Monday, August 18, 2008

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