As the global COVID-19 pandemic has so clearly demonstrated over the past year and a half, every organization—no matter its size or industry—is vulnerable to the ever-looming threat of a crisis. During the initial outbreak, organizations around the world were left scrambling to quickly develop crisis communications plans that would help guide their responses to the broad scope of challenges they encountered on a daily basis.
As many businesses have since discovered, some crises may be both unpredictable and unavoidable, but what your organization retains control over is your response—and that can make all the difference. In order to successfully navigate a crisis and perhaps even emerge in a better position, preparation is absolutely critical.
This means that your organization must be ready to respond in a prompt, accurate and well-coordinated manner. Doing so will ensure your business representatives are all on the same page when it comes to responding to any crisis event—ultimately minimizing its impact and instilling public confidence in your company over the long run.
As a best practice, every organization should designate a trained spokesperson—be it the CEO or a PR/marketing manager—who will serve as the “face” of your business and respond to any media requests. This spokesperson should be someone who is comfortable during interviews, familiar with every aspect of your organization, and can effectively deliver critical facts and key messages in easy-to-digest soundbites. Ultimately, this will ensure that your intended message is communicated in a clear, concise manner, while mitigating the risk of any misleading or inaccurate statements.
Below are five tips that will help prepare your media spokesperson for a crisis event:
1. Craft Your Key Messaging
During any media interviews or press conferences, your media spokesperson will need to deliver key messages that are on brand, concise and memorable. As a first step, take the time to identify 3-5 key messages that your organization will want to communicate in response to various types of common crisis events—from a natural disaster or security breach, to a product recall or on-the-job fatality.
As part of this process, it’s important to consider the different types of questions that may be asked by the media and/or public so you can prepare thoughtful responses. Once you’ve identified each of your main points, be sure to reinforce your key messaging with a few supporting facts and/or relevant examples, such as an anecdote or statistic.
With repeated use through media interviews, press conferences, social media and other forms of communication, this key messaging will ensure that your organization conveys its points in a clear, consistent and compelling way—ultimately helping to minimize damage to your reputation and enhance your credibility.
2. Do Your Research
For any media requests, it’s absolutely critical to do your homework before communicating a response. Start by doing some research on the media outlet, the reporter and any recent stories he or she has published.
When it comes to media interviews, be sure to find out what the format will be and any specific topics the reporter would like to cover during the interview. For instance, is this a print, online, radio or television opportunity? Is it a phone or in-person interview? If it’s in person, will it be live or pre-recorded? What types of questions will be asked?
And, while it may seem obvious, it’s important to ensure that your media spokesperson has a thorough understanding of the topic that will be discussed, as well as any industry trends or issues that may be relevant to the crisis event.
3. Stay on Message
Although it’s critical to have key messaging prepared ahead of time, media interviews can often move in unpredictable—or, worse, undesirable—directions, particularly during a time of crisis. In order to maintain control over the interview, your media spokesperson should stay on message by tactfully bringing the discussion back to your key points.
In addition, responses should be kept short and concise. The longer a response is, the more likely it will veer off message. A best practice is to aim to stay in the 30- to 45-second sweet spot. This will help to prevent any long-winded rambling.
4. Avoid Negative Language
During the interview, your media spokesperson should avoid repeating any negative language the reporter may use, as this is a common baiting tactic. That being said, it’s important that you don’t gloss over negative information or evade hard questions either.
For instance, while it may be tempting, avoid using the default response of “no comment.” Not only will reporters invariably write the story anyway with someone else’s potentially damaging statements, but the lack of response will also frustrate your audience and reflect poorly on your organization as a whole.
Instead, your media spokesperson should address the negative question directly and do his or her best to focus on the positive whenever possible. For example, a better response might be, “I can’t answer that, but what I do know is…” or “We will comment as soon as more information is available.”
5. Practice Makes Perfect
Take the time to practice asking your media spokesperson any anticipated questions in a mock-style interview. Recording these sessions on camera or audio can be a useful way to fine-tune skills, messaging and body language before the actual interview.
Keep in mind, though, that the amount of media training necessary will vary depending on the interview format, as well as the type and scale of the crisis. For instance, an on-camera interview for a major security breach will require careful planning, while an email interview about a local service outage may only call for a few key messages.