When Crisis Strikes: 3 Ways to Think, Act, and Communicate Like a Reporter
— By Gerard Braud
You can’t turn on the television without a major crisis, tragedy, or disaster dominating the 24-hour news cycle. Through what lens do you view these events?
If you’ve never done so, try to watch events unfold with the eyes of a crisis communications expert. Focus on deadlines, timing, and how quickly, or in most cases, how long it takes, before the organization crippled by the crisis starts providing official information to the media. Keep an eye on the clock. Furthermore, zap through the television channels to observe the media and how they fill the information void.
Effective crisis communications requires you to think fast, act fast, and communicate fast. Watch the media so you can determine how to manipulate the media and the information cycle.
Here are 3 ways to adapt to the mindset of the media:
1) To quote Don Henley’s lyrics to the song Dirty Laundry, “Just give me something; something I can use.”
When a crisis happens, your job in public relations is to start pushing out information as soon as the event happens. And this is important – you don’t need a lot of facts to put out information. In fact, saying you don’t know all the details yet is actually a legitimate first statement to the media. Yes, within moments of your crisis going public, you can issue a statement that says,
“We have experienced a ________ at our ____ location. Details are still being gathered. We will share more information as soon as possible.”
This language should already be written in your crisis communications plan. In plans I write for clients, I call this the First Critical Statement, because it is critical that you fill the information void as soon as possible. To get a free download use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.
Not every crisis gets 24/7 media coverage, but if you are in PR there is a high probability that it can happen where you work. Trust me, I spent 15 years as a reporter and 20 years in crisis communications. It is never a question of if it will happen, but a question of when.
The tragic events in San Bernardino are reflective of this. The media initially covered the unfolding story by interviewing worried family members and capturing images and videos from people inside the facility where the shooting occurred. We see this very same behavior every time there is a school or workplace mass shooting. It is very true that in the midst of chaos and tragedy, nearly everyone in the affected organization is focusing on the crisis. But YOU, the PR team, must make it your responsibility to not manage the crisis but to manage crisis communications at the speed at which the world and the media want to know more information.
2) The new normal is built around crises of all sorts being amplified on social media. The media fill the information void with rumors from social media. This exponentially increases pressure on communicators and leaders in companies to issue statements faster to keep the media focused on official sources rather than social media. However, eyewitness social media images and video are highly valuable. This means you need to be prepared to provide the media with your own newsworthy images and video as soon as possible.
3) Media need someone to advance the story as time passes. As a public relations expert you should treat the release of information to the media like a casino buffet. In other words, start small and keep it coming. Just like a buffet has soup, salad, and an entrée, official information should be fed to the media in the same way. They are hungry. You should feed them a little at a time. Too many organizations have executives who think no information should be shared until all information is known. This is a tragic flaw that must be fixed.
Although the media are a critical audience, in crisis communications you must realize that communications to your employees is equally as valuable and sometimes more valuable. Employees who know the truth are less likely to spread rumors. Your goal should be to give the same information to the media, employees and other stakeholders as simultaneously as possible. What you say to one audience you should say to all.
Achieving these high standards requires you to specify this behavior and these timelines in your crisis communications plan. Your crisis communications plan must then get support from your executives on a clear sunny day, long before the crisis. You must also test the process through crisis communications drills that can test your plan, the behavior of each leader, the ability of spokespeople, and the speed of your PR team.
If you’d like to delve deeper into this premise, join me for a free webinar on Thursday, December 17, 2015. Use this link to register.
In this program you will:
- Learn to adapt a reporter’s mindset
- Develop a 5-part strategy for effective crisis communications
- Unlock the secrets necessary to change the leadership behavior within your workplace
About your webinar leader:
Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is known by many as the crisis communications expert who is able to put a low cost, yet highly effective crisis communications plan in place in just 2 days. As a former reporter, you may have seen him on NBC, CNN, CBS, the BBC or The Weather Channel. It is the mistakes he saw people make daily as he covered the news that lead him to create a system of crisis communications plans and strategies that have served his clients on 5 continents.
Great event, covered some of what I learned previously yet built on the ideas. Am looking forward to the demand version so I can share with others in the organization and push additonal dialogue. Thanks for hosting this event.