Crisis Management: An ER Chief Demonstrates Good Crisis Communications: Crisis communications
Most hospitals know full well that their need to communicate is just a tragedy away from being tested. They prepare conscientiously. Retired Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Associate Professor Dr. Ralph (Monty) Leonard, a veteran of journalism exposure, used to give his Emergency Room doctors a list of media tips. You don’t have to be a trauma surgeon to appreciate his recommendations. As you read them, ask yourself if your company is as prepared as he recommended. Some hospitals probably need to do the same. These are Monty’s tips plus my comments in italics.
- There is a 100% chance that sooner or later media people will show up. When I polled various ER’s for information so that I could media train doctors I was surprised that some departments have given little thought to this. I asked one physician his rules of engagement with reporters, and he said, “We don’t talk to them.” What a missed opportunity – see step 11.
- Be nice to these guys, you never know when something controversial may happen and you will want them on your side. Smart hospitals (and companies) look for ways to build rapport with reporters. Think about it, wouldn’t you treat a friend better than a stranger? Reporters do. Take a reporter to lunch!
- There will always be seasonal topics – heat, cold, recreational dangers (fireworks, motorcycles, bicycles, ATV’s, skateboards, etc.) and media will want an interview in less than 2 hours. This is why media training helps. You want to know what to convey before the interview begins.
- Chat with reporters first to find out what questions they have in mind. (Since they are not experts) you might be able to suggest better questions. Since 80% of interviews are benign and journalists just want a story, consider how to help them write one. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll look good. Also, always know what a reporter wants before you agree to an interview.
- Live (interviews) are worst – you could be blindsided. Mostly they tape. Actually, my advice about live shots is that if you know what you want to accomplish before the interview then you can gently steer a live conversation in a more productive direction, and they cannot edit you because it is ineed live.
- Very important to give short answers. If you’ve got 10 tips for preventing cold injuries, give your 1 or 2 best. It’s all about message focus. Have no more than 3 key points to accentuate.
- Always have 1 or 2 things you want audience to know before you do interview. Your job is not so much to answer questions, but convey a message. Know that message.
- Look in the mirror, check your hair, take things out of your pockets, etc. Keep your hands in your pockets. I like this. However, I recommend that if you naturally gesture when you talk, feel free to do so. Caution! Think more about your message than your body language. If you deliver valuable content with passion then body language tends to take care of itself.
- Consider the appropriate medical background of the shot. Good advice. I once heard of an executive who stood alongside a tennis court as he talked to a reporter about a fatal accident at his company.
- Don’t appear confrontational. Be honest and caring and do the best you can. I often say, “Be the quiet voice of reason.” Regardless of the environment or the temperament of the reporter, be cool. Also remember that people want to be reassured that they are safe.
- There are so few possibilities to look brilliant, don’t pass them up. I love it. Always consider media interviews as opportunities. Just prepare.