News flash! You own a family entertainment center. You’re now on the air. Your quote is in print. Your face and message are memorialized on the internet forever. Are you ready? Many years ago, in our industry, a family entertainment center had been wrongly identified as where a young girl disappeared in a famous kidnapping which became known as Katie Beers Kidnapping. Fortunately, that young girl was eventually found. And, that family entertainment center was suddenly forced into the public eye and had to handle a very serious crisis communication issue.
The important point then, and even more so now, is you must be ready to respond to alleged, perceived and real crisis situations, especially with citizen journalists recording digital audio and video on a regular basis and broadcasting live or after the fact on social media!
Crisis communication is a way of life today as companies and their spokespeople (crisis manager) face daunting realities such as economic uncertainty, a mistrustful public in the aftermath of various scandals, global concern for terrorism, preservation of the environment and media’s watchful eye looking for headlines.
Practically overnight, it seems like the public’s increased awareness of cold harsh realities as well as the media’s bent for sensationalism has placed even greater demands on today’s company crisis management team to be ready in a nanosecond to respond to members of the media.
What are you going to do to help guarantee that you are presenting your company and yourself in the best possible light, and delivering your message with the best possible clarity? Simply put, you have to have a crisis management plan and make great use of the guidelines that I am about to share with you.
Often ten seconds of unplanned airtime will shape more opinions than all the strategic planners in big business put together. So, who makes a good spokesperson? It would be nice to have someone well-trained waiting in the wings to be your company’s designated crisis manager spokesperson, but much of corporate America is not yet geared to the well-rehearsed sound bite.
Spokespersons are not born – they are created. My firm was consulted by a corporate client about the plausibility of placing a mild-mannered, soft-spoken technical expert in front of the media. When it comes to talking to the media, you don’t want to be too reserved, too technical, or too verbose and risk not coming across effectively.
The need for effective communicators is growing at an astronomical rate and the smart insider knows that almost anyone can be turned into a terrific spokesperson given the proper training, discipline and time to develop. Here are seven proven guidelines for dealing with the media:
Seven Easy-to-Use Guidelines
- Be prepared. Even if you only have seconds to react when a crisis hits, be ready. Nothing takes the place of thorough preparation and rehearsal. Know your subject matter. If conducting a news conference, prepare a statement of one minute (or less) and deliver it in the form of a one-on-one conversation. Answer these basic questions in your statement: Who, What, Where, When and Why. In doing so, your level of media savvy dramatically increases. In the unfortunate event anyone is in danger due to an accident or if there is a loss of life, include this sad and sensitive information in your statement and deliver your statement in a caring manner. Under no circumstances should a spokesperson reveal a victim’s name until the victim’s family has been notified.
- During the question and answer segment, be brief. You must be able to give a good, solid informative sound bite in five to fifteen Someone in the newsroom will take whatever poetic justice they feel is necessary to edit and get your point across. At that juncture, you have totally lost control and are at the media’s mercy. To keep control from the start, remember this simple rule: BRIEFLY STATE YOUR CONCLUSION FIRST, then give the supporting information. Always get the facts out quickly. Reveal as much information in factual form as possible. If the media perceives a cover-up, this is fertile ground for sensationalism.
- As you deliver your message it is imperative to address the various audiences who will hear, see and read that The various audiences a spokesperson will address on any given day include: the media, television viewers, radio listeners, readers, industry watchdogs, investors, banks, vendors, and customers. Too often a spokesperson responds to a hostile question in a hostile fashion. By the time the audience gets wind of the quote, the hostile question has been deleted and all that remains is a hostile spokesperson. Sensitivity and respect must be given to all these groups. The future of your company ultimately depends on how your spokesperson addresses audience concerns.
- Be accurate, as well as concise. The media will undoubtedly know if you are lying or even shading the truth in the Admit it if you don’t know the answer to a question – and then get back to the reporter as soon as you can. Also, be willing to admit if you’ve made an erroneous statement. Slick posturing is no match for honesty.
- Provide as many visuals as possible to help explain what happened and allow reporters and photographers to enter the area if possible; if access is not possible for safety and/or security reasons explain why. Television has turned us into a visual society, so a picture is now worth a million words of explanation.
- In wording any written statement and when responding to questions in a live or taped interview, be simple. Avoid technical jargon and downplay statistics that invite confusion. Complication invites confusion.
- When responding to a reporter’s question, repeat or rephrase the question asked before By repeating the question you allow yourself a few more seconds of thinking time before crafting an answer. By rephrasing the question you can get rid of negative buzz words or innuendoes used in the question.
- So, could a mild-mannered, soft-spoken individual handle the media? The answer: “Unequivocally yes!” With training and practice, he or she would ably meet all the criteria of the above guidelines.
By rephrasing the question you can get rid of negative buzz words or innuendoes used in the question.
Please contact a professional with expertise in how to handle the media before you speak with the media. Today’s LINDAism: “All resources must be carefully developed and nurtured.”
Bring in Linda as speaker and trainer for your next meeting to help you with your crisis communication needs. Linda Blackman, CSP, an author, global trainer speaker, and consultant, is an award-winning broadcast journalist and one of 761 people worldwide who is a Certified Speaking Professional – the highest earned designation in the speaking industry. Contact Linda today and benefit from her expertise to help you and your company with public speaking, how to handle the media, crisis communications and selling more effectively. Don’t forget to ask Linda about one-on-one sessions, small group training, consultations and customized topics. Reach Linda at [email protected], www.LindaBlackman.com or at Signature Speaking, LLC, at 239-777-1776.
[For more information on the Katie Beers Kidnapping Case, please google the words “Katie Beers Kidnapping” and make sure to call Linda to help you with all your crisis communication concerns and all communication needs.]
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Frank the Crank’s Comments
Your 7 Steps for dealing with the Media is spot on. Crisis Management is something that our industry does not make a priority. Often the least prepared person is the one that the Media sniffs out, knowing full well that they have a real story.
I am excited that visitors to my Blog have the opportunity to read your important article but also learn that, not only are you a great and precise writer, but a world renowned ‘speaker’. Now that I have gotten to know you, I want to point out that you can also help candidates win elections by not only helping them improve their public speaking techniques, but in ‘speech writing’, targeting the voting demographic, and motivating and educating the entire staff.
Linda, you are indeed a very special and talented person!!!!!