It’s a Crisis. Don’t play games with the Media.
by Neil Kuvin
You turn around outside your place of business and hello!! You’re looking into the barrel (in this case the lens) of a media videographer’s camera. You look to the right of the camera and there he is – the most annoying, arrogant member of the local media. He’s on a story-hunting safari ever since one of your long-time, executives was arrested for grand theft.
So, you think you’re ready for this. You think it’s like two gladiators crossing swords. You’re cool. You can handle anything. You’re tough and you’re ready. You attended one of your company’s “Media Crisis Communications” sessions a couple of years ago. You’re ready. Aren’t you?
You smile. He asks his first question: “How long did this fellow work for you?”
Think a minute. Make that 3 seconds. Remember the “pat” answers from that communications session?
1. Yes, I have the answer and here it is.
2. No, I don’t have the answer, but I’ll get it for you.
3. Yes, I do have the answer, but I cannot discuss it.
“OK,” you think, “Number 2 is easy” so that’s what you say. Turns out Mr. Arrogance is not easily put off. He’s working against a tight deadline and you’re going to slow him down? So he applies his “not ready to talk” tactic and throws in a “softball” to warm you up. And your smiling answer is Number one.
He then hits hard with an off-the-record, personnel question that Number 3 can satisfy. Hah, you think. This is getting easy. But he persists and persists, asking things about your arrested employee that are only supposed to be accessed by particular other employees in your company. How do you duck and run?
Let’s look at the situation with relaxed lungs and a dry brow.
There are some situations in which you can legitimately use the third option:
- The case is before the courts.
- For competitive reasons.
- Union negotiations causing a blackout have been imposed.
- Situations involving member, client, employee, or other forms of privacy.
- Employees have not yet been informed (but you’d better take care of that immediately).
- Securities legislation would be breached.
- Issues involving national security.
If the temptation to “no comment” is being used as a substitute for not wanting to deal with an issue, my advice is to wake up. In today’s world, you’re going to have to deal with the issue sooner or later. Sooner means on your terms. Later means on everyone else’s, not just the media. All over the media, fingers are being pointed at management or anyone who has control or command of conditions.
If you keep getting hammered; continuing along the “message, message, message” approach will eventually wear out the reporter (or irritate her/him). A really good, experienced reporter knows how to deal with your bobbing and weaving. So, prepare by having “Crisis Media Training” or at least a rehearsal where one or two of your employees ask you questions that may come your way.
Enough Number 2 and 3 answers and you also risk the allegation that you refused to answer the question. Which in one instance or more you did. But, believe me; it’s better than hemming and hawing or “no commenting.” It also depends on how well you know the reporter. If it’s someone you’ve been working with for awhile, and it’s not a topic of public outrage, and a microphone isn’t being stuck in your face, it’s usually easier to move past the question and deliver a message you want to get out, particularly regarding this incident.
Your treasured reputation is at stake in these coming weeks and months. Anticipate. Rehearse. Take your own bullets first. Don’t use Number 3. Whatever the situation, be prepared!