Media Relations During a Crisis
If the media hears about a consumer complaint, an incident at your business, or another issue that involves your business or the industry, you may be contacted directly by a reporter or several reporters. While this may not be the most comfortable situation in the world, it doesn't have to be as bad as it might first appear.
Reporters are not, generally speaking, out to get you. They are out to get a story. Your best interest is in making sure they hear your side of the story, as accurately and in as much detail as you can provide them. This does not mean that you have to tell them everything you know on the spot.
Abiding by the following guidelines will help you manage these difficult situations so that they may even benefit your business reputation.
- Any call from a reporter should be directed to your company spokesperson or PR representative.
- Anticipate difficult situations. If a situation is developing in your area or as part of your business that might draw negative attention to [your company name], begin to think about how it will affect you and how you would most like consumers to think about you and your business in the end. Some examples of situations that might draw negative media attention are associate behavior inside or outside [your company name], general consumer attitudes about the industry, or a publicized crisis at another competitor or disasters of any kind. Notify your company spokesperson or PR representative of potential situations as soon as possible.
- Name a spokesperson as a backup. Designate one person at [your company name] who will talk to the media in the event of a crisis and a backup person to perform that role if, for some reason, your primary spokesperson is unavailable. Make sure that all of your associates know who these people are and how to get in touch with them if they are not at [your company name]. Be sure to instruct all of your associates that any calls from people who identify themselves as reporters should be directed first to your company spokesperson or PR.
- Be responsive but not hasty. Face the media quickly and openly. Don't hide out, don't hang up on reporters, and don't slam doors in their faces.
- Ask any reporter who calls what specific information he or she needs and what his or her deadlines are.
- Always feel free to tell reporters you need to handle important business issues first or find some of the information they need and offer to call them back before their deadline.
- Always be polite to reporters, even if they are asking nasty questions. Direct the information and call to the appropriate person. Remember the first contact with the media should be directed to the company spokesperson or PR representative. That person will organize and handle the call, and direct the reporter to the appropriate person.
- Contact PRhelper.com for assistance any time if you are having difficulty responding to reporters. We can help you walk through a response to reporters or put those reporters in touch with your company spokesperson if appropriate.
- If you don't know, don't guess. Reporters may want information that is not immediately available. Be honest and tell reporters when you don't have an answer, and offer to get them what they need as soon as it is available. Don't speculate.
- Never lie. It is the reporter's job to discover the truth, and if you tell them something that isn't entirely accurate, they will find out. Always be honest and accurate.
- Never go "off the record." Never tell a reporter anything you don't eventually want to see in print or have broadcast.
- Stay calm. Don't argue with reporters or let them see your temper.
- Don't say, "No comment." Even if a reporter is asking for information you can't discuss or that you don't have, explain why you can't answer his or her question rather than refusing to comment.
- Be simple and straightforward. Answer reporters' questions in simple, straightforward language. Answer on the question asked -- don't feel that you need to go into tremendous detail.
Maintain Good Media Relations
Follow these general guidelines for establishing and maintaining positive media relations:
- Build a reservoir of goodwill in your community by participating in community activities and providing consistently good customer service.
- Designate a media spokesperson and a backup spokesperson. Make sure that associates at your office know to refer any reporter calls to these two people and how to get in touch with them when they are not at your office.
- Anticipate issues and events at your business that may eventually draw media attention, and think about how you should respond to them.
- Ever feel that you need to respond immediately to reporters' questions. Ask them what their deadline is and offer to gather information and get back to them.
- Put reporters off or lie to them.
- Say "no comment." If you can't respond to a reporter's questions, be honest about why.
- Talk to a reporter "off the record."
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