Crisis Management and the Media

Once you know how you’re going to deliver your message, ensure your PR and executive team utilize specific policies and procedures for managing the media. Some of these issues are often overlooked, and during a crisis, executives and senior leaders tend to react more than plan – and that’s not a good thing.

As one simple example, if you’re going to have a media briefing, make certain it’s not too close to your corporate headquarters or the offices of the crisis communications team. Don’t let the media get into the center of the activity going on “behind the scenes.” If the crisis is not related to the organization, make certain the media briefing location is convenient for the media, the PR team, and anyone else who will participate.

The PR team should also consider a secondary spot for one-on-one interviews. Consider the backdrop, and lighting, and access to restrooms, good cellular reception, etc. This way, you can do more in a shorter period of time, keeping your team on track relative to managing the crisis.

If you have policies in place relative to working with the media, keep them in place. Escorts, sign-in or registration, etc. should all be maintained. It’s very important that whenever possible, you track who from the media said what, did what, and attended your briefings. You then have the opportunity to follow up and ensure the proper information is distributed to those who need to have it.

Any change in the way the media is dealt with during a crisis may change the views of the reporter. It is important that they feel that you aren’t trying to hide anything.

Reporters may ask to speak to staff or at a school, faculty or students who are involved with or have been affected by the crisis. It is best to restrict all interviews to the primary spokesperson, back-up spokesperson or technical expert. Controlling the interview process is key to managing the crisis.

However, remember that reporters have the right to interview anyone they want to and if they don’t get the answers they want from you they will get them from another source. In addition, professionally trained reporters will seek a second source. And, reporters want a different angle than the reporter standing next to them. If the possibility is there to provide them with what they want, consider it very carefully. All media should be treated equally. What is given to one (such as access to an area effected by the crisis) should be available to all media.

Don’t volunteer information unless it is a point the organization wants to make and the question hasn’t been asked.

Don’t talk off the record.

If you don’t communicate immediately, you lose your greatest opportunity to control events. Your first news release should include at a minimum the who, what, when and where of the situation.

You must give the facts that have been gathered from reliable sources and confirmed. Don’t over reach and don’t speculate. There is a limit to your role. To exceed that limit is a mistake. If you do nothing more than show concern for the public and for your employees in your first press briefing, you are already on the right track. The corollary of expressing concern and generating good will at the consumer level is securing the loyalty of your customers and employees by taking the initiative to share information with them. If your employees and customers don’t feel like insiders, they are going to act like outsiders.

You must have a prepared statement on hand that can be used to make an initial general response to the media when knowledge about the crisis first becomes known on a widespread basis or by reporters.

As the crisis progresses and new information and facts become available, it is also advisable to develop prepared statements to be made by the spokesperson at the onset of any media interview, briefing or news conference.

These prepared statements also can be read over the telephone to reporters who call to request information but are not represented at news conferences or briefings. The statement can also be sent by FAX or e-mail upon request.

Lastly, consider the power of social media. Tools that include Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, and other apps can be essential components of a crisis management solution. However, the use of social media is perhaps different than any other component, because you can use it as a two-way crisis management tool.

Consider the pizza chain Dominos as an example of social media excellence in crisis management. Dominos has had some challenges with their customers, often being called tone deaf in the face of complaints. The company took an important direction forward when they revamped their crisis management plan, and added social media to the program. When a rash of complaints hit the company over the quality of their product and the time it took to arrive (delivery), they not only stepped up front using social media to acknowledge the quality issue, but they put their customers at the forefront of fixing the problem. “What do you want us to do?” was a powerful question to ask, and their customers responded. Today, you can track your pizza online from order to delivery. Dominos created a solution that not only fixed an important issue, but made the pizza delivery process more interactive and personal.

Because anyone can issue a tweet, or use Facebook, it’s essential that the crisis team bring in any and all personnel who may have access to the public and lay down the law regarding the use of tools and discretion or policy related to such use. Don’t let the CEO/Leader continue to issue tweets unless they are part of the plan. Don’t let the marketing or sales team continue to populate Facebook or use social media tools unless they’re part of the plan.

And assign a team member to monitor all social media outlets for hashtags, Facebook posts, photos, locations, etc. issued by the media, customers, or others. These communications should be reviewed and rapidly responded to by authorized PR staff. Social media accelerates the speed with which public communications take place, and it can be both a hindrance or a powerful publicity tool, depending on how you use it.

Finally, there are some important messages from our series on crisis management that you should consider overall, including:

  • Make a plan – If you don’t have a crisis management plan in place, create one. Consider the most likely scenarios for a crisis in your organization and build a plan.
  • Listen – It’s essential to listen across platforms for developing issues and what your customers want and need.
  • Tone – Employ empathy, humor and/or authenticity in your management of the crisis. It will go a long way to resolve conflict and diffuse tense situations.
  • Leadership – Leading by example is key, and creates an organizational culture that leads to successful resolutions of crises.
  • Follow through – If you make a promise, keep it. This is as simple as planning the next press briefing, or delivering a requested report to an oversight committee. Whatever you promise will help you establish accountability and leadership.

We encourage our clients to speak with us regarding their crisis related issues, most notably the planning and preparation process. We can support you with video training, practice, planning and support.

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