Should you ever take on the media if you feel wronged?

There has been a great deal of controversy this week following a Daily Mail article which accused the father of Labour leader Ed Miliband of being a traitor.

A renowned left-wing thinker, a diary entry by Ralph Miliband was used as the hook for the article.

Ed Miliband complained and was given the right of reply, writing a full response in the Daily Mail a couple of days later. 

The former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell then went on Newsnight to debate the issue, which deteriorated into a shouting match which many on Twitter likened to the political parody The Thick of It. 

There are of course times when responding in the strongest possible terms may be appropriate - and there are others where doing so only increases the debate around an issue that might otherwise not become so newsworthy.

It is important to ask yourself whether the story is accurate and whether it is in any way revelatory.

Even if it is entirely true, contains no new information and you have been given adequate time to respond, the temptation will be to react quickly.

Whenever a story is planned or is published, ask yourself some key questions.

  1. What is the worst case scenario? Will you lose customers, clients, employees, voters or share value?
  2. Will the story endure or is it likely to have a short shelf life?
  3. Will the story fundamentally change opinions of you?

By trying to over-protect your brand and take on the media, you can often create more of a public relations crisis than the original story itself.

Companies tend to make matters worse by trying to inflict a counter-opinion on the public immediately after that initial negative story.

This posturing provides credibility to the original story, reversing the intended effect of crisis management.

When you hear a story is planned, ensure your crisis management strategy is robust.

That should include checking facts with the media and providing additional information which should improve the positioning of the story. Remain cordial with media at all times because trying to bully them rarely ends well. 

If your partners, employees, clients or other stakeholders are not mentioning the story to you, ask yourself whether it would really be beneficial to respond.

If you do decide to go ahead, it is often worthwhile approaching another media outlet to get your side of the story out - as Ed Miliband did with an interview in the London Evening Standard.

Social media means that everyone expects an instant reaction to any story - and in times of serious crisis, this is still essential.

But it is always important before reacting to assess the situation and ask yourself: Will a strong response do more harm than good?