Ten Media Crisis Tips

No comment. These are probably the two most damaging words in the English language to the reputation of a professional, business or organization. While positive publicity is always wanted, what happens when bad publicity comes your way?

One day damage control is bound to be necessary. It might be a lawsuit. Maybe an accident at your place of business. Or perhaps a labor dispute. Want it or not, a crisis will bring the media to you and thrust you into the spotlight.

Often the first reaction is to say "no comment." This is the worst thing you could ever say, short of a full admission of wrongdoing. Such a comment is condemning, as it implies you have something to hide. The news media and the public will assume you are guilty.

If your goal is to postpone comment until you assemble the facts, there is another phrase you can use. When asked to comment before you are ready, say this instead: "It would be premature to speculate at this time." Tell the media that you are greatly concerned about the issue, it has assumed top priority, and all resources are being used to assess the situation.

Many reporters will admit privately that you will be treated much better by the media if you use this approach. Look at the world through their eyes. They are on a deadline to produce a story. Even if all you can say is that it's premature to speculate, you are helping them out.

If the situation is ugly, by all means get professional public relations help. You are about to be tried in the court of public opinion. Abraham Lincoln said that a person who defended himself in court had a fool for a client. You wouldn't go to a court of law without legal counsel. Don't go into the court of public opinion without competent counsel as well.

In dealing with the media during a crisis, here are 10 specific steps to follow:

1. Provide media with access to top executives. A senior executive must represent the organization. Someone who sets policy will carry the most weight.

2. Never say "no comment," even for sensitive legal or HR matters. Instead say: It is not our policy to comment on pending legal actions, except to say we think this is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.

3. Know your rights as an interviewee. Agree on the ground rules up front. Insist on time to prepare, no matter how hastily.

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare for media interviews. Have three points. Rehearse taking questions. If possible, tell the whole story at once, rather than keeping it alive in the media while additional facts are uncovered.

5. Be open, candid and non-adversarial. Withholding information or evading questions will always backfire. This will look like an attempt to cover up incompetence, or worse, malfeasance.

6. Present information from the viewpoint of the public interest, rather than from the corporation's interest.

7. Respond to all media inquiries. Avoid the appearance of dodging media inquiries. You will be treated worse. Much worse.

8. Never speculate. Guesswork can be reported as fact. Don't create expectations you will be held accountable for in the future.

9. Remember past performance when developing responses. Your past record of positive achievements will serve you well during a crisis. Stress positives where appropriate.

10. Sometimes start with a prepared statement. Explain the situation, concern and solution. Tell the truth without being too expansive -- then be quiet. Wait for the press to ask questions before going into unnecessary detail.

Henry DeVries is a marketing coach and writer specializing in lead generation for professional service firms. An adjunct marketing professor at UCSD since 1984, he is the author of "Self Marketing Secrets" and the recently published "Client Seduction." Visit http://www.newclientmarketing.com or e-mail questions to [email protected].

© 2005 Henry DeVries, All rights reserved. You are free to use this material in whole or in part in pint, on a web site or in an email newsletter, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear.

The attribution should read:

"By Henry DeVries of the New Client Marketing Institute. Please visit Henry's web site at http://www.newclientmarketing.com for additional marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional service businesses."

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