Crisis Management: It’s the Message, Stupid!: Media management
How’s this for stupid? It happened when I left journalism in 1994 to start my company and a reporter wanted to write about it. He asked lots of questions about my life. Being naïve like many business brethren I answered and answered and answered. Perhaps only three questions were about my new company. The ensuing article was, as you would expect, a profile of me with nearly nothing about my business. I blew an opportunity to attract customers because I just answered questions – and at a time I dearly needed cash flow. I’ll never forget it.
Later a fellow business owner faced the same situation. With me now a lot wiser, I enthusiastically consented to help her prepare for an approaching news interview. I told her: 1) write down the three greatest benefits her company provides clients, and 2) gently and repeatedly guide the discussion toward those three benefits. She did. And voila! Most of the story was about how her company helped customers. And – it boosted business. Unlike I did, she exploited the opportunity because she was prepared with messages.
How about you? When you talk to a reporter or any significant audience what’s it going to be? Will you be led around by the nose by what others want? Or, will you focus the conversation to your benefit? Your choice is surely the latter.
Here’s what to prepare:
Messages – All interviews or important conversations should have a center of gravity. Predetermined messages or talking points provide that focus. But not just any messages. They should benefit you AND your audience. If it’s just about you – who cares? Conversely, if it’s only about the audience you may miss a chance to persuade and attract customers and supporters. It’s both.
Important: when dealing with a crisis your messages should tend to answer the worst-case questions you’re likely to be asked. If they don’t, your messages might be ignored. To wit…
Q&A – For benign interviews, list the most-likely questions and prepare answers. For challenging or crisis interviews, list the worst-case questions and answer them.
Important: answering questions gives credibility you’d lose if all you did was recite talking points, especially when trouble’s in the air.
Satisfy & Steer – This is the art of guiding interviews or significant conversations. When asked something that does not advance your cause give a brief constructive answer (satisfy) and then bridge (steer) to what you want to convey. Use a phrase like “the important thing is.” Notice this includes addressing not ducking the question.
Front-load – I love this for confronting a specific event or crisis. Begin by telling the reporter or audience, “If you don’t mind, I have several important points I’d like to make and then I’d be happy to answer your questions.” Then drive home your messages at the start and repeat them later while addressing critical questions.
This philosophy is about taking the initiative. Be on the offense in communication rather than the defense. It applies to all essential audiences and gives you more control than if you merely allowed your interviewer or audience to lead you around by the nose.