Communicating with the Media about a Crisis
Properly communicating with the media—and, by extension, the public—during and after a crisis not only mitigates harm but also maintains trust between a company and the public.
An active shooter situation, a dam breach, a hurricane, a product malfunction, or any other type of crisis can cause significant financial loss, property damage, injuries, and even deaths. Dealing with those realized or potential losses can consume a great deal of time and resources. Communicating with the media may feel like a nuisance or an afterthought. However, failure to properly interact with the media during and after a crisis can cause a second crisis—this time a public relations crisis.
Here are seven suggestions for effective and peaceful communication with media and other stakeholders during and after a critical event.
Participate in media training before a crisis happens!
“It is too late to undertake crisis media training when the BBC and CNN are outside,” said Donald Steel, one of the world’s leading crisis communications experts. He coaches companies around the world in crisis management and previously served as the BBC’s Chief Communications Adviser. “We recommend that clients respond on social media within 15 minutes of an incident involving death, human injury, or threat to life and safety. . . . You can only do that if you plan, prepare, and rehearse.”
Nominate specific people in the organization to speak to the media in case of crisis.
Ensuring that only the appropriately trained and authorized spokespeople speak for an organization is particularly crucial during a crisis. Choose your organization spokespeople based on their position and speaking skills then give them proper training before a crisis occurs, writes Jonathan Bernstein, President of Bernstein Crisis Management.
Give the full story for every interview.
“Always act like every interview is your first,” Tangerine PR founder and chair Sandy Lindsay writes. Remember that most people will only read one article, watch one video clip, or look at one social media update about any given crisis. That’s why it’s essential to include the most important messages in every interview.
Take appropriate responsibility for the crisis.
Your organization will not be able to direct the narrative about the crisis unless it takes ownership of the crisis itself. If your organization caused harm, be honest about it. “Many companies have made mistakes, gone through crises and survived,” Lindsay writes. “Not many companies have made mistakes, lied about them, been found out and survived.”
Be prepared for participating in a conversation rather than pushing information.
Before the dawn of social media, most communication about crises was fairly one-sided. Journalists or public relations officials crafted a message and broadcasted it to the public, who received the information but had little opportunity to dialogue about it. Now, however, media consumers can comment on Facebook posts, reply to tweets, and more easily contact reporters via email or phone to voice their opinions. “Today, an effective public outreach compaign must be far more conversational than before—and content must be shared, not pushed,” researchers write for The Public Relations Strategist. “Emergency managers need to participate in and lead such conversations, rather than simply talk at an audience.”
Never say “no comment!”
Your organization should always be prepared to answer questions, especially if they pertain to a crisis. Failure to respond can appear to mean “‘We’re guilty! Write whatever you want about us!'” Lindsay notes. If necessary, give a short response, but don’t be “unavailable to comment.”
Show that your organization is making strides to prevent something similar from happening again.
After the crisis, it’s time to show the steps your organization is taking or has taken to correct the situation and prevent a repeat. Here are some ideas:
- Thank customers or other individuals who pointed out the problem or heralded the crisis.
- Post stories about specific employees who put in extra effort to help.
- Write a case study to help other organizations who may face a similar situation.
- Publish information about new technology or procedures installed or implemented for future prevention measures.
Be sure to consult legal authorities and subject matter experts when crafting and delivering messages for the media. Every company, crisis, and situation requires a slightly different communication approach.