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What is the best way to work with media when you have a crisis?

Markets | April 1, 2012 | By:

Q: What is the best way to work with media when you have a crisis?

A: Despite the best efforts, crises occur on tent installations, and the media calls. Without a communications plan in place before a crisis happens, you will be forced to make up a plan as events occur out of your control. You wouldn’t go into a job without a plan, and you shouldn’t operate without a crisis communications plan either. A plan ensures that the following objectives happen:

  • A spokesperson is accessible to the media.
  • Empathy is shown to victims.
  • Information security is maintained.
  • Audit trails are uninterrupted.
  • Communication occurs through multiple channels.

The components of a crisis communications plan include identifying a communications team, outlining internal and external communication plans, and follow-up.

Crisis communication team: Depending on your business structure, this team should be comprised of people who fulfill the roles of CEO, public relations head, vice presidents and managers of key departments, the company’s safety or security officer and company attorneys.

Internal communications plan: Before addressing the media, the crisis communications team must take the following steps:

  • Decide on a position, viewing the crisis from the public eye.
  • Designate an official spokesperson and a backup.
  • Designate technical experts/advisors.
  • Create a list of potential witnesses.
  • Create fact sheets answering the who, what, when, where, why and how of the failure.
  • Collect engineering and insurance documents.
  • Prepare press releases.
  • Create a list of potential media outlets.

In addition, issue an internal statement for employees to read if contacted by media, emphasizing that no one except the appointed spokesperson should answer questions from the press (including new media such as bloggers, who may not identify themselves in the same way as a traditional reporter).

External communications plan: Once the steps above have happened, the team decides when to “go public.” Keep the following guidelines in mind when approaching a press conference:

  • If reporters don’t get information directly from the organization in crisis, they’ll look elsewhere and be more likely to report inaccuracies.
  • Put yourself in the victims’ position and respond with sensitivity.
  • Never comment on anything beyond the scope of the question or speculate about a situation.
  • Hand out fact sheets and any previous press releases about the event.

Follow-up: After a crisis situation, assure the public by taking the following steps:

  • Act quickly to provide restitution. The organization at fault must compensate victims, if any, and the sooner this happens, the quicker everyone moves on.
  • Make a bold commitment to ensure the errors will never happen again.
  • Publicize a self-assessment of the situation.

Compiled by IFAI and TRD members. If you would like to participate on a task force to develop and promote industry guidelines, contact Jan Schieffer.

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