"This kind of thing never happens here."
How many times have you seen and heard that line in the midst of a breaking news story?
Business leaders who think a publicity crisis is "for someone else" are likely to get caught short when something unexpected happens. Hopefully it won't be a massive incident that the networks cover. Still, we must be realistic because a local story can negatively impact your brand reputation, hiring and revenue for years to come.
If a plane or truck crashes into your building, you may find yourself scrambling to craft a statement or press release. A white-collar crime or violent incident can also attract unwanted media attention.
The following 10 points will help you be proactive when dealing with reporters and the public.
1. Have a crisis management plan in place and update it once a quarter. This includes assigning a designated “spokesperson” for quotes and interviews…and a back-up person. Both should be fully trained on messaging, vocal and emotional control and body language. These folks must be available and have immediate access to your social media accounts. Video is best—build rapport and connect with your community. The CEO is not always the best person for this role.
2. Be completely honest. If you don’t have the answer, tell the reporter you’ll get them the information within the hour. Then keep your word, with their deadline front-of-mind.
3. Consider everything you say to be “on the record.” Folks with little media experience must understand anything they say—casually or otherwise—may become part of the story.
4. Remember that “no comment” = “guilty.” Have something to say, even if it’s an apology or it’s vague.
5. Avoid a linguistic landmine. Use “wiggle words” and phrases when necessary until you have the exact facts. Examples are: “It appears”; “It’s likely”; “We expect”; “It looks like”; “I believe it’s possible”; “It seems to be”; “We may be looking…”
6. Balance a combination of traditional and social media to get ahead of the situation. A video, written statement, Facebook post and letter-to-the-editor help to cover all bases. People consume information on different platforms so don’t worry about being repetitive.
7. Monitor social media and be proactive. Acknowledge a complaint or issue and respectfully ask to move the conversation off-line to tackle the details.
8. Be wary of delay. Following deadlines suggested by well-intentioned corporate folks and attorneys who typically don’t work at the same pace as real-time media can spell disaster when managing a media crisis.
9. Avoid the words “Never” and “Always.” These words will back you into a corner. Journalists are literal and will hold you to it.
10. Refrain from asking for an advance copy of an article or post. Simply exchange business cards and contact information with a friendly and casual demeanor of, “When I find out something, I’ll call your cell phone, OK?” Be helpful and sincere to keep the lines of communication open. When the storm clears, the reporter may want you as a source for a (positive) news story.
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