Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tips on crisis communications

The media interview: Getting through the fire

  • It's important to have the right spokesperson. Sometimes it's the CEO. Sometimes it's someone else who has greater knowledge about the specific situation. Whenever possible, determine who the spokesperson will be before the media shows up.

  • Be emotionally appropriate. If someone has died or been seriously injured, look concerned. Avoid nervous laughter. Never appear angry at a reporter or anyone else.

  • Never lie.

  • Don't guess. Stick to the facts. If appropriate, make a commitment to get back to the reporter with answers to the questions that you can't answer right away.

  • Never say "No comment."

  • For sensitive (challenging) stories, anticipate the media contacting you for follow-ups.

  • If you're in a crisis situation, disclose information in a timely manner. Timely disclosure today means immediately. The Firestone/Bridgestone tire scandal broke in late 2001 and early 2002. However, the company knew the tires involved were unreliable in 1997, and perhaps as early as 1991, according to trial lawyers. Withholding the information - even if the company is trying to define the problem as narrowly as possible and find a solution - often gives the public the perception that the problem is serious and far-reaching. In the West Virginia tragedy at Saco Mine, not disclosing information in a timely manner caused families to believe that most of the workers' lives had been saved, when, in fact, all but one of the miners died.

  • Develop key talking points in your head and stick to them. No matter what the question is, always return to your key points.

© 2006-2007 D. C. Sistrunk

Tags: , , , ,


Alina said...

Great tips, Deb. I loved the photo you chose, also; it fits perfectly.

To my mind, not knowing the actual facts is the worse a spokesperson can do. Replying by "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" to too many questions makes you look bad, or worse, gives the impression you are not willing to state what you know. Also, when promising to later provide answers, companies should make sure they do.

Ian Lidster said...

As a long-time professional scribe I must tell you that those tips are invaluable and I'm going to print them out. Thank you, Deb.
And on another note, it is so great to see you back. I've missed you and your wisdom.

Deb S. said...

Alina: Your tips are perfect, also! You're absolutely right when you say companies should live up to their word if they promise to provide answers at a later time. You are so knowlegeable in so many areas! I really admire you.

Maybe we should get together through the magic of technology and conduct a seminar on this topic. ;-)

Ian! You are a sweetheart to keep visiting my site until I returned. I really didn't think I would be away so long. It's nice to see both of you and Alina.

You, my friend, would definitely know the do's and don'ts of crisis communications because you're a veteran journalist. Maybe you, Alina and I can get together and present crisis management and media training. We shouldn't let the fact that we live in different countries get in the way. :-)

My treat of the day, other than hearing from you, is seeing your handsome photo. ;-)

Ian and Alina, thank you for making my day.

Alina said...

Well, I doubt I am as knowledgeable as you credit me to be, but sure, count me in!

Alina said...

Now that I actually think about it, I would like to look into this subject. My colleagues from Advertising and PR had a class on crisis management. The Journalism section did not, and I guess that was a big loss for us. What I can tell you on this subject is mostly from what I saw, read and experienced outside the university environment.

Ian Lidster said...

Shucks -- I'm flattered all to hell. Thank you for brightening my day.
And, as Alina suggested, we are really only as good as our technology. Let's create a seminar and charge really big bucks for it.


AsianSmiles said...

Hey Sis!!! Good to see you're back and ok.

Great (great!) tips. I loved the "never lie" and "never say 'no comment'" most. Playing safe and lying is betrayal of public trust - too hard to earn and too hard to lose.

ps... regarding the seminar, may i reserve a seat in the audience? *smiles*

Deb S. said...

Alina: You may be right. I think this topic typically is discussed outside of the university environment.

There are many situations that can place an organization in a crisis mode, and it doesn't have to involve a disaster. Just a couple of days ago, a university in my state evacuated a dorm and shut down the campus.

A graduate student, according to police, made bomb and anthrax threats. Because the person was an international student, local and state law enforcement were called. So was a hazmat team from a U.S. Army base. It was kind of creepy seeing photos of the hazmat team in those white suits and helmets on a state university in a rural community.

Fortunately, it was a false alarm. Police eventually took the student into custody. It turned out that he was depressed and that there was no anthrax.

I commend officials for not identifying the student in any way as this drama played out. They just said that he was foreign. The student's identity was released later, when he was in police custody. Officers believed that the student was attempting what's known as "suicide by cop."

The student is now charged with making terrorist threats. I think he just deep-sixed his chances for continuing his education in the U.S.

I'm sure the university spokesperson never envisioned having to handle a situation like this one. As far as I can see, she did a great job. In fact, everyone involved in this incident seemed to do a good job of not causing public panic.

To read the news account, click here.

Deb S. said...

Ian: When it comes to you, it's all true. :-)
As for the big bucks: Hey, I like that concept!

AsianSmiles: Your comments on don't lie and never say 'no comment' are right on.

As for reserving a seat in the audience, get real! You're going to be a part of this team, too!

Deb S. said...

By the way, readers, if you're not familiar with the term "hazmat" (which I used in my response to Alina), it's short for "hazardous materials."

shirazi said...

Nice post and what is more I see some old faces here. Have I been missing some...

Deb S. said...

Thanks, Shi. Yes, it is so nice to see my friends here, including you. You'll have to bring me up to date about life in Pakistan.

AsianSmiles: Special hugs to you. You are such a sweet spirit, and I'm so glad you're back.

To everyone: Excuse me for gushing for a moment, but I really appreciate you. Each of you, in your own way, has made me a better blogger. You've also given me this awesome sense of community that I didn't have before I entered the blogosphere. Thank you.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

The tips you offer here are excellent. Wow. Gonna copy your post to my word docs.

Deb S. said...

Dr. Deb: I am flattered. Copy away! :-)

Alina said...

Yes, it is quite amazing they did not make his identity public. And I guess the spokesperson did reach one of those situations he/she never thought will ever come his/her way.

Belizegial said...

Hello Deb,

As Administrator of a public health facility, it is important for me to know how to communicate during crisis situations. Many such situations have developed during my time there. Much appreciated.


deb s. said...

Inid: I'm glad the tips helped. :-) As always, thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
T.W. said...

I'll just volunteer to be the crisis... I have endless experience and I'm consistent too!