Crisis Management 101: Facing the Media By Ron Wood
Every business small or large must be ready in advance to respond to the media in a crisis. A crisis is defined as any situation that threatens or could possibly threaten to harm people or property, interrupt business, damage reputation or negatively impact share value.
Preplanning for a crisis is crucial. You must have within the context of your business continuity plan a section outlining specific steps to take when addressing the media. Once a negative situation has already developed, it is too late, as it can take a firm several years to recover from a crisis handled poorly. You must be ready, willing and eager to be a problem solver and do the right thing -- swiftly and unequivocally. The media, the business community and the public largely respect those who demonstrate accountability.
The first step is to establish internal lines of communication. The first few hours of a crisis situation are chaotic. Have in place a “crisis information team” who can source, synthesize and report information directly to the company President or CEO. Designate an appropriate company spokesperson who is articulate, knowledgeable and comfortable speaking to the media. If no one in your firm fits this role, consider hiring a professional spokesperson.
Types of Crisis Situations
There are many reasons why a crisis can occur. As you can see from the following list, some are preventable and some are not. · Product recalls · Executives facing fraud or jury indictments · Workplace accidents, injuries or deaths · Workplace violence · Harassment allegations · Layoffs · Discrimination issues · Security Issues · Fire, flood or other catastrophic events · Natural disasters
Taking Control First, assess the specifics of your situation to better control it. The crisis information team should gather, synthesize and report all pertinent information to company leadership. Lay out specifically who, what, where, when, how and why… what is known, what is still unknown, the cause, possible negative effects, and remedies you are examining. Establish if there is a corporate policy for the specific situation. If yes, go over the policy with the spokesperson. Do a mock interview before the media actually gets involved.
Do not avoid the media. Give them face time. Adopting a strategy of routinely hiding from the media can be a fatal flaw in your corporate policy. Hiding causes the media to seek out other sources within your industry for comment. Do you really want your competitors appraising your situation, criticizing your business and possibly profiting from your misfortune? No.
Answering Questions Anticipating all of the reporter’s questions is rarely possible, but be prepared for the basic who, what, where, when and why. If you honestly do not know an answer, admit it. Do not guess. Assess the time it will take to get the answer and request that time to get back with the specifics. Understand the reporter's challenge; their competence is assessed not only by accuracy of what they write, but how timely they can deliver the piece. The pressure of deadlines and not being able to verify vital information can cause misquotes or ambiguous references which may not be complimentary. With ongoing pressure from an editor, even the best journalists may fail to maintain complete objectivity.
There will be times when professional legal representation is necessary to address technical or highly confidential issues. The spokesperson should remain dignified, calm and authoritative at all times. Just speaking in a calm manner can go a long way in diffusing a negative situation. Do not hide behind technical jargon, blame or go off on tangents. Never say "No comment." The essence of public relations is dealing with perceptions. You might think that all you have to say is, "No comment" when trouble occurs and everything will be ok. Not so. The perception is and always will be, GUILTY.
Always be available for follow-up questions.
By treating the media with respect, they can help you to disseminate accurate, timely information about your firm to the audiences on which your business depends. Use the lessons learned from the crisis to identify any weak points in your company’s policies or operations. Sometime a crisis presents an opportunity for positive change. Feel-good stories about businesses that recover from a crisis are always sought after by editors.
Getting It Right When dealing with the media in a crisis, remember these five things: 1. Prepare in advance by establishing a business continuity plan. 2. Establish a crisis information team and the chain of command. 3. React swiftly and demonstrate accountability. 4. Speak honestly with the media and be available for follow-up questions. 5. Use the lessons learned from the crisis to improve your operations.