Ring, ring. Hello? “Hi, this is Jane with the Wall Street Journal calling for comment on the recent incident caused by one of your executives. I’m on deadline.” Gulp.
You are just learning that something even happened from this call. And they want you to comment within the hour – or right now. What do you do next?
Stay Calm. Tell the reporter you don’t have any information to share at this time and you will call her back within the hour. Get her phone number and email. There is no reason to speculate or say anything until you have the information needed. That’s your holding statement for now. If you get more calls, share the same line or let the phone go to voicemail for now.
Get informed. Gather a cross-functional internal team that can provide insight into the incident and any details. If a police department is involved, find the Public Information Officer (PIO), which is usually available by doing a quick internet search or by calling the department’s main line. The PIO will be your main contact for coordinating how information is communicated to the public – and there may be opportunities to either team up or defer to them for media questions pertaining to an investigation.
Determine if the incident need to be shared broadly. If the media knows about the incident, that is a sign that your company’s employees will be reading about it online pretty soon. Your internal team should be your top priority. If a major incident is going to be public, share it with them first so they hear it from the company – and the plan – rather than hearing on the news. Many companies forget this step and end up with teams that feel uninformed. This type of habit is common because the demand from media feels more immediate, but it leads to a feeling of distrust with employees. Learn from the mistakes of others and take this step. If nothing else – send your internal announcement at the same time as the media response.
Craft good statements. Whether you are sharing with your internal team or just the media, take the time to write a good statement. Your customers, leaders, shareholders, and employees will see it. Tips:
Strike the right tone – for example, if there was death, injury or wrongdoing, use words that express sorrow, remorse, and exude kindness.
Keep it short. Only share what needs to be shared. It is ok to say that you are still gathering information and will share more when that becomes available.
Be Accurate. Stick to the facts. Do not share opinions, rants or defensive statements.
Respond to media. Once the internal team is informed, communicate with the media. Do not hold a press conference or draw any additional attention to a bad situation. Just respond to those that have contacted the company. Depending on the situation, there are a variety of ways to handle this:
- If time is limited and the message is going to be the same for all media, it may be easier to email a statement out rather than make calls, plus an email means you are off the hook for any pressing questions. That is why you should always get the email address for any media that call.
- If you want to open up the dialog for questions, either call media back or hold an open conference call press update where you can share your statement with all the media at once and offer a select time period for questions to be asked. If you are calling media back, triage and prioritize them by biggest outlets first or those that have been the friendliest in the past.
- If the situation is ongoing, such as a hostage situation or a major breach, it may make sense to hold regularly scheduled calls with media once a day to inform every at once.
Prepare for the rumor mill. In many incidents, people with catch on and start to make up stories, spreading inaccuracies to garner more attention or worsen the situation. If rumors pop up and they are catching the attention of reputable media or spurring a social media frenzy, be sure to clarify incorrect or unverified information. Consider creating a source-of-truth page on your website to dispel any inaccuracies. That creates a place to direct media and other stakeholders for updates. Its also a great resource to direct social media comments to – so be sure to share with the social media team since the news is likely spreading there faster than anywhere else.
Ride the wave. Be ready for a long day, week and possibly month depending on the extent of the incident. Bring in backup communicators that can help in the first 48-hour news cycle. After that, it should become more manageable.
The list of what not to do could be just as long. Stick to these tips and practice your response by exercising. The goal is to minimize negative coverage about your company and end the news cycle as quickly as possible.
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We can help you prepare for, respond to, and recover from your critical moments.
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