In a crisis concerning your organization your spokesperson should quickly become the authoritative voice of information. Working in tandem with authorities, the company’s comments carry great weight with the media. The media wants information, and they will find it whether you step up and step out or not! Don’t let others do the talking for you. From the media’s point of view, in a crisis they simply want the best information as quickly as they can get it.
Here are the things the media tend to look for when arriving on the scene of a developing crisis:
1. Officials. Who’s in charge and might have details?
2. Company spokesman. Who can tell me what happened?
3. The visuals. What is happening at the scene? What can I see?
4. Witnesses. What did they hear, see or know about the incident?
5. Neighbors. What did they hear or see? What are their past experiences with your company? (Hopefully they like you and your company).
6. Man on the street. What is their reaction to the incident? (A very reliable source of accurate information, wink, wink).
7. Expert opinion. Yep, the expert unconnected to the event but who has some background that deems them an expert in nature.
You can see how the media drift away from those closest to the event as they are stymied for information. Here’s a real life example of “breaking news” during my TV news days in the ‘90s and working down the ladder of information:
We get a phone call reporting an explosion and fire at a grain elevator ten minutes before our newscast. Immediately, we dispatch the news chopper and begin calling local authorities to confirm. As is sometimes the case, the local authorities won’t even confirm they have dispatched emergency.
We call the company involved. No answer (as you would expect). We work our way down the list until a local convenience store operator just down the street answers his phone. BINGO! Yes, he heard the explosion. He confirms smoke; he confirms fire trucks. WE HAVE CONFIRMATION! It’s go time.
As the anchor, I ad-libbed over the live shot our news chopper provided while headed to the scene — not even on-scene. I talked over the camera live signal of bean field after corn field for 15 minutes before we were on the scene. When the chopper arrived, it was obvious the fire was small and contained and would not be leading the next newscast.
What do we learn here? This was a large company elevator. If they had a crisis plan, then someone would have been monitoring local media. They would have alerted the team that some anchor guy was going on and on about what may or may not be happening. The smart communicator picks-up the phone, reaches out to the station and says, I have the latest and best information. We would have put that person (after ID confirmation) on the air, live, in the moment and share with our viewers the best information available rather than the only information available from the convenience store operator.
There are times when you shouldn’t talk, of course, but most of the time, even sharing your responsible moves or efforts with authorities will fill the airwaves with your story and not the perception of the guy down the street.
Be prepared. Plan ahead. Then be ready to step up and step out!
“Step up and step out or get stepped on” is the final installment in a four-part series on crisis communication. In part one, find out how crises have evolved over time. In part two, learn how to identify your company’s vulnerabilities. In the third part, discover who and what to include in your crisis plan.