By Gerard Braud
Let’s be respectful here and realize that many poor people don’t have either dental insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket for dental care. And let’s realize that while hoping to someday fulfill the dream of home ownership, many people live in an affordable alternative – a mobile home.
Let’s also recognize that many of these people are in lower income brackets and therefore also tend to live near industrial facilities where the more affluent members of society may work, but do not live.
With all of that out of the way, let me acknowledge that when I was a journalist, people would actually ask me, “how come reporters always interview people with no teeth who live in a trailer?”
The answer was, because when the industrial facility blew up, no one from the company would agree to an interview with us. The people living near the facility were the only eye witnesses and they were willing to speak.
If you work for a company that has a crisis, you have the responsibility to provide a spokesperson as soon as the media arrives. Usually the media will be on site within 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the crisis. And as more media outlets become dependent upon web based audiences, their need for news is even more immediate.
Reporters need facts and quotes and they are going to get them from somewhere. It is their job to get interviews and their job is on the line if they do not deliver.
If you don’t give the information to the reporter, the reporter will go get it from someone else and that someone else will likely not represent your point of few.
And as the age of Social Media and web based tools expands, more and more media outlets are depending upon digital photos and video taken by eyewitnesses. A simple cell phone is capable of doing an enormous amount of reputational damage by providing the media with pictures and video.
So what do you do?
First you need to establish policy and practices that insure you have a spokesperson ready to respond at a moments notice.
Secondly, you need to have a crisis communications plan that contains a vast array of pre-written statements designed to address all of the many crises your organization could face.
With those two things, a spokesperson should be able to pull a pre-written template out of the crisis communications plan and walk out to the media to deliver that statement. It also allows your organization to post the template to the web, e-mail it to the media, employees and other key audiences.
Even if you only have partial facts, your organization still needs to make a statement. And it is critical that the statement is delivered by a person and not just issued on paper or via the web. The human element is critical in gaining the trust of the media, employees and other key audiences. A written statement is simply a cold cluster of words.
In my world, the spokesperson should be able to deliver the statement live within one hour or less. It should never be longer than an hour and hopefully much sooner than an hour.
One of the biggest delays in issuing statements is the lengthy process of waiting of executives and lawyers to approve a statement. This delay should be eliminated with the pre-written statements. The statements should be pre-approved by executives and the legal department so that the public relations or communications department can issue statements quickly.
Creating such a template is a timely process that I take organizations through when I help them write their crisis communications plan. The process is too lengthy to discuss here. But certain portions of the template must be fill-in-the-blank, and the communications department must be authorized to fill in the blanks with information such as time, date, and other critical facts. Executives and lawyers need to establish a trusting relationship with the communications department so that they help speed up the process rather than hinder and delay the communications process.
When you follow these simple steps, you begin to manipulate the media because you are meeting their wants, needs and desires. You also become their friend. The more you can provide the media with information, the less need they have to interview an ill informed eyewitness who is thrilled to have their 15 minutes of fame. The more you can occupy the media’s time, the less time they have to spend interviewing people with no teeth who live in a trailer.
In our next lesson we will discuss whether or not you can pass the cynic test.
P.S. To this lesson — at www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com and www.schoolcrisisplan.com I have posted dates and details for my Nov. 3 & 4, 2008 crisis communications program that lets you write and complete an entire crisis communications plan in just two days. The plan was first created to avoid the types of situations described in today’s lesson. It is a very affordable and effective way to complete months worth of work in just 2 days.