Crisis Management: 33 miners media trg + news conf tips: Crisis communications
With the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, here are two pieces of information that could be helpful to you: 1) the essence of the media training the miners received to prepare them for the reporters and 2) an array of tips from me if you ever have to call a news conference and face a throng of reporters.
Radio reporter Alejandro Pino briefed them on how to react. He told them that the media is not the enemy, think of the story they want to tell about their ordeal, if asked many questions at once – answer the one they understand most clearly or the easiest one, and speak with their hearts and not their heads.
While on the subject of speaking to many reporters at once, let me give you what I occasionally provide clients on holding news conferences. Hope they help.
Call a news conference when:
- You are sufficiently prepared to control your message and answer likely questions.
- You want to convey information as quickly as possible to many reporters.
- You want to seize the initiative and take control of a significant event that is developing rapidly.
- You know that the news you have is of compelling importance to most people in your community, and most news organizations will recognize it as such.
Do not call a news conference if there is a controversy and you are not confident in your ability to maintain control of the questions and answers. Use one-on-one interviews instead. Individual interviews permit more command of the exchanges, may also better meet the needs of reporters by giving them “exclusive” access, and also insulate other reporters from the occasional hyper-aggressive journalist.
- Use the three-step model (from Amme media training) to develop your messages and Q&A’s.
- Form a committee with trusted advisors to brainstorm likely questions, prepare constructive answers and rehearse responses.
- Use the committee to practice steering the news conference to your messages and avoid being “hijacked” by reporters’ questions. Consider obtaining the assistance of a media consultant for particularly challenging situations.
- At the news conference, pass out a concise written statement that makes your primary message and supporting points clear. Write it concisely so that reporters can easily understand your primary messages. (At the beginning, identify yourself, your title, say you have some comments to make, and will answer questions afterward.)
- Unless precision is critical, use the written statement as a guide and speak spontaneously as much as possible to the reporters without sacrificing accuracy.
- Feel free to demonstrate your concern, passion, professionalism, and compassion in the presentation. People will judge you and your organization not just by what you say, but by the way that you say it. Remember, if they like you, they will believe you.
- Generally speaking, leave sufficient time for most reasonable questions to be asked, and stop when questions are repetitive and sparse. You can restrict the length to limit the “fishing” time for reporters, but be wary of cutting questioning so short that it will look like you are hiding something.
- Expect reporters to corner you for private questions after the news conference. This is not unusual. You can still do these outside interviews, if you wish, as long as you remain focused on your key messages.
Question Answering Tactics
|1. How long should my answers be?
|Concise without sounding rude, abrupt, or insensitive. When you can, satisfy questions and steer to key messages. Repetition is good.
|2. What if I am asked about something for which I have no information?
|Say you don’t have it, but will provide it as soon as you can.
|3. What if several reporters ask questions?
|Answer the question you prefer.
|4. Which reporter gets the next question?
|A reporter across the room from the first.
|5. Which reporter do I face?
|The reporter you are answering.
|6. What if a reporter interrupts my answer?
|In a friendly manner, ask if you may finish your comment, and then finish it.
|7. What if I don’t understand the question?
|Ask for it to be repeated until you understand it.
|8. What if a reporter talks to me in a hostile manner?
|Always remain friendly and remember your real audience is the public, not the reporters. Strive to be “the quiet voice of reason.”
|9. What if I do not know the answer?
|Simply say you do not. If it is important, say you will obtain the information and relay it as soon as you can.
|10. What if, for some legal or confidentiality reason, I cannot answer a particular question?
|Say why you cannot and steer to a message.
|11. What if a reporter exaggerates?
|Correct the reporter in a friendly manner, but do not repeat the exaggeration in your answer
|12. What if a reporter stresses the negative?
|Stress the reassuring positive actions you are taking.
|13. What if a reporter incorrectly characterizes the situation?
|Warmly say, “We don’t see it that way” and then steer to a message.
|14. What if a reporter insinuates I am not doing enough?
|Don’t repeat the accusation. Simply restate the actions being taken.
|15. What if reporter says something that is not true?
|Correct and then state the truth.
|16. What if I have information I am not sure is correct?
|Do not use it until you are sure it is correct.
|17. What if a reporter asks a speculative question?
|Say you don’t want to speculate, but you want the people to know you are taking action on their behalf and steer to a message.
|18. What if reporter misses the news conference and another isn’t scheduled?
|Give a private interview if it serves your interests.
|19. What if a reporter wants to do a live interview?
|Do it if it serves your interests.
|20. What do I do during a live interview?
|Hit your main messages immediately and briefly and return to them as often as possible.
|21. What if a reporter wants to go off the record?
|Do not do it unless it is someone you know, trust, and with whom you have a good reason for going off the record. Be certain both sides verbally agree that it is off-the record.
|22. What information is on the record?
|Everything you say within sight and sound of a reporter.
|23. What if I stumble?
|As long as it is not a factual error, just keep talking, especially if a live interview. If it is on tape and embarrassing, simply ask if you could start over.
|24. Should I be positive in the face of tragedy?
|No. Be caring, reassuring, non-defensive, and constructive.