Crisis Management: Get Your Side In the First News Story: Crisis communications
It is YOUR JOB to convey your side in a controversial news story. Not the reporter’s. And not just in any story, in the FIRST story: the one likely to set public perception.
Example: A combative New York City reporter called a client, a national manufacturer, because of a nasty consumer complaint. The reporter literally left a warning message. She would write about the complaint as fact unless she got a response from a senior executive within 45 minutes.
A vice president and I decided how to address the complaint and what to say about it. Next, the executive tried to return the reporter”s call. He got voicemail. He kept calling – no response. The minutes ticked toward deadline.
While trying unsuccessfully to reach the reporter, the VP called the consumer to assure her that he would fix her problem. He ordered a local retailer to call the customer with the same assurances. He did.
In the interim, still no callback from the threatening reporter.
At this point, the client suggested we forget the reporter and rely on the fact that we satisfied the consumer. The reporter would know it so let’s drop it.
That worried me. There was no certainty the journalist would learn from the consumer that we’d corrected the problem. She might rely on old information and, not knowing we’d acted responsibly, still slam my client.
I insisted we keep calling. At last the VP got through and said he’d resolved the consumer’s concern. Astonishingly, the reporter countered, “No you haven’t.”
He said, “Yes we have.”
She repeated, “No you haven’t. The consumer told me this morning that she still had the problem.”
The executive calmly updated the reporter with the company’s latest actions. The journalist finally relented and said, “Oh!” No story ran. I believe that had we not tracked her down, she likely would have misrepresented the client to thousands of people in the number one media market.
Another Example: A magazine reporter was preparing an article concerning a business friend. From the conversation, it appeared to my friend that the journalist was skewing negative. Her read-back of his quotes did not match their conversation. My friend told me he would wait to see the article and respond, if necessary. I insisted he immediately call back and talk to her further to ensure his side was correctly represented. He did. The final story was balanced. We believe my friend’s persistence before publication paid off.
So, when a reporter lurks and a troublesome story seems possible, address any alleged problem and prepare to communicate quickly. The reporter will usually call for comment and you will be ready. However, do not assume the call will come. Monitor the situation and should you believe the story is proceeding without your input, track down the journalist or editor and give your point of view. In the first story!
Critical addendum! Provide information to an inquiring reporter as fast as you reasonably can. The longer you wait, the less impact you have on the tone of the story.