When trouble hits, know how to deal with the media

In an earlier post on the topic of crisis communication, I talked about the value of forming a crisis communications team (CCT) so you’re better prepared to act quickly if a crisis occurs that affects your small business. Today I want to address how this team should interact with the media in the event disaster strikes.

One of the first things your CCT will have to determine when a crisis occurs is whether the media has been alerted to the situation — and through what means. After assessing media activity, the CCT must decide whether proactive media contact is warranted. However, in most cases, the media should be contacted only if the CCT has reason to believe that members of the media are already aware of the situation.

If it is determined that media contact is necessary, it is a good idea to be proactive. You should already have on hand a skeleton version of a press release or news advisory that you can quickly fill in with pertinent details about the crisis. E-mail this benchmark press release or news advisory to targeted media establishing “what happened” or “what is happening.”

In extreme cases, you may need to assemble a press conference to provide factual information and to dispel rumors. As part of its crisis planning, the CCT should identify potential locations for such an event. Both on-site and off-site locations should be on this list of possible press conference locations. If the crisis involves something like a fire at your building, for example, an off-site location will be necessary.

Your objectives with the media are to maintain a positive relationship and remain a credible source. Hourly updates for members of the media who are devoting substantial amounts of time to the situation are helpful in maintaining a positive working relationship. Even if no significant new information is available, the press appreciates knowing there have been no new developments — confirming they have all the current information.

Staying ahead of the media is critical. An organization that appears calm and collected during a crisis presents a positive image. In addition, when the media is constantly being fed timely, accurate information, it prevents speculation from being treated as actual “news.” This is the payoff for effective crisis communication:  accurate reporting of the facts.

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