Media trainers and crisis managers alike take note: some of the best ways to learn is to watch others mess up. Lee County Electric Cooperative provides some pretty painful lessons–and they do it on video.
I’m usually pretty sympathetic to large companies and organizations being attacked by sensationalist media stories. And I’ve advocated from time to time that sometimes you just have to take the media rascals head on. LCEC demonstrates how not to do it and what the consequences can be when you try and fail. As someone once told me, never get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Of course, ink is not the worry these days.
It is interesting that this mainstream media news story (video) began with a Facebook page called LCEC Sucks with under 10 fans. That was enough for Fox 4 to do a news story on the people who hate LCEC. Of course, all of my readers would know that the right way for LCEC to respond to this story would be:
1) Directly contact the 10, including the guy who launched the Facebook page, hear them out and see if they could resolve their gripes.
2) Get their own Facebook page and communicate clearly what they were doing to address each customers concerns and state their side of the story where appropriate.
3) Thank the TV reporters for bringing this to their attention, communicate that keeping customers happy was a top priority and tell them what they were doing to address any concerns.
They didn’t do that of course and went from snooty to snarky in a hurry. If you wait until about 4 minutes into the interview you will see the smiling PR person for LCEC make the case that having to deal with this issue and annoying reporters is making customer’s rates go up. Oh boy. I wonder what more important thing the head of PR is supposed to be doing than trying to put out a major reputation fire?
Then it gets worse because the organization decides to take the matter up the chain, to the station manager and threaten to go the station owner. Of course, Fox 4 was thrilled with this and make public to everyone the not so veiled threats if they didn’t improve their coverage.
If you are looking for some good video to show in your next media training session, unfortunately, LCEC provided some pretty good material. If you’re looking for a good case study for discussion about how to deal with negative media reports, this provides some good material.
Oh, not to be piling on, but one other big mistake. Since today this story got major play in the PR industry via Ragan’s PR Daily where I picked it up, I was quite certain the organization would be taking full advantage of their website to tell their side of the story. Sadly, it is very clear on their site how I can pay a bill, but absolutely nothing, nada, zero about this now national story.