Today's media--friend or foe?

Author:Crabtree, Keith A.

We've all heard the joke: You know it's going to be a bad day when you show up for work and a news team is waiting outside your office. If you are a CEO or communications professional, it's no joke. Not affected as a Board member or co-op employee? Think again. In this article we share some insight on the importance of the media to the co-op and some thoughts from the media on communication by cooperatives.

An important component of any company's overall corporate strategy is the establishment and maintenance of its corporate reputation and the nurturing of relationships with customers and significant stakeholders.

For cooperatives, the member-consumer tie is strong. There are, however, other stakeholders/audiences that the cooperative must engage in the course of doing business. Those include the media, regulators, legislators, and other special interest groups that may wield influence on the cooperative's operations.

It is not simply in times of crisis that interaction with representatives of the media is important. How your cooperative is portrayed in the media, on issues that may range from the rates you charge to your involvement in community activities, will be noted by consumers, policy makers, and potential new business customers. And everyone at the cooperative--from the Board, management, and employees--who has the potential to interact with the media will influence the story that appears. When there are troubles that may reach the press, it is invaluable to have cultivated good relationships with the media.

A good case in point occurred several years ago in Ohio when deregulation reared its ugly head. I contacted the news director at a local TV station in Columbus. I had several casual conversations with him previously, beginning to build a relationship. He had come to Columbus from the Carolinas. His comment to me on this occasion was, "Whenever we have storms in the Carolinas, you guys are the one's out there getting things done. The other utilities are busy going through their paperwork and red tape and the coops are out in the countryside getting people backup and running. You are the good guys. We need to help you tell your story." We were successful in getting an eight minute interview on a Sunday news show on the same day Ohio's Customer Choice $22 million campaign broke and the cooperative's message was heard.

Dealing with the media doesn't have to be a harrowing experience. It's true, they can make or break you in terms...

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