“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” – Proverbs 18:17
Let me state up front that I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the facts related to the PR issue I’m about to discuss, so I don’t know which party is right and which is wrong—or whether the truth lies somewhere in between.
What I can say is that Soles4Souls’ response to a negative front-page story about it in The Tennessean newspaper, which was also picked up by USA Today, is a model for how to fight back when you feel you’ve been unfairly portrayed in the news media.
Soles4Souls is a non-profit charitable organization. According to its mission statement, “Soles4Souls collects new shoes to give relief to the victims of abject suffering and collects used shoes to support micro-business efforts to eradicate poverty.”
While the details are too involved to go into here, The Tennessean article makes Soles4Souls appear deceptive in some of its practices. “Millions of pairs of used shoes donated to Soles4Souls…don’t go directly to the impoverished people the charity says it is helping,” the paper states.
Soles4Souls’ statement about the article, which is posted on the non-profit’s Web site, was thorough, factual and measured, with a minimum of emotion or defensiveness attached to it.
Here’s a sample from Soles4Soul’s response:
• “The gist of the [Tennessean] micro-enterprise article is that Soles4Souls has not talked openly about its micro-enterprise program. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We are proud of our micro-enterprise efforts, which have enabled us to increase the number of people we serve and is consistent with social enterprise undertaken by the US government and [the] nation’s leading nonprofits. In 2009, we discussed the program in an article published by The Tennessean! Although the article no longer appears on The Tennessean’s website, you can read it here on our site where it has been since it was published.”
Hmmm, I wonder why that 2009 article is no longer available on The Tennessean’s Web site, especially in light of the extensive story the paper did questioning this non-profit’s integrity?
There’s a good lesson in all this: When it was caught off guard by accusations about its practices, Soles4Souls didn’t panic, nor did it roll over and play dead. It took the paper’s accusations head-on, set the record straight and raised questions of its own about The Tennessean’s ethics in the way it handled the matter.
The Internet and social media have opened up effective new ways of fighting back and telling the other side if your organization or client is misrepresented.
You owe it to your stakeholders to tell the truth, admit to mistakes on your part (if applicable) and correct reporting errors. Stakeholders can be valuable goodwill ambassadors to help you set the record straight IF they know the facts.
And never, ever be afraid to take on the news media if they get out of line. Accountability, after all, is a two-way street.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.