NEGATIVE HEADLINES: THE IMPORTANCE OF PROACTIVE MEDIA RELATIONS AND MESSAGE DEVELOPMENT
Most people know intuitively that eating healthy food is a good thing; one generally doesn't associate a negative news headline associated with it. But at a time when the state of the economy has consumers tightening their family budgets, the questions is, at what price will they still opt for healthier fare?
Consider a recent Reuters story headlining a study proclaiming that eating healthy food costs consumers more money in the US. This is not the type of headline that enterprises associated with pricier healthy eating and food products – health food stores, organic and local farmers, high-end specialty grocers – would wish for in the current economic climate.
The article quoted a survey in which the healthier items bought at a grocery store cost more than a less healthy diet higher in saturated fats and sugar – a somewhat obvious finding from a legitimate survey. But significantly, the article did note that the study concentrated only on grocery items and failed to include the cost of unhealthy fast-food in its cost matrix..a factor that likely would have mitigated the cost differential. Yet, that fact in the story didn’t soften the headline, or its potential lasting impact on casual reader/consumers.
Which brings us to a media truth: news loves controversy, and will look for it whenever it can especially if it can be combined with a trend story, another news media staple.
This story underscores the importance of ongoing proactive media relations and proper message development to respond to publicized facts or claims that damage a sector, enterprise, product or individual:
· - If a media contact at an organization involved in advocated or producing healthy foods had been front-of-mind, perhaps the reporter would have reached out to him or her before publishing or posting the article. That, in turn, might have led to a softening of the headline.
· - To be able to respond quickly, that media contact would have had to have sound bites and factoids ready in advance to counter immediately most potential challenges to the importance of a healthy diet. Assessing potential harmful challenges and preparing up-to-date responses in advance that are rooted in proper message development, pertinent data proofs, and supportive "visual" stories or analogies is crucial to such a scenario.
· - Even if the reporter did NOT reach out prior to publication, a spokesperson should call them on it and supply them with information that might make them write a follow-up article, or include the organization’s view in another piece. A letter to the editor, online comment, or op-ed article would be another tactic.
How would you advise your client to react to this story if they were in the healthy food business?