A strict “media policy” on who can speak to journalists only works if those who do speak are good at it, and free to use their skills.
Muffin Break illustrated the weakness recently when media inquiries about “maggots” in a chicken wrap were referred up to its national office by the Upper Hutt outlet.
When the office finally responded to media a day later, it possibly did worse than the outlet manger would have done themselves. For example, the office fell back on the phrase rendered insincere from overuse: “[it] takes this type of matter very seriously”. The clumsiness was underlined by over-reacting with the claim that it was “deeply shocked”, and the redundant assertion that it “follows and enforces strict hygiene and food preparation regulations at all times”.
In contrast, when McDonald’s got hammered for a “mouldy” eggs, its national spokesperson addressed the issue specifically. He explained that it could not be mould because “Our eggs are freshly cracked in restaurant…” so “it looks most likely that there is an excess of carbon on the egg.”
He apologised to the customer only “for the carbon, as our grill cleaning processes mean it should not build up in this quantity.”
Media policies are not a guarantee that your organisation can deal with tough issues. They work only if they’re a way of ensuring that media deal with the best communicator. If they only lead media to executives bound in organisational red tape, dullness and obfuscation, it is worse than having no policy at all.