By Gerard Braud
A real crisis is a pressure cooker and your crisis communications drill should replicate that. The pressure causes the media to be intense and often abrupt. The media may appear hostile. You will see similarities between media and sharks that sense blood in the water. Your crisis communications drill must duplicate that.
Here are six ways to do that.
1) Television cameras are intimidating, so make sure your mock media team has real television cameras to record each mock news conference. When your spokesperson or team of spokespeople enter the room for their mock news conference, have at least one camera person in their face with the camera as they enter. Get realistically and uncomfortably close. Make it real
2) Still photographers are also a part of real crises, so have a few of them in the room making noise with their shutters, setting off distracting flashes with each photo. Have them move about the room capturing the spokespeople from various angles.
3) During a real crisis, chances are your cell phone and desk phone would be ringing constantly as reporters try to get the inside scoop before their competition gets it. Therefore in a crisis communication drill, set up a phone bank of at least five people, with at least five fake personalities and fake names for each.
Personality #1 – A member of the local media
Personality #2 – A member of the national media
Personality #3 – A local mayor, councilperson or county official
Personality #4 – A state regulatory agency or state legislator
Personality #5 – A citizen with a host of fears and concerns
The challenge here is to force your communicators to stay on task to issue news releases in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, while letting most calls roll to voice mail or passing their phone off to an assistant who can log the calls without answering any questions.
4) Media are not polite to one another during a real crisis, so they should not be polite to one another in your crisis communications drill. During your mock news conferences, let your mock reporters ask realistic questions simultaneously. Let them try to out shout one another. Force your spokesperson to take control of the news conference and the reporters by calling on specific reporters and recognizing questions at their discretion. This type of practice is invaluable.
5) Do your homework before the drill to know what previous crises are like skeletons in the closet of the organization being drilled. Nothing makes a spokesperson look like a deer in the headlights like asking a question based on serious facts. Just this week in a drill I did this to a spokesperson, when I quoted the company’s past news releases and past news articles about recent layoffs, losses in stock value, and the $511 Million spent for repairs at their facility featured in the drill. The kicker is a nugget I found in a news article about the company replacing a part which actually failed during the scenario of the drill. Having Google at your finger tips on an iPad or iPhone is amazing. Real reporters would do it to you, so in your crisis communications drill, your mock reporters must duplicate this behavior.
6) Fake live shots are now faster and easier than ever, because of iPads and iPhones (or the smart phone of your choice.) In a real crisis, a serious news conference might be carried live on television, followed by a live report from the reporter covering the story. To duplicate this, after every mock news conference I use the video feature on my iPad to record me doing a fake live report. I then hand the iPad to the crisis communication media monitoring team and let them see within seconds what I would have said if I were real media and this were a real event.
Many executives admit that managing the crisis is the easy part, but managing the media is the tough part of a crisis. The truth is, most organizations spend more time, more money, and dedicate more people to emergency response then they do to crisis communications. Hence, if you dedicate more time, money and people to practicing and preparing for your crisis communications, you will have less difficulty with the media.
Each organization should conduct media training at least once a year for all spokespeople and again prior to every news conference. Spokespeople should include public relations professionals, subject mater experts, and top executives.
The great flaw is that most organizations treat media training as though it is a bucket list item that can be checked off and forgotten about. The key is maintaining and improving training based on modern communications.