Countdown Media Mistakes in Rodent Scandal

Posted February 14, 2024

Woolworths (Countdown owners) have made some serious media mistakes over the recent rodent sightings that won’t help them re-establish their reputation.

Firstly, in their favour they have been reasonably good at getting statements out to media about the on-going sightings and trapping of rats at the South Dunedin Supermarket. The same can be said about the mouse caught on video at their Eastgate store in Christchurch.

Statement or Interview

However, with an issue as serious as this, TV networks will inevitably want someone to talk on camera. This can be nerve-wracking for the untrained, but it’s important for two reasons. You need to show empathy to the TV audience and that can’t be done through a statement. You’ll also find that only a sentence or two from the statement will ever be quoted on TV, but if you appear, you will control a large part of the story. It may also prevent the network looking for other sources, who may not have your best interests at heart.

What made this worse

Initially after the Christchurch incident, Woolworths refused to put up a spokesperson for both of Tuesday’s breakfast TV programmes. This even led to debate on one of those shows as to why no-one appeared. This meant that Woolworths lost any sort of control of the story. If they claimed later that it was harsh on them and unbalanced, who’s to blame for that?

The next big mistake was to finally agree to appear, but on One News only and not on Newshub at 6pm. Predictably, Newshub started the story with, “Woolworths refused to appear on camera.” This not only made it look like they had something to hide, but they lost another opportunity to apologise and say what they were doing to fix the problem.

It’s never a good idea to agree to an interview with one TV network and not the other. It gives one an exclusive, while the other one will be furious and probably do you no favours next time an issue erupts or in follow-up stories on the same issue

How to be ready

To be fair to Woolworths, this isn’t uncommon. Most people run for the hills when it comes to media interviews, particularly for TV. It’s understandable because they can be daunting, especially when the stakes are high. 

But by knowing how to approach them, get your own message across and avoid the traps, they often grow a reputation, while failure to co-operate often destroys it. Remember that most people forgive, but only if they receive a genuine apology. On TV, this has to be on camera.

It's ironic that the Countdown spokesperson who fronted after the stabbings at their Dunedin Central supermarket in 2021 was praised widely for her passion and willingness to front up.

Could you end up in this position? If so, media training is the only way to be ready. It’s too late when something happens. The horse will have bolted.

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