Media training advice for Coca Cola

15 February 2013
Coca Cola has made some serious media training mistakes by strongly condemning the likelihood that the death of an Invercargill woman had anything to do with her 10 litre a day coke habit. It would be fairly obvious to most people that this must have contributed. But by taking a defensive position and expressing its disappointment that the Judge made the link between the death and Coke, the company has done itself no favours. It looks insensitive and as if it is doing all it can to deflect any criticism. From a media training perspective, they should have taken a totally different approach. Although difficult to believe after all this, the company does do some good things and appears to encourage moderation when it comes to their product. They have funded obesity campaigns and the website talks about recommended daily allowances for energy, and the importance of hydration (although they do say that caffeinated beverage contribute to hydration.) The point is that the approach to this was wrong. They should have offered their sympathy to the family of the woman, and emphasised the importance of moderation in drinking coke. They could back this up with the work they’ve been doing with obesity and other health issues. If they were a media training client of ours, we would have told them to focus on this. If asked: “Do you think Coke contributed to this death,” they could quite safely say, “We don't know, but what we can say is that we encourage moderation in the consumption of Coke.” People would accept this, as everyone knows lots of things are not good for them. But generally, most things are OK in moderation. You might die of you drink 10 litres of water a day. It’s not as if people would suddenly stop drinking Coke, and this approach would portray the company as being socially responsible. We would also encourage the company to front up on TV, rather than just issuing a statement. If their message was right, and their spokesperson had undertaken media training, this would have been far more credible. In fact, this is one of those situations where the company could have grown its credibility. But, in dealing with it the wrong way and being defensive, it’s done the complete opposite.

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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