OPINION: Make sure the press receives the right story

GERALDINE PEACOCK, is chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Many people, not just within the third sector, are understandably wary of speaking to journalists. The anecdotes about stitch-ups, misquotes and misrepresentations are legion. But the need for all of us in the sector to overcome a reluctance to engage with the press has never been greater.

We need to tell our story.

By learning how to work with the media we can ensure that our organisations are represented fairly and keep the public informed about what we really do.

Choosing not to talk will usually, except in difficult circumstances, harm an organisation, especially if it is made to look secretive, or dismissive of public interest and opinion. The potential for sympathetic treatment will evaporate and the starting point for future stories may well be a negative one. Good "scandal" dies hard.

Talking to the media is not just about managing or avoiding criticism.

The media is also in a unique position to educate millions of people about what we do. The Sun has a daily readership of more than nine million people while TV only occasionally tops this audience figure. We need to invest in developing our skills to engage the media about what we do, why we do it and how. We need to get smarter at packaging our own messages in a way that makes them newsworthy and informative.

That way, if a crisis occurs, it is less likely to spiral because journalists who are engaged will check and we - ready with our facts - can provide accurate, immediate information.

All this may be old news for larger charities that have in-house media relations departments, or employ external communications agencies. Smaller voluntary organisations often cannot afford such investment and may struggle to either get coverage when they need it, or refute "unfair" tittle-tattle.

Surely this is a great opportunity for large and small voluntary organisations in the same field to work better together.

Perhaps New Year resolution number one (a little early this year, but it's best to be prepared) is for us to stop pointing the finger of suspicion at the press. We need to invest in creating our own news. It is quite possible for all publicity to be good publicity, but it is up to us to manage that.

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