Doing the doorstep challenge – can you win when cameras arrive unannounced?

Most people over 30, remember the well-known washing powder ad, which challenged unsuspecting mums to a live clothes wash, to see whether the product delivered its ‘whiter than whites’ promise. This was a filmed doorstep where everyone was in on the gag. Viewers understood it was an advert, just as the at-home victim knew their kitchen would appear on national TV.

But, it was hard not to sympathise with the unsuspecting staff, who came face to face with BBC presenter Anita Rani as she arrived at their offices, in the climax of the recent War On Plastics. Having discovered that plastic makes up a significant portion in all wipes, baby/household/skincare and more, Rani wanted to find out why the ‘ingredient’ was not clearly labelled. And having kicked off dialogue via the press office of the biggest brands, she opted for direct action. Cue on-camera confrontation, with a mobile advertising board inviting the brands to ‘come clean’ about plastics and commit to an immediate change in packaging. Caught unawares by the presenter, with body cam and camera crew, the teams had to deliver an on-the-spot response worthy of a primetime TV slot. It was a tough job.

Off-camera, preparations for a journalistic doorstep begin way before any interview request comes to the press office. Teams can play this into a regular review of corporate and crisis communications planning. This includes:

  1. Assessing reputational risks – what are the topical issues which impact on your business and are you equipped to respond if a journalist comes knocking?
  2. Do some digging – understanding wider industry opinion and voices in the debate can help plan a credible response, avoiding pitfalls affecting the sector.
  3. Prepare for the worse – roleplay your inner investigative journalist with crisis scenario planning which tests communications and operational responses, so you can spot and fix potential weaknesses before the media calls.
  4. Are you camera-ready? – who in your team is media trained and capable of going on camera at short notice? Even having someone to say ‘We take this seriously. We are looking into it and I promise we will come back to you when we know more,’ can go a long way to maintaining credibility.

Direct action and social media, means the doorstep media challenge remains a reality. But by building and testing corporate and crisis communications plans, businesses can go a long way toward demonstrating their commitment to addressing issues which matter to customers. Few people caught on camera will appear whiter than white, but with proper preparation they can be genuine and credible.