Dos and don’ts for dealing with the media in a crisis

Bluewood have put together the following top tips to ensure, that should your organisation face a crisis, you will stand a much better chance of handling the media and limiting the damage to your reputation:

Dos:
1. Tell the truth; lying to the media is never a good idea and if you are found to have lied during a serious event it will do huge damage to your reputation.
2. Use your PR advisers; if you have internal or external PRs, make sure you involve them and ask for their guidance.
3. Clarify what can be legally released to the media; if the authorities and or other parties are involved you must be careful to only release the information you are allowed to.
4. Provide the important information; the media want to have accurate and up to date information, by giving them this you will be seen as honest and helpful.
5. Train your spokespeople; never put anyone forward to comment on a crisis unless they have practiced and prepared thoroughly.
6. Use any existing media relationships; if you have built relationships with the media you can try to use these journalists to ensure your message gets out the way you want it to.
7. Show compassion; the crisis will have affected someone in a negative way, so be sure you show your concern about the seriousness of the event.
8. Expect to face all media; depending on the crisis your organisation could face any type of media from local newspapers to the BBC – work this fact into your preparation plan (and your media training).
9. Brief staff; as soon as a crisis occurs all relevant staff need to be briefed – you don’t want an unwitting member of staff speaking to the media unaware of what is happening.
10. Put a crisis plan in place; you should evaluate all the possible dangers your organisation could face and prepare for them accordingly. Your media relations plan should include:
a. The organisation’s communications policy during a crisis (e.g. who will speak to the media and when)
b. An appointed crisis team
c. An expert spokesperson who is ready to face interviews
d. The media/journalists you will need to contact
e. The methods you will use to release your story

Don’ts:
1. Ignore the media; hoping the problem will pass the press by is a dangerous gamble and is not to be advised! The media will write the story anyway, but by being engaged with them you can tell your side of it.
2. Get drawn into off-limit areas; the media might want answers you can’t give, particularly if the crisis is on-going, so keep your answers to the facts available.
3. Overlook internal communications; concentrating on the media to keep all your stakeholders informed is not the best policy, ensure you have kept all relevant parties in the loop with other communications e.g. intranet for staff and speaking to major shareholders.
4. Say no comment; this is not to be advised as it can make you look like you are hiding something.
5. Rely on press releases; a press release may not be enough – prepare for interviews and, or a news conference.
6. Going off-record; this is dangerous at the best of times but during a crisis it can be fatal for your reputation – remember how hungry for the story the journalists will be.
7. Turn on the press; it may seem like the media are hounding you but don’t attack them in return, as you will lose any opportunity for cooperation from them and will be worse off in the long-run.
8. Delay releasing information; if it becomes known later that you put-off announcing important developments it will look as if you were trying to hide the facts.

Organisations have to accept from the start that a crisis may damage their reputation but by acting responsibly with the media and responding quickly and honestly to explain what has happened you will be able to limit the damage.

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