A recent exchange between CNBC Mad Money host/stock market revivalist preacher Jim Cramer and Edward Libby, CEO of AIG, illustrates one of several ways that individuals and organizations can fight back when they perceive a media comment to be inaccurate, misleading or downright libelous.
As one of the companies that has been bailed out during the ongoing financial crisis, AIG is bound to get its share of criticism. But after its federal loans had been secured, TV financial host Jim Cramer went far off the deep end regarding AIG when he implored his viewers: “We should hound them in the supermarket, we should hound them in the ballpark, we should hound them everywhere they are. We should make fun of them and we should point fingers at them and we should tell them that you have no shame.”
Cramer, who rarely is accused of subtlety and understatement, was perhaps inciting his audience to take our their frustrations against the regular AIG employees, not just senior management. In the old days, Libby would have been relegated to a letter to the editor (and perhaps a nasty letter from the company attorneys), but in this case Libby responded immediately on a Wall Street Journal blog and other online forums.
Libby wrote: “Those comments are outrageous. I demand they be retracted and that you apologize to AIG’s employees. It is one thing to criticize the executive leadership of AIG—that’s fair commentary. But it is way out of bounds to incite people to confront and harass other AIG employees—hard-working, dedicated people who are running good businesses and are committed to our success. The employees of AIG did not cause this mess, but they are paying for it—in diminished 401k savings and in some job losses as we sell companies to repay the federal loan. The irony is that AIG employees did not cause the problem, but they will solve it. For that they deserve our praise and our gratitude.”
While we don’t know enough about what really happened at AIG, or what continues to occur as the firm rapidly draws on the federal loans, Libby acted quickly and appropriately for his employees and shareholders. Cramer did back off his statements as a result of the direct pressure.
The Cramer example was a bit out of the ordinary since Libby wasn’t responding to factual statements by Cramer. Rather, this was a direct response to Cramer’s opinions and invective. But if the comments from Cramer were more fact-based, what would Libby’s other media options have been?
1. Work directly with the reporter and news outlets. Many reporters have blogs, and most columnists have comment sections. Make sure that you post comment to correct or add information to articles and analysis. Calls to editors should be saved for the most extreme situations. Most reporters do not like getting it wrong; their credibility is based upon accurate reporting of facts. The disputes usually are not about the facts, but the context of the facts.
2. Take advantage of reporters who follow up on the original story. Since some media pros like to be contrarians, you can work with the next reporter who contacts you on the subject. It’s not a good tactic to bash or overly criticize another journalist. The better approach is to suggest: “I thought Joe Smith did an interesting piece. Here are a couple points he didn’t cover...” Another option: “I read Mr. Smith’s piece. Here’s what has changed since his original article.” If you can help a reporter advance a story or bring up another aspect of a subject, you can get your side of the story out at the same time. Also line up third parties who agree with your point of view.
3. Use your Web site, blog and intranets. Don’t use these outlets for minor mistakes, but for major factual mistakes or perceived distortions; post a response on the Web site. The main risk of this approach: It furthers discussion on a subject that might have faded quickly. Depending on the subject, some companies will post videos on their Web sites to counter news stories.
4. What about advertising? There’s nothing wrong with this tactic, but it tends not to be as credible as the above strategies. However, a full-page ad in an important trade, business or consumer publication can increase the actual and perception of the response.
Usually the best strategy with the most outrageous commentators and bloggers is to let it pass. In AIG’s case, it was clear a response was necessary and appropriate. PRN
This article was written by Andy Gilman, CEO of CommCore Consulting Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via his new MEDIAtor blog, www.commcoreconsulting.com/blog.