How to Turn Round a Negative Story

It’s amazing what you can do in terms of media coverage if you’ve got a ‘can do’ PR attitude and some positive points to make. Octopus Energy came in for some stick from the Daily Mail for closing down its customer enquiry lines on Friday afternoons at 4pm so staff could ‘enjoy prosecco, bottles of Corona beer and cans of cider.’ The paper said that the customer service lines for most other energy companies remain open until at least 5pm. It quoted unnamed consumer experts saying it was ‘unforgivable’ during the current cost of living crunch, with ‘insiders’ talking about ‘boozy’ get-togethers that ‘could get a bit out of hand’.

But a few days later a full-page interview appeared in sister paper the Mail on Sunday with Octopus Energy boss Greg Jackson, whose high media profile made him of interest to readers. In this follow-up article Mr Jackson pointed out that in a competitive labour market it was important to do all he could to retain good quality staff, the implication being that this was therefore good for customers as well. Who knows what led to this comprehensive opportunity to address the criticisms, but the outcome was a positive piece of coverage for OE, that may even have had more impact than the original negative piece.

The key of course is that Mr Jackson believes he has a positive story to tell, is willing to engage with the media, and crucially, is able to express views that might actually be of interest to Mail readers – not just self-serving ‘key messages’. There’s a moral here somewhere for other business leaders. If you believe you are doing the right things for your company and its stakeholders, be willing to stand your ground and engage positively with the media – there are of course no guarantees, and you have to be willing to accept it won’t always work out for you. But, as we point out on our media training courses, you can often do a surprising amount to change editors’ minds, and reader perception.