Crisis Management: Dealing With An Avalanche of Media: Crisis response
How do you protect your reputation when media swarm around you and your company? A client of mine is about to tell you. He juggled 19 media contacts in 2 days – television, newspaper, and radio reporters. They descended upon him during a most public controversy. Without getting into the issue, here is how he managed it. The client is a local executive of a national corporation, and these are his words.
“We called in print reporters a week before the issue erupted, gave them a cup of coffee, casually explained what was going on, and set the record straight. Everything was on the record. We also gave them a small press kit with all the news releases up to that point. We also provided information on how we could be reached day or night.
“We were organized. Our staff was great. We changed the greeting on voice mail so that reporters always knew how to reach someone. Our greeting asked them to leave a message telling what they wanted, and asked for their deadline. An assistant took live calls and sent them to me. I returned the calls and kept a log. Sometimes we got duplicate calls from the same news outlet. When that happened, we would tell the second reporter that we had already talked to a colleague, and to call back if there were still questions. One operation even had three reporters call.
“We responded quickly. We were very accommodating. We had already sent a news release before we talked to them. We gave them another copy of it when they arrived. Because we had everything ready to go, the reporters appreciated being able to come in, do it, and get out. I think it strengthened our relationships with them. None of the reporters burned us. I think it is because we already had an established relationship with them. The major media outlets did a very good job.
“We set aside a meeting room downstairs for TV cameras and met with television reporters every 20 minutes. We had a prop to give them. (The prop demonstrated what the company was doing to help customers). Everyone used it and held it in their stand-ups. With broadcasters we didn’t want to hold a press conference. We wanted to meet them individually to keep it warm and fuzzy. There were no requests for live interviews. We would have done them, but not on a confrontational basis with opponents.
“We knew our message and stuck to it. We wrote down 3 or 4 bullet points and told the same story to everyone. It was PR 101. Stick to your message and don’t let the media drive you to where you don’t want to be. The challenge was hitting all the points with each reporter. It is easy not to remember whether you had said them all.
“We didn’t get any questions we didn’t expect. We had brainstormed them (worst-case questions) in advance with staff and senior management, and had input from corporate. We were well prepared and were never blindsided by any question.
“We posted on our website all of our press releases and a list of Q&A’s. It only took a couple hours to arrange that. We got a lot of emails – hundreds of them. Three executives answered them. By using a template based on our bullet points we could provide a stock answer most of the time.
“We provided a set of Q&A’s to our front line people answering the phones with customers, and also for our field people. We staffed up our call center to take calls from the public – about a 10% increase. Any media calls were referred back to me.
“We sent out an internal memo to all associates via email, fax and hard copy so that they would know the situation.
“We videotaped off-air all of the TV newscasts running our stories. We wanted them on file so that we remembered exactly what we said, and remembered who gave unbiased reports and who did not.
“Nobody died here. Most of this is PR 101. If you stay with the basics and do it consistently and don’t leave the track you will do okay. I am pleased how we handled it. Nevertheless, no matter how well you think you are doing, the public decides whether you are winning or losing.”
Amme note – While I media trained this executive and members of his staff, wrote their crisis communications plan, and consulted with them on previous occasions, I did not get directly involved in this specific situation. The client handled most of it on his own. Nicely done!