Posted on: May 19, 2023
What do you do when the media calls for an interview after a crisis? From time to time, businesses are forced to engage in crisis communications—messaging to the masses during turbulent times. You may want to just say “no comment,” but that’s the worst thing to say after a crisis. It immediately implies guilt and will hurt your reputation in the court of public opinion.
Perhaps your business is going through a product recall, or you’re dealing with an environmental issue. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is just one infamous example of corporate turbulence. The parties involved likely had to rapidly develop a viable public relations plan—at a time when 4 million barrels’ worth of oil was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
But you can’t just wait until a crisis strikes to be ready to communicate. It’s critical to prepare a crisis communications plan months and even years in advance, proactively mapping out how to respond if and when the ship starts rocking. The best reaction comes from planning your actions in advance and listing specific steps that you will take to respond. That’s how you weather a storm—you don’t just act in the middle of one, but before.
At the heart of crisis communications—namely, the planning process—is media training, which means preparing yourself to respond to media inquiries when the time comes. When the media calls, you can’t be caught off guard.
Here are 10 media training tips for crisis communicators:
1. Never say “no comment,” and always tell the truth. Issuing a non-response comes across as a deflection, like you have something to hide. Similarly, lying will always get you in trouble. Journalists are in the business of exposing lies, which makes crises even worse. Tell the truth, even if it isn’t necessarily the “full” truth.
2. Establish a crisis communications team, and invest in media training. Again, this should happen well in advance. Return on investment—communicating effectively during a crisis—stems from preparation. There is no substitute for proper preparedness.
3. Create a message map, and don’t forget the front lines. Identify your key talking points and stick to them. Let’s say you’re “conducting an internal investigation” or “doing due diligence.” Whatever your core message is, don’t deviate from it. Repeat it so journalists get the memo, and the general public will too.
4. Have empathy, but keep it brief. It is important to show compassion. For example, if your business just went through a round of layoffs (which is common today), don’t forget to express sympathy to the employees affected. Personalize your talking points, but don’t spend too much time on feelings either—remember to pivot back to the message map.
5. Anticipate difficult questions, and don’t feel pressured to respond immediately. Journalists will ask the tough questions—that’s what they do, so expect them to come. But you can take your time to think through the best response and answer appropriately. A response doesn’t need to be instantaneous, so use your time to strategize.
6. Control your anger, and don’t reinforce negative terms. Let’s face it: A crisis can be overwhelming, causing negative emotions to reach a boil. Don’t let them. It’s important to stay cool, calm and collected. Practice patience. As for not reinforcing negative terms, instead of saying, “We did not lie,” if you’re accused of doing so, say, “We always tell the truth.”
7. Remember there is no “off the record,” and don’t rely solely on the media. Just assume that all of your answers to media questions are on the record and could be used publicly. It’s safer to keep your guard up. But at the same time, don’t focus exclusively on the media to tell your story. There are other channels, so consider alternative approaches, such as an internal memo or face-to-face meetings with employees.
8. Choose your location, and beware of smartphones. These days, unsavory moments are captured by phones on a daily basis. Tackle your crisis communications accordingly, assuming that everything could be photographed or filmed. With that in mind, try to position yourself in the best possible light, choosing physical locations that can convey a positive message. A conference room, for instance, conveys professionalism.
9. Present yourself accordingly. In addition to picking the right location, it’s important to look the part. Dress up. Comb your hair. Use makeup, if needed. Appearing disheveled is a red flag not only to journalists but also to the general public. Staying cool, calm and collected means coming across that way physically. So be presentable.
10. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You can never practice enough as a crisis communicator. Media training doesn’t work if you don’t hone your talking points through repetition. Make sure you know your message like the back of your hand.
There. Now you’re prepared for the next crisis. Hopefully, it never comes, but preparation wins the day—in good times and bad.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in April 2023.
Categories: Public Relations