial data to more secure cloud-based solutions, upgrade digital capabilities, and unify transactions across their digital footprint. These large-scale transformations often require significant resources and as such, often attract the attention of the media, public, community activists, and watchdog groups.

camera-1108604_1280These groups all have one thing in common when it comes to media exposure: the power to drive views, likes, clicks, and engagement which can quickly take on a life of its own. Whether the attention is wanted or not, it’s imperative that you are prepared if you find yourself caught up in a modern-day media frenzy. You do not want to be the next viral video for all the wrong reasons. Just as preparation is key to a successful transformation, it is also key to creating a successful media campaign with a clear communication strategy to address critical components of your change initiative.

Federal, state, and local governments, charitable organizations, and companies receiving and using taxpayer dollars, donations, or federal or state-funded grants are subject to greater media scrutiny than privately funded organizations. It's worth noting that the level of media attention can vary. When warranted, the media tend to focus on transparency in financial reporting and regulatory or legal compliance, accountability in managing resources and funding, and ensuring appropriate checks are in place to prevent fraud or wrongdoing.

In a sense, the media plays the role of fact checker, fiscal police, and town crier, highlighting the management of public funds and donations and holding organizations accountable to the public.

What to consider: Communication and Collaboration

Preparing to speak to the media about your change initiative requires robust internal communication and collaboration. The Change Manager should work closely with the Executive Sponsors to identify the individuals most suited to help prepare your project media kit. Including your Project Manager and Public Relations (PR) contact in the discussions is crucial. Organizations that fail to prepare for media exposure may experience a less than favorable impact on their reputation, customer and public trust, and profitability.

The following six tips will help prepare your team and leaders to debrief the media on your transformation project.

TIP 1: Anticipate the Questions You May be Asked and Prepare Accordingly

Take a proactive approach to the media and engage your PR team early to get their insights about the type of project-related questions they think the company may receive based on experience with previous press conferences. Examine and leverage insights from previous news articles, past press conferences or media interactions, and interviews to aid your preparations. Use these insights and anticipated project challenges to develop a risk mitigation plan that addresses potential challenges with the project and possible fallout from the media. Your risk mitigation plan is vital to address internal and external audiences should misinformation, mistakes, and/or errors occur during the transition.

Sample media questions:
  1. How will this technology benefit the stakeholders/community/donors/etc.?
  2. Why are you investing in new technology now?
  3. How much money are you investing in this project?
  4. What steps are you taking to ensure accurate spending of taxpayer dollars or donations?
  5. How will you know your transformation is successful?
  6. How was funding approved for this project?
  7. Are you hiring consulting firms to execute your transformation? If so, how much will it cost?
  8. What checks and balances do you have in place?
  9. What challenges have you identified, and how are you addressing them?
  10. How are you preparing your employees and external business partners? How can you be sure they are ready for the change?

The scale and scope of your initiative and previous experience with the media will dictate the type of questions and responses you should prepare.

TIP 2: Prepare a High-level Project Summary

The Change Manager should work with the Project Manager and Executive Sponsor to prepare a high-level project snapshot outlining essential information about your initiative. Keep the summary concise and on one page to make it easier for the Executive Sponsors to digest and use. The summary should include the strategic priorities driving the initiative, timeline and milestones, resource and investment summary, high-impact changes, key benefits, and success criteria. It is also helpful in developing your key messages.

The executive sponsors, project leaders, and spokespersons will use this summary exclusively for internal updates and media briefs.

TIP 3: Define Your Success Criteria

When working with clients on projects, I always want to know how they define success. I typically ask the executive sponsors the following two questions.

  1. What does success look like?
  2. What three to five things need to happen or not happen to consider the project a success?

The answer to these questions should be realistic, achievable, and simple enough for everyone to understand, support, and identify, regardless of job title or responsibility.

Your success criteria may also serve as the basis for determining metrics to track and measure progress toward achieving business objectives, which may include:

  1. Number of helpdesk tickets and rate of resolution
  2. Training satisfaction rating of 85% or better
  3. Number of workarounds and manual processes
  4. Supplier satisfaction rating
  5. Number of negative or positive project-related media mentions
TIP 4: Highlight Your Readiness and Support Activities

It's imperative to demonstrate that you are taking the steps necessary to prepare employees and external business partners for changes they will experience due to your initiative. It is advisable to keep a one-page readiness and support summary to highlight these activities and resources.

TIP 5: Pick the Right Spokesperson(s)

When dealing with the media, having the right spokesperson(s) will determine if your organization receives positive or negative media attention. At a minimum, your designated spokesperson(s) should meet the following criteria.

  1. Have media experience and work well under pressure.
  2. Be self-aware and possess the ability to remain calm and composed.
  3. Have a deep understanding of the organization's strategic objectives.
  4. Can effectively communicate the "why" behind the transformation, related resources, and funding management, expected benefits, and how it aligns with and supports the strategy.
  5. Understand how funding is received, approved, and managed, and be able to articulate internal audit processes to prevent misuse of funds.
  6. Share accurate and consistent information across all media platforms.
  7. Display confidence when discussing mistakes, errors, or misinformation.
TIP 6: Prepare for Less than Favorable Reactions

Some organizations experience intense, sometimes opposing, media coverage associated with using donations and taxpayer funds to acquire the services of consulting and professional service firms for the effective execution of large-scale transformations. Given the cost of these services, it is prudent to take steps to prepare for less-than-favorable media coverage.

Preparing a comprehensive communication plan that addresses financial inquiries and the utilization of consulting and professional services would be advisable. Your communication plan should include information about employee interactions with the media. Many organizations instruct their employees to decline media questions and direct all media inquiries to the PR teams. This is often the best approach to prevent confusion and sharing misinformation.

The media can improve or damage the credibility and trust that the public places in an organization. Be prepared and take the steps needed to effectively manage your media interactions by embracing open, transparent communications. Demonstrating accountability can go a long way toward proactive prevention of negative media attention and reduce the necessity for crisis management. 

Brenda Robinson is a principal consultant for Avaap’s Organizational Transformation Solutions business unit. She has broad, cross-industry experience developing and executing Organizational Change Management and Lean business strategies and solutions in government, higher education, K-12 education, and healthcare. She has led organizational change management initiatives and held leadership roles in healthcare and manufacturing focused on optimized call center operations and streamlined clinical care delivery, operational efficiencies, lean business processes, and global cost savings.