In this article discussing best practices for Interacting with the Media, I’ll address one of the most stressful interview situations: crisis communications.
A crisis could involve anything from a death, accident, illegal activity, environmental activities…or anything that is unpleasant to talk about. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, let me say that the tips in my previous posts about interacting with the media are in play here, except during a crisis situation, when you won’t have as much time to prepare. It is highly recommended to identify crises that could occur in your business or community, and run a drill or practice the responses.
Regarding media interviews, one of the keys to successful crisis communications is providing information on a timely basis. If you’re the individual delivering messages affecting public safety, relay those messages immediately and accurately. If the crisis is affecting your organization, take time to collect the answers you’ll need and be sure to clear all messaging with internal controls. Keep the public interest in mind when you craft ad deliver the messages. Any messaging that’s self-serving will be met with anger during a crisis.
If your company or organization doesn’t have a Crisis Communications plan in place yet, you need to create one. Crisis situations are notorious for creating chaos by their very nature, and a Crisis Communications plan will keep you on track.
Here are several Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind for a media interview during a crisis.
- Never say, “No comment.” Never, ever. “No comment” sounds evasive. Avoid the appearance of impropriety and find something relevant to say. I would much rather you say something like, “I don’t have the answer to that but let me follow up with you when I know more.” Then, place a priority on getting that information and calling the reporter with the new information. The more you work with the reporter to fulfill reasonable requests, the better the situation will be for you in the long run. It may also build and strengthen important professional relationships in the future.
- As a reporter, I covered a lot of spot news, and anyone who refused to comment or appeared to evade the media almost always encountered additional stress of some kind later on as a result.
- Pause and Think. If you are not ready to speak with the media, ask for a few moments to prepare. It’s okay to pause briefly to collect your thoughts before you answer the reporter’s questions.
- Remain Calm. Don’t get angry. Be as helpful as possible while not sacrificing the integrity of your position. If reporters place you on the defensive, correct the record calmly and get back to a key message. Remember that reporters always have the last word in the editing room.
- Stay within your Area of Responsibility. Only answer questions pertaining to what you know or have the authority to speak about. Answer questions as briefly and accurately as possible.
- Don’t Speculate. If you don’t know the answer, just say you don’t know, even if the reporter thinks you should know. There is nothing wrong with not being able to answer every question. Reporters may try to coerce you into speculation. Don’t feel the need to fill silences. You may try saying, “I can’t speculate on that. What I do know is….”
- Don’t Discuss Cause or Fault Immediately After an Incident. The most difficult questions to answer are “why” and “how.” Many people have opinions about why and how something happened, but your role is not to offer personal opinions. Stick to confirmed information.
- Don’t Discuss Liability. If you are ever put in a position to talk about a crisis situation of any kind, stick to the facts that you know and don’t discuss liability.
- Never Make Comments “Off the Record”. Assume everything you say from the time the reporter arrives until the time that person leaves is “on the record,” even if the camera is not rolling.
- Never Make the Client Look Bad. If you have clients, never make any statements that may make the client look bad or place blame on them. See if you can use a response to turn a negative into a positive. For example, if a project has cost the taxpayers a lot of money, focus on the value that will be realized in the long run.
- Don’t be Afraid to ask the Reporter Questions. A reporter may try to bombard you with rapid-fire questions. Feel free to ask questions back, such as “What have you heard?”, “Who else have you contacted?”, “What do you need from us?”, and “Can we confirm this information?”
Wow, we’ve covered a lot, haven’t we! As we wrap up this series on “Interacting with the Media”, here’s one final thought: Unless you are a master orator, nothing you say in your interview will be perfect. Yes, it’s important to present the correct information. If you stay focused, but find you still say something wrong, don’t stress about it. Just correct yourself during the interview and move on.
Many times, I’ve found that people who stress about saying everything perfectly will appear rigid during an interview. Just relax. If you’re a person of conscience, and you’ve done your homework about what you’re talking about, you’ll be fine.
Do you have any questions about Interacting with the Media? This is a topic I know well and I’m always happy to discuss it. Just get in touch with me at AE2S Communications at this email address: Daron.Selvig@ae2s.com
If you have questions about creating a Crisis Communications plan, contact Maria Effertz Hanson, AE2S Communications Strategist, at Maria.EffertzHanson@ae2s.com