The single most important Public Relations resource your debt collection agency possesses is pouring a cup of coffee in the break room as you read this.
I cannot count how many times I’ve taken a reporter inside a debt collection agency and introduced him or her to the collections staff, then watched as the reporter came away amazed that debt collectors are regular, everyday people.
You can almost hear the reporter’s thought process: Wait! Where are the angry, bald guys with nose rings and tattoos? Where are the bitter, mean-spirited monsters who spend all day screaming at people on the phone and making consumers cry?
It never fails. When you show a reporter that your debt collection agency employs everyday people who take their kids to soccer practice after work like everybody else, those negative stereotypes about our industry seem to dissipate right in front of your eyes.
Best of all, the news stories become more balanced, because viewers have a hard time buying into negative stereotypes when the people on camera representing our industry are so down to earth, easygoing and likable.
How it Works
Consumer attorneys come armed with the same set of “Can you believe the collector said that?!” tapes and tap into the existing bias and stereotypes when they approach the media for a story.
Then, playing right into their hands, too often we’ll send an agency owner or industry “spokesperson” on camera to respond, and it ends up being like watching a lamb led to the slaughter.
After all, how is a well-to-do agency owner or professional spokesperson in a suit and tie expected to connect with an audience and extract sympathy for our side?
But imagine this: How do viewers believe the negative stereotypes about our industry when they see a young, single mother of three talking about how she received a thank you note and flowers from a consumer she helped through a trying financial time? Or when a well-spoken young man who’s working his way through college talks about how he’s learning more people skills, problem solving and business savvy from his shifts on the collection floor than he does during the day inside a classroom?
You see, it’s hard to hate an entire profession and buy into a negative stereotype when you’re forced to look into its eyes and see your next door neighbor staring back at you.
Agencies Are Gun Shy
I know many collection agencies are hesitant to even speak to a reporter, let alone expose front-line staff to the white hot spotlight of the press. And for good reason – plenty of hit pieces are done every year on our industry. When a reporter or TV station has an obvious axe to grind or angle they want to work, it wouldn’t matter if Mother Theresa was on your collections staff – the story is going to be slanted against you.
So you need to know who you’re dealing with. Depending on your market, you usually know which TV News stations and/or reporters are the “gotcha” types, and which ones are more legitimate and balanced in their coverage.
Assuming it falls into the latter category, or even if it is a “gotcha” type reporter, I always believe that engaging with a reporter is better than having the story run without any input whatsoever from your end. Often, silence or refusal to speak comes across to the audience as an admission that the allegations are true.
The key is to trust your staff – trust they will speak from the heart and acquit themselves well. Yes, some media training or coaching is helpful, but not too much – you don’t want your employees thinking too much or sounding rehearsed during a conversation with a reporter.
The bottom line is this: You need to tell your story. Because if you don’t, nobody else will. And when your agency does speak, you need to use REAL people. I cannot emphasize that enough!
Remember: Nobody is better positioned to tell your agency’s story than your collectors. They are in the trenches. They have the real-world experience and real-life stories that can change the entire tone of an interview and put a reporter on his or her heels.
After all, your people are what set you apart from everyone else. It’s true in how your collection agency does business, and it’s especially true in how you can choose to handle PR.
YOUR TURN: Have you ever used members of your collections staff in a media interview? How did it go? What did you learn as a result? Did you give them any training or coaching ahead of time?
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- The Science of ARM Marketing: Content
- Marketing and Brand Management Guide for the ARM Industry
- 5 Steps to Protect Your Image as a Debt Collector